sharing a poetic LIFELINE with the world

Garden of the Gods, Colorado. © Graf 2006

Maybe “deconstructing” is a better word for what follows.

I love a well-constructed, nuance-laden, tension-building poem — especially one with lines or phrases repeated, each time expanding on the underlying theme. When it works, it really works. When I dabble in a structured form, I need to take it apart and put it back together in a way that makes sense to me.

Over the years, I created my own versions of “cheat sheets” — today they are usually called “templates” — for a variety of poetic forms, when it was important to have a set number of syllables or sounds per line;  control the number of lines in each stanza, especially if the stanzas are not constructed the same — like the villanelle. I’ve used them with haikus, tankas, ghazels, alternating voice layout, and for song lyrics — especially useful to bridge beats, where you want to stretch out a sound.

My Villanelle template and construction process are simpler than it appears at first glance.  I:

1. Took as my guide the Dylan Thomas poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, which Margaret used when she introduced the form.

2. Identified the rhyme pattern alongside each line, as Margaret explained. To make it easier, I highlighted the first line and each repetition that followed, then used a different color highlighter, and did the same for the third line. Since the only other rhyme was with line 2, I highlighted the last word in each of the “B/b” lines (below is a portion)

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

… and so on.

Then, I:

3. Counted the number of syllables per line (ten); the number stanzas and lines per stanza (five stanzas of three lines each (tercets), plus one stanza of four lines (a quatrain)); the total number of lines I needed, including a blank line between stanzas (24 lines total)

Next step was to write my first three lines, using the right number of syllables or sounds, and the right pattern, knowing that the first and third lines would be repeated several times in the poem:

   We claim our fears and ghosts by what we do,
   paths drag us into, not by accident,
   territory steep in our deep taboo.

This gave me the shape of the form. Time to do the template. I:

4. Created a table with eleven columns across (one for each of the ten syllables needed in each line, PLUS a first column with the rhyme pattern), and 24 rows (for each filled and blank line in the poem)

5. Shaded in the rows that were stanza breaks (rows 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20; I didn’t create a column to number the rows — just counted down)

6. Filled in each of the first three rows, one syllable per each cell across the table, in columns 2 – 11, with my first tercet.

7. went back to column one, and, with my trusty Thomas poem, wrote in what the rhyme pattern needed to be.

8. filled in on my template where lines one and three were repeated

9. really cheated on the next step! I wrote the sound I needed to repeat (in parentheses) in the last column of each line. Yes, I’ve creatively split words as I sounded them for the cells.

… (the complete template is at the end of this post)

10. then came up with a bunch of words that rhymed with each of the endings of the two lines.

A1 and A3:  do/ taboo (DO) — view, new, clue, avenue, cue, due
B1: accident (DENT) — amazement, evident, coincident, bent, went, event, dent, sent

Then the creative process really started:

11. I wrote the poem from the last stanza forward — I knew how it started; that was already written. I decided how I wanted it to end, and, using the list of “sound alike” words, figured how to end each of the lines in the quatrain.

12. Worked my way through the poem, looking at the rhyming words I’d come up with, and moved them around.

13. wrote lines, juggled them from tercet to tercet, until they made sense to me.

And, voila! Though this is still a work in progress, you can see how each step shaped this draft of the poem’s cadence, flow, rhythm, content, and context. Now the work begins, to hone it into a sharp, complete story. Like Mary’s poem, my subject is dark. I hope to capture the same sense as hers did.

Ever Thus
by Michele M. Graf

We claim our fears and ghosts by what we do;
paths drag us into, not by accident,
territory steep in our deep taboo.

You may argue with me, bellow your view;
we both know how those branches get so bent:
we claim our fear and ghosts by what we do.

Mourn the loss, the lack of hope for the new
words to stop needless blood so poorly spent.
Territory steep in our deep taboo.

Paint it, gloss it, but you can’t hide the hue
of euphemism masking what is meant.
We claim our fear and ghosts by what we do

when we rant, and rave, call it just miscue,
no longer valid — such self-evident
territory steep in our deep taboo.

Fate enters laughing when it all comes due.
Can how its end not be coincident?
We claim our fears and ghosts by what we do,
territory steep in our deep taboo.

Comments on: "Capturing the Elusive Villanelle" (5)

  1. I like your villanelle, Michele, but you didn’t manage to coral all those trochees – some of them got away and ran right to line three.

  2. Michele said:

    Uh, oh! Can you help my round up those critters and get them where they belong?

  3. Ooh, I like your poem.

    I hadn’t thought of using a template for a poetic form. Very cool. Thanks for sharing how you tackled the Villanelle. :)

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