Study Guide

The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica Form and Meter

By Judith Ortiz Cofer

Form and Meter

Free Verse

Pull up a chair, Shmoopers. Take a load off. Let's have a chat—no big whoop. That's kind of what the free verse form says to you as a reader.

Free verse is not about following any set pattern or structure. That's not to say that it just whatever it wants, running through the lines willy-nilly. No, a free verse poem is trying to get across a particular effect and, more often than not, that effect is a conversational tone.

Think about it. We tend not to use rhyme schemes or follow a strict meter when we speak in conversation. Free verse poems recognize this fact, so they break out of traditional forms to encourage readers to focus on what is being said, rather than how it's being said.

And what is being here said has an urgency to it. Just check out the enjambment between the first and second stanzas. We're left hanging at the end of stanza 1, so we rush on to stanza 2 to pick up the idea. This technique is a sly one that poets use to create a sensation of heightened importance for the reader.

So, Ortiz Cofer hits us with an important, insightful conversation. But she's actually doing more than that. One of the major themes of this poem is talking (see "Themes" for more). Check it out:

while listening to the Puerto Ricans complain
that it would be cheaper to fly to San Juan
than to buy a pound of Bustelo coffee here,
and to Cubans perfecting their speech
of a "glorious return" to Havana--where no one
has been allowed to die and nothing to change until then;
to Mexicans who pass through, talking lyrically
of
dólares to be made in El Norte-- (10-17)

In this section, the deli customers are talking, talking, talking—about prices, their homes, their work, and so on. They're using their mother tongues (Spanish) to connect to each other and their sense of their homeland. And this poem is using another kind of conversation, delivered through free verse, to explore that idea.

As readers, then, we're in a conversation that is about (in part) conversations. And that is something worth conversing about.

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