National Poetry Month: Day 16

Give me no more land

There are no limits to love.
It may be collared and caged,
bargained over and quarrelled
about; but when the wave comes
and rips out the land from
under your feet, there is
an arm that descends
in spite of the fractures
in its bones.

Gifts seem mean;

You are cold.
I will cut open my belly
crack my ribs open like the
opening of locked gates and
you will sleep inside me
like a Russian soldier
in the carass of
his faithful horse.

You are lost.
I will make a map of my skin
and draw roads in red with
the tip of a pin or a knife
until you are pointed
in the direction of
your own name.

Giving is not enough.

Bone-weary from walking the world,
I volunteer to sprint to you
for the sake of nothing but
breathless, nervous laughter
and a desolate land of endless
fertility, without boundary,
where there are no limits
for me to love.

Delilah Des Anges

The use of poetry as near-prose or rhythmic speech is commonplace; the use of poetry as broken prose, or DaDa-ist noise, is embarked upon usually as a second stage in breaking away from the strictures of classical poetry forms. However, there is a delirious middle ground in which dreamlike imagery and mania can be employed in barely-coherent sentences while using a strict poetic form.

by Sylvia Plath

This is a fascinating combination as structure and repetition of the villanelle form employed here drives specific images (Proud you halt upon the spiral stair) deep into the memory with sing-song rhythm, almost like a nursery rhyme. Like a nursery rhyme the language is bordering on the nonsensical (compare: hickory, dickory, dock), but the steady attrition of the repetition and the relentless grind of the rhythmic lines paired with a content that loaded even if the reader isn’t quite sure what it’s loaded with leads to a haunting sensation leaking out of the poem.

A great deal of resentment is aimed at this side of poetry. It doesn’t make sense, is the usual complaint when the reader is bogged down by figurative language or lost in a maze of metaphor. The purpose of poems like this is not to make logical, rational sense but to make emotional sense. Much like the pop song where the lyrics amount to little more than “whooooaaaaa, baby, baby” (which itself borders on the DaDaist or primeval), what matters is the feeling that the words evoke. Instead of reading the words and searching vainly for meaning within them, it is better to let the poem wash over you, and see what sensation is left at the end of it.

This is not necessarily a means of experiencing art that everyone is going to enjoy, but I find that poems that occupy this weird hinterland can result in one feeling more creatively inspired to write, draw, produce music and so on, some of which undoubtedly will make sense. If nothing else, Sylvia Plath’s plaintive, circling, mad villanelle should form the catalyst in someone’s mind to lead them to create their own original work.

Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF


National Poetry Month: Day 8

whirlwind visit, geological grieving

When we come to wish each other goodbye
all we have is a language of need
and photos taken with the mind’s eye;

our social whirl expired with a sigh,
as every grace fell swiftly to seed,
when we come to wish each other goodbye

the wish has already been born and died;
at the start we took no heed
and photos taken with the mind’s eye

seemed enough. Now the memory starts to lie,
and the fictional photo colours bleed
When we come to wish each other goodbye.

As time passes it stills the first cry,
leaves a hunger that nothing can feed
and photos taken with the mind’s eye;

Nothing stops time from haring by,
eating memory with vicious greed:
when we come to wish each other goodbye,
(photos taken with the mind’s eye).

— Delilah Des Anges

When I was first taught about villanelles at university we were given the example of Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art, and informed that because of its claustrophobic repeating refrain, the villanelle (which in this respect has a certain kinship with the triolet) can be classified as an “obsessive” format. This means in practical terms that if one wishes to write a poem which obsesses over a single idea or person, returning to a particular phrase or two to  encompass the emotions conveyed, a villanelle is a good form to employ.

The formula for a villanelle is, while not complex, restrictive. The strict form is: A1BA2 / ABA1 / ABA2 / ABA1 / ABA2 / ABA1A2. It is also possible to vary lines A1 and A2 into A1 and C1, meaning that they do not rhyme with each other.

The key to writing a successful villanelle (which  is something of a trial: the two repeating lines in such close proximity and the number of times they must hit logical rhymes can put something of a strain on the imagination of the poet, not to mention on their skills of prosody) is to find repeating lines which are flexible or vague enough to be used in a wide range of configurations. These should end in a rhyme which is common throughout the English language – I went with the “-eye” sound, which has dozens of partners and assonances – and need to work next to each other.

Once the framework of the the villanelle has been laid out (with some deviations from the strict form in punctuation or tense if necessary) the remaining lines can be shaded in. This counterintuitive composition (if one supposes the intuitive method of composition is to write linearly and, as Dylan Thomas advised, “begin at the beginning” and subsequently end at the end) can provide as much support for the rest of the poem as putting in the load-bearing walls does in the construction of a house.

Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF