Saturday, December 4, 2010

Poetry 101: The Villanelle

I was inspired to do a Poems 101 spotlight on my blog by a presentation given at a library meeting by branch manager Wendy Saz from the Crozet Library about April's 'Poem in Your Pocket Day,' a day when they get the rights to print many different poems, roll them up, and tie them with a ribbon, like a tiny scroll.

On April 30th, these poems were distributed throughout the JMRL system libraries, but also at hospitals, senior centers, and right on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville. The idea that poetry isn't widely read anymore, but that it still can make a big impact on people's lives really resonated with me. The scrolls were handed out in Hopice and in the emergency room at Martha Jefferson Hospital, and were very well received.

Every month, I will try to feature a poem, or a poetic form-- just to keep it in your mind. And don't forget that every April is designated National Poetry Month!

This month's featured poem is the villanelle, which gets little to no notice when studying poems in school. It's a repetitive form that is really quite pretty, and also very much fun to write!

So what is a villanelle, exactly?
  • The villanelle is a poem of 19 lines-- it consists of 5 stanzas of three lines each, with a final (6th) stanza of four lines.  
  • Here's where it sounds confusing (but the example will clear it up)-- the first line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the 2nd and 4th stanzas. And to add to the mayhem, the third  line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the 3rd and 5th stanzas.
  • Do you think you have that? Add to these rules that the rhyme scheme is aba, and you'll have the makings of a villanelle! Due to the repeating scheme, there are really only 2 end rhyme sounds throughout the whole poem.
This example will hit it home for you:

"One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop

1     The art of losing isn't hard to master;                   a
2     so many things seem filled with the intent             b
3     to be lost that their loss is no disaster.                   a

      Lose something every day. Accept the fluster        a
      of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.                 b
1    The art of losing isn't hard to master.                    a

     Then practice losing farther, losing faster:             a
     places, and names and where it was you meant     b
3   to travel. None of these will bring disaster.            a

     I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or    a
     next-to-last, of three loved houses went.               b
1   The art of losing isn't hard to master.                    a

     I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,            a
     some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.      b
3   I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.                    a

     --Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture     a
     I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident                  b
1    the art of losing's not too hard to master             a
3   though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.    a

The lines on the left side of the poem indicate the lines that are repeated, to make it a little easier to understand. The letters on the side show the rhyme scheme. It makes a lot more sense when it's written out this way. 

I hope that I showed you a new type of poem, and maybe that you'll be encouraged to write your own. It doesn't need to be deeply meaningful. Make it fun, or make it somber, but whatever you do, make it your own! I wrote one about how I love my feet-- so clearly seriousness is not an issue.


Strand, Mark and Eavan Boland, eds. (2000). The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

1 comment:

  1. I have to mention, that what I like about Bishop's poem is that she doesn't stick to the original lines very strictly, but the repetition is still very much there. The changes she makes to the lines lets it flow better.