FORM

A few folks have suggested that I meet with their writing group (they meet every Monday night at 9 pm) — and maybe do an informal poetry-writing exercise. They sound very interesting and disciplined… I’ve heard they give themselves weekly writing tasks — a few weeks ago they were writing 55-word short stories! Apparently distance is no limitation, either, because South Pole Charlie told me that he was struggling to write some 55 word stories with have a plot (versus 55 word prose poems in which things like plot and character development are optional). Members try to show up with new work from the “assignment” each week. I like the idea that this McMurdo writing group is viral in nature, and has infected the South Pole station via email.

THE FREEDOM OF FORM

This is a great creative device — tried-&-true– to give oneself a limitation, a frame/form, or a (jail) cell to work within. I just had a conversation about this with the photographer Ann Hawthorne last night. Sad note – her project is finished, and she left Antarctica this afternoon.

The following is a terriffic example of a villanelle, from The Wide White Page anthology (thanks to Bill Jirsa for reminding me that it was in there!)

ANTARCTICA
– Derek Mahon

‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’
The others nod, pretending not to know.
At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

He leaves them readily and begins to climb,
Goading his ghost into the howling snow;
He is just going outside and may be some time.

The tent recedes beneath its crust of rime
And frostbite is replaced by vertigo:
At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

Need we consider it some sort of crime,
This numb self-sacrifice of the weakest? No,
He is just going outside and may be some time –

In fact, for ever. Solitary enzyme,
Though the night yield no glimmer there will glow,
At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

He takes leave of the earthly pantomime
Quietly, knowing it is time to go.
‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’
At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

As you can see from the poem above, the structure of a villanelle is 19 lines, arranged in tercets, with a closing quatrain. Within the poem, certain lines must be repeated, while others are required to match a certain end-rhym pattern (a or b). A villanelle may appear deceptively easy at first (repeated lines = instant poem! right?), but then the form unfolds like origami, or the folded bellows of an accordian, and you realize that crafting the poems internal form, the subtle music/elegance/meaning, is an endless challenge.

Here are a few other examples of poems written in this form:

If anyone is reading this — I urge you to try your hand at writing a villanelle! The examples should give you a sense of what is repeated and how things rhyme, but here is the markup, to help you understand how villanelles are constructed:

A1
b (new)
A2 (end-rhymes with A1)

a (end-rhymes with A)
b (new, end-rhymes with prev. b)
A1 (paste here)

a (end-rhymes with A)
b (new, end-rhymes with prev. b)
A2 (paste here)

a (end-rhymes with A)
b (new, end-rhymes with prev. b)
A1 (paste here)

a (end-rhymes with A)
b (new, end-rhymes with prev. b)
A2 (paste here)

a (end-rhymes with A)
b (new, end-rhymes with prev. b)
A1 (paste here)
A2 (paste here)

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One thought on “FORM

  1. My urge to try a villanelle
    To fold my words in yoga poses
    How tight they’ll be is hard to tell.

    I start by bending back an “L”
    No easy fight as it opposes
    My urge to try a villanelle

    Like

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