Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Friday, September 6, 2013

Writing Exercise - the villanelle

 by Ashley Lister

 The villanelle is a nineteen-line poetic form consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain. There are two refrains and two repeating rhymes, with the first and third line of the first tercet repeated alternately until the last stanza, which includes both repeated lines.

This is a complex form – but it’s worth persevering.

The villanelle has been used for such memorable poems as Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle into that Goodnight’, Theodore Roethke’s ‘The Waking’ and Sylvia Plath’s ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song.’ Writing a villanelle is not easy but, once you’ve accomplished it, you’re in good company.

You may do me, and I will owe you one
Or until then I shall owe one to you
This lovers’ trade is really not a con

I guarantee it will be lots of fun
For me, at least (which might be nothing new)
You may do me, and I will owe you one

We shouldn’t start a sexu’l marathon
I know we’ve both got other things to do
This lovers’ trade is really not a con

But I’d like it if you could get me done
I don’t care if you suck or if we screw
You may do me, and I will owe you one

We’d celebrate with chilled Dom Perignon
I’ve brought a demi and champagne flutes: two
This lovers’ trade is really not a con

To get me off we’ll have to get it on
My need for satisfaction’s overdue
You may do me, and I will owe you one
This lovers’ trade is really not a con

There is a formula:  A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2. Here the letters (a and b) indicate the two rhyme sounds. The use of upper case letters indicates a refrain. And the superscript numerals indicate the different use of refrain one and refrain two.

Would another example help to illustrate the form better?

You ask me if I’d like to be restrained
A1
You think our love could flourish with me bound
b
You claim you want to see me being chained
A2 


This interest in restraint is unexplained
a
And I think our relationship is sound
b
You ask me if I’d like to be restrained
A1


You say I should be physically detained
a
Or tied up like some safe/secured hound
b
You claim you want to see me being chained
A2 


I say, “Perhaps I might like being caned?”
a
Your eagerness does not get off the ground
b
You ask me if I’d like to be restrained
A1


You say my problem is that I’m untrained
a
You bring out rope next time we fool around
b
You claim you want to see me being chained
A2 


We tried it way back once and I complained
a
But with a gag I didn’t make a sound
b
You ask me if I’d like to be restrained
A1
You claim you want to see me being chained
A2 

The villanelle is a lot of fun to work with. It is a complex form but I figure those who’ve been reading these columns over the past year or so will be ready for the adventure of a greater challenge.

As always, I look forward to reading your villanelles in the comments box below.

Ash

20 comments:

  1. Hi, Ash,

    I'd like to know how you approach this. Do you come up with the refrains first? The complexity of this form is a bit overwhelming. It seems like a construction project more than a form.

    (I particularly like your second example, though.)

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  2. Thanks Lisabet,

    This one is a bit tricky but it's worth persevering. Go for the refrain first and build the rest of the poem around that.

    Ash

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  3. In Suspension

    The strands of velvet rope about your skin
    bite deep and leave the marks of subtle pain
    a testament to patient discipline.

    Hoisted high on pulleys we begin
    exploring pleasure in a lighter vein;
    the strands of velvet rope about your skin

    Under heady candlelight you spin
    the chandelier of dominant domain
    a testament to patient discipline.

    Whispers of encouragement, the saccharin
    of honeyed words strung in a chain,
    the strands of velvet rope about your skin

    The flicker of a glazing eye wherein
    a measure of regret will build and wane
    a testament to patient discipline.

    The crescendo of a moody violin
    draws to a close. Endorphins strain
    the strands of velvet rope about your skin;
    a testament to patient discipline.

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  4. Rachel - love this one. This is hypnotic and compelling.

    I paused over the extra syllable in the line 'Whispers of encouragement, the saccharin' but you've balanced that with missing syllables from the subsequent line - which lends enjambment and a conversational feel to the piece.

    Brilliant as always - I'm going to tweet you.

    Ash

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  5. You are too kind! You know my penchent for enjambment, I think. I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed this, though I had to substitute 'flesh' with 'skin' for lack of rhymes.

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  6. Rachel - love your poem (as always). For some reason, though, Blogger always seems to block your comments, requiring moderation. Maybe you should try posting through another account.

    Ash - I'm still seeking inspiration... may take me months, but I'm determined to try this form. I really liked the examples Nettie linked to on the Writers list. I noticed, though, that in both cases, the refrain lines were altered slightly as the poem progressed. Is this kosher?

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  7. Thanks Lisabet. I assumed that was how the blog was set -- I'll try another account next time.

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  8. Rachel? this one got blocked too???

    Unfortunately, I'm off on a long trip tomorrow so I don't have time to investigate this. I'll try to do so upon my return.

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    Replies
    1. I'm going to try to see if my reply shows up because it's a reply to your post. Trying to reply to the entry itself has not been "successful" in the past month for my account either.

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  9. Well, Ashley, I have to start at the end with villanelles. Without the end, I can't begin. This form just kills me because I write in serial fashion, from the first line and move from there. While I have other friends who never get started until they have their last line, I'm the opposite. Forms like this, I envy them. aaarghh! Next stop though is trying to rework an end I like back into the Begin-ing...

