A new villanelle and the end of NaPoWriMo

Well, it’s official – on the last morning of April I have finished NaPoWriMo – I have written 30 poems in 30 days (in reality in about 15 days but anyway), and so I can now tick off both writing challenges for the month (the other being Camp NaNoWriMo which I talked about here).

I find I learn a lot about myself writing poetry this way. I’m not the sort of person who spends hours on each and every poem. Some poems come to me in minutes. Some of my poems also suck, but some are kind of okay and sometimes the okay ones can be the quick ones too. I definitely think being in Sweden has affected my poetry this time around, with many of them revolving around the seasons (and hence being haiku), in particular Winter and Spring. But some of the themes I have touched upon in my poems have come from who knows where.

Anyway, I only wrote one villanelle this month, but they are my favourite kind of poem so I figured I’d share it. If you want to read about how villanelles work (and some better examples of the form), I wrote about it a couple of years ago in this post here, otherwise read on to see my latest villanelle:

Strong coffeeYou take your coffee extra strong tonight
It’s been a long and lonely day
But you’re going to come through alright

You look exhausted, a terrible sight
You’re unsure how long you’ll stay
So you take your coffee extra strong tonight

Because you don’t want to sleep this night
You have only just run away
But you’re going to come through alright

It took so long for you to see the light
To realise you shouldn’t exist that way
That’s why you take strong coffee tonight

You never tried to put up a fight
But you couldn’t hide from his violent display
You never thought you’d come through this alright

But never again will he give you such a fright
You’ve reclaimed your life, come what may
You take your coffee extra strong tonight
Because from now on everything will be alright

I won’t explain it much, because I feel it’s fairly self-explanatory what it’s about. I often find myself drawn to sad themes when I write villanelles, often of people trying to escape from some kind of pain or suffering, or sometimes about them not managing to escape but simply hoping to one day. I just find the circular nature of the poem forces me to really think about what I’m writing more, to really hone in on a singular moment and dig as deep as I can.

Anyway, with two writing challenges out of the way, it’s time for me to go rest, read, and think of all the blogging I’m going to do in May – I’m going to aim for three posts a week minimum, so stay tuned!

NaPoWriMo 2013: Week One Round-up

NaPoWriMo 2013I was off to a smashing start for this year’s NaPoWriMo, in which I write 30 poems in 30 days. The 1st of April was a public holiday for us in Australia, and so I had the whole day to run around getting various things done and still have time to write my first poem for the month. I wrote it quickly and with ease, a series of haiku ending in a senryu, and while I’m not overly keen on sharing it on here, I was fairly happy with it for the first poem I had written in some time.

Then the 2nd of April came along. The 3rd and 4th quickly followed, the 5th whooshed by, and the 6th snuck past me while my eyes were closed mid-sneeze (I’m a violent sneezer – I once sneezed so hard while standing up that I fell back into a chair. And by ‘once’ I mean it happens all the time).

But today, on the 7th of April, I woke up…feeling pretty awful actually. But anyway, fast forward to this afternoon, and I decided now was the time to catch up on this poetry, before it really is too late. And so I picked up the little writing pad I’m using for NaPoWriMo this year, and a pen, and I started scribbling down some poems, until a couple of hours later I was suddenly caught up (much to my own surprise).

The poem for day 2 was just a simple, quick haiku about a wintry day by the sea. Day 3 was a longer, free form poem about how life can feel like it is speeding away at its own pace and there’s nothing you can do but run along with it and see what happens (a feeling that I’m sure we all get from time to time). Day 4 was a silly limerick about a drunkard. Day 5 was inspired by a wedding I went to on that day. Day 6 was a villanelle for and about my girlfriend (and she will be the only one who will ever see/hear it), and today’s poem was a series of six haiku that were all vaguely based on some record breaking hot days from this summer that has just ended here in Australia.

So I’m all caught up, and ready to fall behind by a week again. But luckily I have one more week of teaching and then the kidlets (well…teenagers, they’re hardly kidlets) go on holidays for a couple of weeks, so I’ll have plenty of time for poetry writing later in the month.

For my fellow NaPoWriMoers, how are you going? What about those of you doing other writing endeavours such as Camp NaNo? I would love to hear from you all!

On Poetry – Part 3: The Villanelle – what is it, and what’s so good about it?

On Poetry – Part 3: The Villanelle – what is it, and what’s so good about it?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, in just under three days time, I will be partaking in the Poetry Writing Month challenge, in which I write 30 poems in 30 days. Some awesome people have already agreed to participate in this as well, which is quite exciting, and I am looking forward to the challenge immensely.

As part of this challenge, I am going to write a few blogs about different poetic forms, trying to focus on some of the lesser known, but perhaps more enjoyable, forms. I will outline the rules for each one, show examples, and explain what it is I personally like about it, as well.

Perhaps my favourite form is the villanelle. This form includes a lot of repetition to enforce a somewhat circular structure, not allowing any linear progression of narrative, but instead bringing the focus back around to the same thoughts and emotions, and really honing in on these, adding to their power and poignancy. It is relatively easy to get the hang of, and despite being a four hundred year old form, it has seen a great rebirth in the last century, due to its almost song-like qualities (indeed, when it first appear centuries ago, it was likely to have been sung like a song).

The basics of it are as follows. A villanelle consists of 19 lines, broken into five stanzas of 3 lines each, and ending on a final stanza of four lines. The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas, while the last line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas, and these two repeated lines then both reappear to make the last two lines of the final stanza. As a result, the whole poem falls into an aba rhyme scheme, with one sound being repeated thirteen times and the other six times. More importantly, once you’ve written the first stanza, you’ve also written the last lines of every other stanza, and so you just have to go back and fill in the blanks, so to speak – the circular structure has already been created.

Before going into any more detail, I think now is a good time for a couple of examples. In the first poem, some of the repeated lines are tweaked a little – this is alright as long as it is roughly the same as the line it should be repeating. In the other poem the lines are repeated with precision.

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

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

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

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

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

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

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight,
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Hopefully by reading through these two poems, you can see how this form works, how the repetition of the lines and the tight rhyming pattern keep a circular, musical feel to the villanelle. Hopefully you can see that this form isn’t restrictive – rather it is like a guide, to help steer thoughts and feelings in a particular way, while putting them down on the page. Hopefully these two poems, both from the twentieth century I might add, can demonstrate the different ways you can follow the rules of this form too – one follows it loosely, the other much more rigidly, yet both are powerful in their individual ways.

Since discovering this form, thanks to the book The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland, I have written maybe a dozen villanelles myself, and have utterly enjoyed writing them. No doubt I’ll write a few more over April, as well.

If you have never tried writing a villanelle before, have a go at writing one. You’ll be surprised how enjoyable it is, even if you’re not overly keen on writing or reading poetry. And if you do write one, I would love to read it, or even just hear about your experiences of attempting to write a villanelle, which can be as exciting as the final product itself.

Happy writing!