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Free Poetry

Updated on May 26, 2016
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Gary R. Hess is the author of two poetry books, "Looking Glass" and "Poetic Night".

Poetry Needs Freedom

Everyone loves it when they receive something for free. Whether they use it, play with it, or just read it, the free items are welcome with open arms.

Free poems have allowed me to publish them on websites, place on greetings cards, and allowed book and magazine publishers to redistribute them.

Not only does it help us out, it also helps spread the word of poetry and literature to help the younger generations learn about the importance and greatness of classic writers.

This is also a way to help poorer families with costs of reading literature. Since they are easily reproduced, the poems are easily found on websites or for cheap in stores. Just recently, I found a book of classic poems in Hastings for just $2, what a bargain for such great literature!

What Free Poetry Means

Short answer: Public Domain!

You might be wondering what exactly "free poetry" means. It is poetry which has been granted into the public domain. This means that the copyright has run out (or explicitly published into the public domain) and is no longer able to be renewed. The works may be republished, changed, placed on shirts, posters, or whatever you wish, and the best part is you don't have to pay royalties to the author, family members, or the original publisher.

The freedom of classic literature has greatly increased the spread to poor families and countries across the world. This is good for humanity and great for the future of literature. The more exposed the younger generation is to great writings, the more likely they are to eventually produce their own. It is a win-win for everyone, except the great-grandchildren of the authors and some corporations.

What is the Public Domain?

Public Domain means not owned or controlled by anyone

An Extension:
The Copyright Term Extension Act added and additional 20 years to copyrights

The public domain has been a cause of panic for many large corporations over the past century. Many businesses are afraid of their trademarks and other great works being pushed into freedom. An excellent example of this is Mickey Mouse and Disney.

In 1998, the United States passed the Copyright Term Extension Act, which allowed copyrighted works after 1923 to be extended for an additional 20 years. This law is sometimes referred to as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, because of the benefit the law had towards Disney and their famous character.

Mickey Mouse was first created in 1928, which would mean the character would enter the public domain in 2003 (75 years after its creation). However, with the extension, the mouse is protected until at least 2023 (depending on if another extension is put in place).

Once the mouse enters into public domain, he may be used however and whenever you wish, except as a trademark. And as time goes by, the many Mickey Mouse movies and cartoons will also enter public domain. The movies and shows will then be able to be used on any network and any website. No longer will Disney hold complete rights to the character or likeness.

Now, this is only for the United States. Other countries have different laws. Actually, the mouse along with many other American brand-names, cartoons, and movies are in their public domain. This has caused much panic and anti-copyright extension protests in the past. If someone from those countries created a game or movie with the mouse, it would be illegal in the United States.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

How Does Literature Enter Into the Public Domain?

Trademarks and patents are entirely different

This is a tricky one since every country has different rules and laws. So, I'll only talk about the United States (sorry rest of the world).

1. Anything prepared by an officer or employee of the United States government as part of official duties is considered automatically in the public domain; this includes presidential speeches, military journalism, federal court opinions, congressional reports, census data, and other government reports.

2. No work is copyrighted for longer than 120 years under the current laws. However, this has a lot to do with the extensions put in place in the 70s, and late 90s. Nothing in the United States published before 1923 is copyrighted and many works after aren't either. Unpublished works before 1923 are copyrighted until 70 years after the author's death.

3. Once something enters the Public Domain, it can not be re-copyrighted by the US government, the author, or by whomever re-uses it. Even if the work is re-published, it remains in the Public Domain.

4. Anything created after January 1, 1978 is copyrighted for the entire author's life plus an additional 70 years. If there is more than one author, the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author's death.

5. Works that are "works for hire"--that is, works created by staffs such as Newspaper articles which give credit to the staff for writing--are copyrighted for 95 years after first publication or 120 years after the creation, whichever happens first.

6. Works between January 1, 1978 and February 28, 1989 must have had proper copyright notice or they were placed in the public domain.

7. Works created between 1964 and 1977 were given a second term of copyright protection.

8. Works created before 1964 and on or after January 1, 1923 must have renewed their copyright during their 28th year for an extension of 67 years, giving them a total of 95 years of copyright protection. This means all work created in 1923 will finally be out of copyright in 2019.

Does this sound confusing? Well it is!

Image source: Creative Commons on Flickr

Great Kindle Poetry Book

Poetic Night: Poems of Captivation
Poetic Night: Poems of Captivation

A child lost without answers. A teenager lost without direction. A young man lost without love. Poetic Night is a collection of Hess's greatest early poems.


How to Find Free Poetry

It's easier than it sounds

There are thousands, if not millions, of free poems within the Public Domain. The only problem is knowing how to find them. With the Internet, it is easier than ever to find more than you'll ever need.

Sadly, since the copyright laws are so complicated, it is tough to know for sure whether a poem published after January 1, 1923 is in the Public Domain or not. On the other hand, we are just as lucky with the invention of the Internet. Sites like Project Gutenberg keep track of many Public Domain poems and books.

If you aren't up to using Gutenberg for whatever reason, just be sure the poetry you wish to use was published before January 1, 1923. If you do this, you are home free.


A Great Free Poem

Chicago (1916) by Carl Sandburg

HOG Butcher for the World,

Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,

Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;

Stormy, husky, brawling,

City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.

And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.

And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.

And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.

Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,





Building, breaking, rebuilding,

Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,

Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,

Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,

Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse. and under his ribs the heart of the people,


Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Image source: Creative Commons on Flickr

James Whitcomb Riley
James Whitcomb Riley

Another Free Poem

Little Orphant Annie (1885) by James Whitcomb Riley

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,

An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,

An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,

An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;

An' all us other children, when the supper-things is done,

We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun

A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,

An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you

Ef you




Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,--

An' when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,

His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,

An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wuzn't there at all!

An' they sought him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,

An' sought him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'-wheres, I guess;

But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an' roundabout:--

An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you

Ef you




An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin,

An' make fun of ever' one, an' all her blood-an'-kin;

An' wunst, when they was "company," an' ole folks wuz there,

She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care!

An' thist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide,

They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,

An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'fore she knowed what she's about!

An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you

Ef you




An' little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,

An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!

An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,

An' the lightnin'-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--

You better mind yer parunts, an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,

An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,

An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,

Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you

Ef you




Image source: Public Domain

What is your favorite free poem?

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