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Villanelle Lover

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Villanelles My Own

I myself have written only about half a dozen villanelles —

    2015-08-04 19.23.29

  • My first villanelle was written during my final year of college for a one-on-one college course with Professor Hollis, a course involving assignments to write a poem in each of 3 or 4 dozen poetic forms. I lost almost all records to my high school and college poetry in 1977, but in the case of my Hollis villanelle, the loss was merciful: my first attempt was not memorable. Don’t blame Hollis: he simply handed me the 1968 edition of Turco’s book and left me on my own. I’ll freely pin some fault on Turco; even if his first version could be thought somewhat ground-breaking as a comprehensive guide, none of his subsequent editions improve on his pitifully scant guidance for the villanelle. Quite notably, Turco gives neither the villanelle writer nor the villanelle reader the slightest clue to what Finch quite properly identifies as the key to a good villanelle: a suitable couplet. If I hadn’t had to write 2-3 dozen different forms, almost all entirely foreign to me, in the space of a single semester clogged with other studies — like, if my course with Hollis had been my main study that winter and if he’d had me attempt to write 2-3 dozen villanelles — maybe I might have learned on my own things that neither Hollis nor Turco taught me. Or even if I’d had more than Dylan Thomas to go by, maybe I could have taken it more seriously. As is, it’s probably best that my Hollis villanelle is forever lost, even its general gist long forgotten.
  • Vu Jade — Originally posted during the late 1980s on an electronic bulletin board in the pre-Web era, preserved in its re-posting in this blog. I recall its original bulletin board posting being the target of criticism “not a villanelle” by one of those ultra-rigid poetic form police — all too often, a mere C-level student who has learned enough to know the structure given by Turco without having read enough villanelles to know that the form’s history has never been so ridiculously strict, not from the very beginning, not ever throughout, and certainly not in modern practice. I wouldn’t have asked Hollis to judge my Vu Jade a “good” villanelle; but it IS a villanelle.
  • Booted — Providing a terminus ante quem for my awareness of the importance of the couplet to the villanelle. Within a month, two months at most, before I wrote this poem, my poetry reading had first encountered a villanelle written on the basis of the couplet that had been first seen as the closing two lines of a Shakespearian sonnet. (In fact, that poet was then working on a series of villanelles based on the closing couplets of Shakespeare’s own sonnets.) Shortly afterward, I first encountered Bishop’s amazing sonnet, which I then immediately read aloud to SuziQ. In my monologue praising Bishop’s art, I spoke of the power of her villanelle’s couplet, then in general about how crucial the couplet is to any good villanelle. Whereupon, to illustrate the villanelle form more directly to SuciQ, I took to drafting this villanelle for her. Of course, to a very great extent to demonstrate the vast chasm between the high art of a poet like Bishop, as contrasted with the toys I craft. But if nothing else, this sampling of my own writing does show: I do have fun with the villanelle form!
  • Light Exercise — The title says it all.
  • No Thanks to Banks — A dated financial scenario’s echo of Dylan Thomas. At least, to the extent of his famous villanelle’s couplet, although I wander off from his list approach for my intermediate 4 tercets. Whatev.
  • Quinoa and Black Beans — Typical of the few villanelles I’ve written, this one aimed at celebrating the fun I see in poetry in general, and in the villanelle form specifically. For my key metaphor to illustrate the point, I look to a food I had no liking for — quinoa — until I was introduced to a dish mixing that grain with black beans. Point to anything you think to be no fun, and more likely than not it’s simply missing a companion that would make it so. Quite like how one of the two key lines in a villanelle needs a compatible companion line in order for the villanelle to be any fun.
  • Villanelle to an Unknown Bone, one of the poems written for the special collection I called The Boardinghouse Madrigals. The character Mr. Richards in the drama is not supposed to be a good poet, so the biggest fault of this villanelle would be if I didn’t make it bad enough . . . by design, it’s not supposed to be a good villanelle. Except that in a sense, I’m attempting to toy with one of the other potential applications of villanelle repetition: light-hearted humor. Like how Dr. Seuss and many other fun writers rely heavily on repetition, in this villanelle I attempt (while still trying to do so poorly, a la the play’s character) to put the repetition to use for humor. Past that, half the fun of this poem for me was how replete it is with direct references back to dialog and plot in the play itself — like an inside joke, you’ll never get it unless you see the play.
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Written by macheide

4 August 2015 at 8:12 pm


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