Category Archives: Poetic Forms

Poetic Forms: Villanelle

About Villanelles

A villanelle is a French form, originally a song with no fixed form. It evolved into a fixed form, with five three-line stanzas and a final stanza consisting of four lines. treesThere are two repeating rhymes and two refrains:
A1 b A2
a b A1
a b A2
a b A1
a b A2
a b A1 A2

where A1 and A2 are the two refrains (repeated lines) and the letters a and b represent the two repeating rhymes.

A famous Villanelle
Dylan Thomas’s well-known poem, Do not go gentle into that good night, is a villanelle:

Do not go gentle into that good night
Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953
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.

A Villanelle of mine:

Here’s one of mine:

Soldiers’ Villanelle
by Margaret Fieland

Soldiers face death on the field
Outnumbered, yet they do not run
Facing death, they do not yield

Some may say their fate is sealed
Standing there beneath the sun
Soldiers face death on the field

What will be their fate revealed
Falling slowly one by one
Facing death they do not yield

Are there weapons they can wield
Is there hope or is there none
Soldiers face death on the field

By hardship they have been annealed
Today their fate they do not shun
Facing death they do not yield

In the end there is no shield
All lie dead, the battle done
Soldiers face death on the field
Facing death they do not yield

You can read more about villanelles here

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villanelle

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Poetic forms: Ghazal

What is a Ghazal?

A ghazal is poem with at least five and no more than fifteen (rhyming) couples with a repeated rhyme, typically on the theme of love. In Arabic, there is a set meter; In English, meter is not imposed, though the lines are meant to be the same length. The stanzas are meant to be autonomous, and typically there is a refrain. In the following poem, by Agha Shahid Ali, the refrain is “in real time.”

 

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A well-known Ghazal

Ghazal
BY AGHA SHAHID ALI

Feel the patient’s heart

Pounding—oh please, this once—
—JAMES MERRILL

I’ll do what I must if I’m bold in real time.
A refugee, I’ll be paroled in real time.

Cool evidence clawed off like shirts of hell-fire?
A former existence untold in real time …

The one you would choose: Were you led then by him?
What longing, O Yaar, is controlled in real time?

Each syllable sucked under waves of our earth—
The funeral love comes to hold in real time!

They left him alive so that he could be lonely—
The god of small things is not consoled in real time.

Please afterwards empty my pockets of keys—
It’s hell in the city of gold in real time.

God’s angels again are—for Satan!—forlorn.
Salvation was bought but sin sold in real time.

And who is the terrorist, who the victim?
We’ll know if the country is polled in real time.

“Behind a door marked DANGER” are being unwound
the prayers my friend had enscrolled in real time.

The throat of the rearview and sliding down it
the Street of Farewell’s now unrolled in real time.

I heard the incessant dissolving of silk—
I felt my heart growing so old in real time.

Her heart must be ash where her body lies burned.
What hope lets your hands rake the cold in real time?

Now Friend, the Belovèd has stolen your words—
Read slowly: The plot will unfold in real time.

(for Daniel Hall)

My Ghazal

Here is one of mine:

 

The two of us

When we were first together
sun shone on the two of us.

We strolled down New York’s broad avenues,
noticed nobody but the two of us.

We scoured the local paper’s rental listings.
The apartment belonged to the two of us.

I smiled and the day was brighter
whenever I thought of the two of us.

We picked out new bookcases,
packed them with books for the two of us.

After a few years, we would sit and stare.
Nothing but silence between the two of us.

We would go to the movies,
our hands in our own laps, the two of us.

I would wake up at night
with the cat between the two of us.

Why did it go wrong,
when did it stop being the two of us?

 

Persona Poems and me

About Persona Poems

Persona poems are poems that are written in a voice other than that of the author, where the author pretends to be someone else. The first one I wrote was in response to a poetry writing exercise. The next one that I recall writing ended up in “Lifelines.” Since then, I’ve created two treb4cfimaginary poets as part of the science fiction novels I’m writing, and written at least 30 poems by each of them.

Writing a persona poems involves getting inside the head of the narrator (or in my case, the supposed author of the poems). It’s kind of like acting a part in a play, except that the writer is creating their own dialogue.

A Well-known Persona Poem

Here is a persona poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, one of my favorite poets.The young girl’s voice, her longing, and her desire to be  bad come through so clearly.

Notice the pattern of two unrhymed lines followed by two lines with end rhymes, and how in the final stanza both pairs of lines rhyme.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172082

a song in the front yard

By Gwendolyn Brooks

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.

I want a peek at the back

Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.

A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now

And maybe down the alley,

To where the charity children play.

I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.

They have some wonderful fun.

My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine

How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.

My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae

Will grow up to be a bad woman.

That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late

(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.

And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,

And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace

And strut down the streets with paint on my face.

