Self and reality. Symbol and language. Myth and image. Memory and consciousness.
Dream and unreality: locus communis.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Making of a Villanelle

Closed form poetry and I often bicker. Our relationship is a troubling one, dysfunctional at best. Times exist when the arguments and cursing flow, charging the air blue with abnormal, unacceptable vocabulary. Other times— an abnormal peace lingers over my notebook. At best, we tolerate each other, a nod of respect exchanged in the midmorning reading.
In my records of past journal entries,I pointed out that I was seeking:
—to remember the name of a song for a reference point for a blues poem idea, for expressing a personal tragedy in the shape of a story-poem: the loss of a partner to war, being told of the loss—
Over the last ten days formal poetry and I have been conducting heavy discussions, late night debates. My journals and papers shift to red ink: rearrangement of syllables and rhyming sounds. A villanelle entered the equation— a form with high expectations of iambic meter and steady repetition of lines— in a sense, loosely similar to a blues refrain.
A1
B
A2

A
B
A1

A
B
A2

A
B
A1

A
B
A2

A
B
A1
A2
In actuality, this discussion all started because my manuscript Quintet seemed too light. The jazz poems seemed less experimental than I would have liked. In particular one persona, the solo vocalist, emerged into the text only once or twice— she needed a larger presence in the unfolding scenes. Using the mentality of staging a night club act, one short song-poem was not enough to allow her figure to blur with the environment. Taking the one completed song, I motioned the material from a single form to a three part cycle of blues-based lyrics. Each of the three stand now independent of the others, yet, a commonality between all of them is bridged in a subtle manner. Three becomes one, yet retaining three parts.

I found a great resource form the library, a collection of American war poetry, edited by Lorrie Goldensohn. Its weight is severe in my hands. The heft of words, somber.
Shrapnel itself exists as fragments of metal; portions of the whole wounding the body continuously; a life continuously at war within itself. Fighting the hidden. Even years after the battle is over.
Shards. Remnants.
After multiple drafts, (and rejected lines, phrases) the animosity between poem and writer has calmed. We’ve reached a lingering truce. The opening stanza reads:
There’s little left of what my world contains
since that failed Sunday cars slipped up the drive—
and through the screen door three men spoke your name.
From here, the narrative unfolds, showing the song’s persona struggling with bad news.
At its core, the poem deals with the sudden unexpected timing of death— the same personal level of my brother’s passing, how it sent shock waves and multiple aftershocks throughout the last thirty years. The initial burning declaration is what the verse concentrates most of its emphasis: when the world fails, when words fail.
Using a villanelle to close out the song cycle, the universal themes displayed are birth, love, death— and the consequences of all three. The after effects.

Likewise, a hidden story develops, allowing readers to build their own theories of exposition, plot, epiphany, denouement. A process of handing over control to the audience so they can derive what they will from the full text.
Will I fall madly in love with formal poetry? I doubt it. However, what has developed is a closer understanding of how language and poetry connect with one another— rather than simply stringing decorative phrases together at whim, in this particular case, a path is outlined. A trail glimmering in the moonlight. Allowance for small changes or emphasis from the casual meeting of a stranger.

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