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  10. Trying my response under my wordpress login.

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  11. Hi Nettie

    1 - Both your responses are showing up here, so that's one hurdle we've overcome.

    2 - I was discussing rigid forms with a colleague last week. He'd written a remarkable sestina (a form which I'm going to have bring onto this blog if we haven't already looked at it) and we decided that sometimes writing to a framework is something less like poetry and more like a word game.

    Like you, I envy those people who can reel these off with such apparent ease.

    Ash

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  12. But I do like word games. I'm familiar with both sestinas and villanelles. I've almost made it all the way through a sestina. The forms seem to work for some people and some forms work for me. It's quite like trying on a hat, I believe. Not all hat shapes are made for all princess-es, if you know what I mean.

    That said, there's a reason why the forms have successfully navigated time in this language - because the music is apparent. Myself, one of my best pieces was a sapphic verse. There's no repetition in that, it's strictly accentual syllabic. And when I have to stop and consider what kind of rhyming "works" for me, it's near rhyme, or feminine, more than the perfect end / masculine.

    So, I don't really have a problem with "poetry" as word games, because, I see poetry as "the best words in the best order" no matter if it's free verse, or strictly formal. It's the marriage of line, syllable (I'm reading Olsen at the moment - trying to make it through his remarkable essay), breath, and image to me.

    Could the piece communicate in another form, with other line breaks, or syntax, as effectively as it does in Form A, or Form B, or Form C? That's the question. I've got a piece out & I've read someone else's, and the answer to those is, "no.". But are all forms appropriate for all themes? thoughts? "voices"? I'd suggest not.

    But these are great examples. Sitting down and really trying to work it out is a wonderful exercise, even if it doesn't work out. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Nettie - interesting points.

      When your asking if a piece works as effectively as it does in Form A, or Form B, or Form C - are you suggesting we should try rewriting the content of a sonnet in villanelle form? Or did I miss-read your suggestion?

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    2. Yes, you've got the idea, Ashley. I played around with that idea of switching form for a piece recently, but it was more about moving a piece from a 200 word piece of "prose" (i.e., no line breaks) to one with line breaks. The readers seemed to respond better to the work when it had line breaks. I think it made the stylized imagery, the rhythm, and the internal rhyme more apparent, so they were comfortable with reading it. I also read a beautiful piece by John Eivaz where he does play with line length, line break, and word order. I have my favorites.

      But back to the forms themselves, I think there are pieces which are best expressed in their particular form. That is to say, I couldn't read Rhina Espiallat's "Song" as anything except as a villanelle - that the form itself was perfect for the expression of the idea, the thoughts. It made the meaning "larger". The repetition and the rhyme, something which imparts a kind of "lightness" to a work, actually adds to the darkness of the described action in this case. It was a wonderful contrast.

      So, I was trying to say "not really" in my response about "framework" versus "word game". While forms can be word games and the word games can lead you to something trivial, the frameworks also allow for something profound to occur, but it is specific to the theme, tone, etc. being appropriate to the frame itself. Because, yes, I do not believe that there are very many sonnets out there which could successfully be rewritten into a villanelle because the most successful sonnets are rightly expressed by that form.


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  13. Been away, but here's my first attempt at this.
    ------

    Galatea (Villanelle)
    By Lisabet Sarai

    I am a pure creation of your will
    Engraved in lineaments of love and pain
    I wait for you, obedient and still.

    I never dreamed surrender's joy until
    Your chisel stripped me bare and made it plain
    I am a pure creation of your will.

    Your breath is life; your anger brings a chill
    That freezes me to marble once again.
    I wait for you, obedient and still.

    Your wild designs on pliant flesh fulfill
    Unspoken needs. Your fantasies sustain.
    I am a pure creation of your will.

    With alchemy of lust, your arts distill
    The essence of devotion, as you train
    My soul to wait, obedient and still.

    You kindle me and endless pleasures spill
    Through all the limbs your clever bonds restrain.
    I am a pure creation of your will.
    I wait for you, obedient and still.

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    Replies
    1. I've got to echo what Rachel's already said. This is Beautiful and near perfect. I'd love to hear this one being read. Not just because I think there's a musicality, but also I think that would add to the mystery.

      At the start of the second stanza you refer to surrender's joy whereas a spoken version of this would leave the hearer wondering if you were referring to a single possessive surrender or a pluralised series of surrenders.

      Great poetry,

      Ash

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    2. I'm embarrassed. Because putting this together was far more of a mechanical process - like solving a puzzle - than an artistic one. The subjective experience couldn't be further from what I used to experience when I was writing a lot of poetry, back in my angsty days.

      But of course I'm glad you like it. And I'm glad (good sub that I am) I was able to follow the rules!

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  14. Blimey, Lisabet. Beautiful as as near perfect as it's possible to be, I think. Brava. You almost make me want to try submission again. Almost.

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    Replies
    1. "...almost make me want to try submission again..."

      Only almost? ;-)

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