Creating a poet  — or two

In the course of writing my science fiction series, Novels of Aleyne, One thing that surprised me in creating the two poets and writing in their voices was the ease with which I slipped inside their heads. The first poet I created, Raketh Namar, namesake of the main character in my novel Relocated was supposed to live and write 5,000 years before the action in the novel and was the author of one of the most sacred texts of my aliens, the Aleynis. I don’t usually write prayers or write about spiritual subjects, yet I found myself writing them without difficulty.  Later, I created another poet, Constance Trusdatter, a very political poet who lives and writes about 100 years before the action of Broken Bonds, the second book in the series. I don’t usually write much about politics, yet a good number of Constance’s poems are strongly worded poems about this very subject.

World Creation

I am a way-back science fiction fan, but until November,  2010, I had never

written a science fiction story. The

This is the cover for my  poetry collection, Sand in the desert. I wrote the poems to go long with Relocated, which I wrote for 2010 National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo.

Around September or October of 2010 I decided I would simply go for it and write a science fiction novel for NaNo.  I started with the world-building: the planet, the aliens, the Terran Federation, the aliens’ society, values, arts, politics (or lack thereof). I’d been mulling over several things for years: a society based on personal responsibility, and one where the “normal” relationships contained multiple partners and included same-sex relationships.  I continued happily outlining the society and the people. I noted down about a page about the plot, including the main character, his father, and a couple of others.  I decided to write a YA/MG sci fi novel.

To make the plot work, I needed my aliens to be distinctive but close to human in appearance. I gave them wider hands and feet, no body hair, and heads that were more oval than ours. I also needed them to have skin color that could be found here on earth, yet still be distinctive, so for this and a number of other reasons, one of them being that I was damned sick of the good guys always being white, I made my aliens, my main character, and his father Black.

I also wanted to participate in Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides November Chapbook challenge, so I conceived of a poet to tie the two together. One of my alien characters is a scholar, and my main character ends up studying the poems of my imaginary poet. Raketh Namar, the author of the poems, exists in the universe of the novel some five thousand years before the action of the book on planet Aleyne. Raketh Namar, the poet, was the author of one of the most sacred texts of my aliens, the Aleynis. I don’t usually write prayers or write about spiritual subjects, yet I found myself writing them without difficulty. Raketh Frey, the main character in the novel, studies these poems during the course of the action. Eight of the poems, noted in the acknowledgments, appear in the book.

In the universe of the novel, this collection of poems was translated into English Common Speech by two of the other characters in the novel, Ardaval Namar and Gavin Frey, the father of my main character, Raketh Frey. Aleynis do not translate their sacred texts, and this translation is therefore unusual.

Having written the poems, I wanted to put together the collection and publish it, but having dilly-dallied for some time, I decided to self-publish. The cover, designed by Karen Cioffi, and Michele Graf edited the collection, including some valuable suggestions about the order of the poems.

Here is one of the poems:

Ode to My Father

When I was very small child

he was as tall

as the stars.

When I was boy-high

he had shrunk

to the height of a large tree

When I became a man,

he shrank to the size

of a fist.

When I became a father,

he rose again.

His head touched the sky.

Now he is gone.

I take my small son

and point heavenward.

“There is your grandfather.”

Here’s an exercise that you might want to try:

Left as an Exercise for the Reader

Read up on a famous figure (living or dead)  (or use someone you know) whose personality is completely different from your own. Write a poem from that person’s perspective about an important event or series of events that shaped who he or she was.   

Poetic Forms: Sestina

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The sestina is a poetic form consisting of six six-line stanzas and a three-line envoy. It is attributed to twelfth century French troubadour Arnaut Daniel.The six end words of the first stanza cycle in a pattern thusly:

B  E/ D C/ F A
or
F  A/D  C/B  E

There are several online “Sestina Generators” that will spit out the correct pattern given the six end words of the first stanza, for example:

http://www.renajmosteirin.com/sestina.html

Here is a link to another sestina generator

dilute.net/sestinas

How to choose your end words

There are many ways to choose end words. One is to write the first stanza and then lay out the pattern for the rest. The other, the one I often use, is to pick six words, generate the skeleton, and start writing. I try to choose words with more than one meaning and that can be used as more than one part of speech.

Before writing your own, check out some of these:

Here is a link to  sestina by Elizabeth Bishop:

http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/sestina/

Here are the first two stanzas:

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September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child

Here is a  link to sestina by Ezra Pound:

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15423

Here is one of mine, one that rhymes:

Gone Shopping

Now, sit and listen to my tale
of a beautiful flyer that came in the mail
with pictures of roses and posies on sale.
It looked so alluring, I ran to catch the rail.
The train was pulling out, and I turned rather pale,
but spotted a taxi I was able to hail.

