Sunday, 11 May 2014

Villanelles, it’s all in the pace

Hello, bonjour à tous! This week I have a special treat for you all. I will be laying out how to write Villanelles, one of my favourite poetic forms to write. This was the last form I learned in the traditional method back in college, for me, I feel it’s one of the easiest forms to learn, because like the sonnet, it’s a flexible form, but at the same more rigid.
            Let’s get right into this one; Villanelles have been shrouded in literary mystery for a long time, it took theorists what seemed like an eternity to distinguish the origins of this form. Originally it was believed that Villanelles originated from the Villanella, a type of Italian and Spanish folk song, however scholars now agree that only one true villanelle was written during the Renaissance: a poem by the same title, penned by Frenchman Jean Passerat. Because the form was considered complex on the continent, its form remained unpopular until the 19th century. It finally became popular when Theodore de Banville took up writing the form. Since then many authors, including James Joyce have been writing them. This 19 lined form has been described as some as the ‘exquisite torture wrapped up in 19 lines’.
            So, where do we start in learning this poetic form? The Villanelle is built, literally built in my mind, from five tercets and a final quatrain. In each line one can have between 6-11 syllables, averaging about 8 per line. The first and last line of the first tercets are repeated alternatively on the last line of each tercets until the final quatrain, where the final two lines are used consecutively to round off the poem. In This form it is important to have the first and third lines of the tercets to have a strong rhyme scheme, half rhymes, or slant rhymes are possible but they may often not work work when in the last quatrain.
            Some key vocabulary:
Tercet: a three line paragraph in a poem.
Quatrain: a four line paragraph in a poem.
Half rhyme: A general term for a rhyme where the last syllable is not a strong rhyme in spelling but in sound or sight, or in some other way.
Slant Rhyme: alternative word for half rhyme but these specifically apply to technical features such as sound rhyme, eye rhymes.
            Villanelles may typically look like this:


For me this style of poetry comes naturally, but we must remember that the form you write your poem in will change on the subject and your aim, but that is another more integrated topic. The benefit of the Villanelle is a strong rhythm which rolls throughout the poem, its resolution repeated throughout but separated until it rushes together climaxing the poem. Today I’ll do something a little different from last time and use one of my own poems as an example:

 Broken Record

I am a record, broken of course
Never changing my tone, same note
By that needle, always so coarse.

I play Jazz, though nothing morose
I survived the jukebox but-
I am a record, broken of course

I’m even a grandparent, loose
Are my CD children, unhurt?
By that needle, always so coarse.

Though the dust settled only once
Will Rap or the robot end my lot?
I am a record, broken of course

They still listen, smiles toothless
Partying no more in the night light
By that needle, always so coarse.

I repeat lines like a river’s course,
I will always proudly put-
I am a record, broken of course
By that needle, always so coarse.


It is one of my older pieces which I still can’t fix, but everything I have highlighted is on show here. I discussed last week how free verse and sonnets could interact, making the sonnet popular today, with this form, there is no room to update, as I know it yet; it has a form, with free meter and rhythm, but the form cannot change and nor can the rhyme scheme. Interesting devices to combine with this form can include extended metaphors, similes, alliteration and allegory. This has been another quick-how to and history of poetry.
            Until next time, read, write, live.

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