I was reading the poetry of Sondra Ball on The Web Projects of Sondra Ball and Mario Cavallini, and came across The Villanelle, which is a delightful little metatextual exploration of the form. I have always been fascinated with metatextual poetry, especially poetry that is specifically self referential, and this villanelle becomes quite narcisistic with it’s self-referential chorus.
Although I’m not at all a fan of Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” I love Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” and Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking.” and I’m sure there are others that I can’t think of off the top of my head. The villanelle holds great interest for me even without the metatextual aspect. The contstant revolution builds atmosphere quickly when handled correctly, although I think some villanelle’s must really be performed for full effect. Like Poe’s “The Raven,” they should be read aloud in an appropriate atmosphere with a participatory audience where the tension and emotion can build and build, ’til electricity fills the air, and the words become a magical web that you can climb into the heavens to battle the gods. That feeling is what the villanelle seems to evoke for me, or at least is what I think the villanelle ought to evoke. Because I’ve never even played with writing a villanelle, its something that I want to put onto my plate to attempt. The problem of course is matching form to subject.
I don’t normally set out to write a poem in a particular form, except as an exercise, to practice meter, rhyme, syllabics, alliteration, or some other specific technique that may then be incorporated into unrelated and “properly” inspired poems at a later date. However, I have occasionally begun with an exercise, and ended with a poem which felt “right” that I kept. So the question becomes, can I inspire myself with a subject which fits the form and fills my need to create this beast which is called the villanelle. But that begins to diverge into the realm of idea, and this is supposed to be a technique file, so I’ll save that for another time.
I noticed that I have left out a specific description of the form of the villanelle, so I’ll just mention briefly for the few visitors to this site who may not know it that the villanelle is formed of 5 tercets in which the exterior lines rhyme across all the stanzas and the interior lines do as well. That is to say that all the tercets have a rhyme scheme of aba. Additionally the first and third line form an alternating chorus as the last lines of the following stanzas beginning with the first. The 5 tercets are followed by a quartet that rhymes abaa with the final two lines being the two choruses in order. I am sorry if this is obtuse; I didn’t have any reference material in front of me when I wrote it. Feel free to check out Villanelle for a more complete discussion with examples.