My heart was pounding. I had to inhale
many deep breaths, then told the driver my tale
I started a list: flowers, rake, shovel, pail
but became distracted by a handsome male
beside the road, leaning on a rail,
holding a small boat with a red sail.

Despite my eagerness to get to the sale,
I stopped the taxi in order to hail
the handsome stranger leaning on the rail.
I wondered if he would turn tail,
but I decided he was such a stunning male,
to take a chance. He glared at me, casting a pall

over my joy in the day. I turned quite pale
when he told me he intended to sail
his small boat on the pond, and only a female
would be so stupid as to hale
a stranger with such a sorry tale.
He went on and on, continued to rail

at me. I was completely unable to derail
his ranting. I told him to stick his head in a pail
then stick the hole thing up his tail
and exactly what he could do with his sail.
Then it started to hail.
I shook loose from the demented male.

jumped back in the taxi to ponder my mail,
told the driver to take to the trail.
I let out my breath with a big exhale.
The whole incident left me shaky and pale,
but I was determined to get to that sale,
even though it meant turning tail.

I left the handsome male. I did buy the flowers, rake, and pail.
But I took the rail when I returned from the sale,
still whole, hearty and hale. I hope you enjoyed my tale.

Go ahead, give it a try for yourself, and, if you like, post yours in the comments.

Poetic forms: Centos and Haikus

Poetic forms: the cento

A cento is like a rag rug, it’s composed of bits and pieces from other things. In the case of the rug, it’s pieces of old fabric. For the cento, it’s made of verses or passages from other poems, songs, articles, stories, or whatever by other authors.811583493_2871931482_0

Here’s a link to follow for more about centos:

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/cento-poetic-form

The first cento I ever wrote was a haiku sequence, and perhaps because I’m a musician, I composed it using verses from old songs: Clementine, Go Tell Aunt Rhody, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Jingle Bells, Good King Wencheslas, and the old Tennessee Ernie Ford song, “Sixteen Tons,” which is one of my favorites. The haiku sequence was the traditional 5-7-5 syllable count of the Japanese haiku, rather than the freer form (seventeen syllables or less) used in so many modern American haiku. Choosing the 5-7-5 syllable count made it easy to select the songs.

 

See

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/haiku-poetic-form

for more about haikus.

 

Go tell Aunt Rhody, A Haiku Sequence

 

Twelve drummers drumming

When the snow was round about

Now the ground is white

 

Nine ladies dancing

Excavating for a mine

Dashing through the snow

 

Ten lords a leaping

When the snow lay round about

making spirits bright

 

Dashing through the snow

A partridge in a pear tree

Make the Yule-tide gay

 

If the Fates allow

When a poor man came in sight

Let your heart be light

 

And the store boss said

When a poor man came in sight

jingle all the way!

 

Here’s one I wrote  using lines from songs about the sea.

Sailor’s Song

 

A hundred years ago, three thousand miles away

A Yankee ship came down the river

With the tinkers and tailors and soldiers and all

 

Bound to the westward where the stormy winds blow

When this bold pirate

Fought them up and down

 

Fire in the cabin, fire in the hold

For to fight the foreign foe

Captain Hull broke his heart and died

 

He fought like a hero till he died

And fifty-five more lay bleeding in gore

Then the signal was sent for the grand ship to anchor.

They dug his grave with a silver spade

 

 

Here’s where they came from:

http://www.contemplator.com/sea/index.html

A Hundred Years Ago, “A Hundred years ago”

Three Thousand Miles, “Three Thousand Miles Away”

Blow, Boys, Blow, “A Yankee Ship Came Down the River”

Blow the Man Down, “With the tinkers and tailors and soldiers and all”

The Dreadnought, “..bound to the westward where the stormy winds blow”

The Bold Princess Royal, ” .. when this bold pirate”

Admiral Benbow, ” ..fought them up and down”

Fire Down Below, ” Fire in the cabin, fire in the hold,”

Johnny Todd, “For to fight the foreign foe”

Captain Hull, “Captain Hull”

Boney Was A Warrior “broke his heart and died”

Bold Nelson’s Praise, “He fought like a hero till he died”

John Paul Jones, “and fifty-five more lay bleeding in gore”

Spanish Ladies, “Then the signal was sent for the grand ship to anchor”

Storm Along, “They Dug His Grave with a silver spade”

And how, you might ask, did I pick these lines? After I decided I wanted to write a cento using lines from songs about the sea, I searched for a website, and found the one above. I started down the list of songs, picking lines that looked like they might fit. Then I rearranged them. Then I rearranged them again. Then I passed the result past my poetry critique group, removed two lines that didn’t fit, and rearranged the poem into three line stanzas instead of quatrains. And there it was.

Try it — it’s loads of fun.