Archive for Elizabeth Bishop

Poem #32: How to Say Goodbye; Prompt #5: The Villanelle

Posted in Best of TPP, Love Poems, Poems, Writing Prompts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2009 by czarnickolas

How to Say Goodbye

To sever love it’s always worse to lie
and leave your lover with a drop of hope,
but that’s just how she chose to say goodbye.

We started strong, our ceiling seemed so high,
but honesty rebuffed our toxic scope.
To sever love it’s always worse to lie.

She smothered me with ardor gone awry,
a lather built from arid slabs of soap,
but that’s just how she chose to say goodbye.

We sinned apart and failed on the sly.
Mendacious tongues prepared a gentle slope.
(To sever love it’s always worse to lie.)

She slept to dream then woke herself to cry,
and emptied whiskey bottles dry to cope,
but that’s just how she chose to say goodbye.

That night I came too late to ask her why –
she gave her final answer to a rope.
To sever love it’s always worse to lie
but that’s just how she chose to say goodbye.

@NBF 5.19.2009

DSC02669_2

Boston, 2006

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Notes

The form I’ve used here is the villanelle. My favorite belongs to Elizabeth Bishop, the famous “One Art” (“The art of losing isn’t hard to master.”). Other popular villanelles include Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” (“Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” alluded to here) and Theodore Roethke’sThe Waking” (“I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. / I learn by going where I have to go.”).

When writing a villanelle, it’s easiest to start with your refrain lines and work backwards from there. The form adheres to the following rules (from The Making of a Poem – A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms):

  1. It is a poem of nineteen lines.
  2. It has five stanzas, each of three lines, with a final one of four lines.
  3. The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas.
  4. The last line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas.
  5. These two refrain lines follow each other to become the second to last and last lines of the poem.
  6. The rhyme scheme is aba. The rhymes are repeated according to the refrains.

A villanelle is a powerful form for writing about loss and is still relevant today, despite our being in an age “when artifice in poetry has been distrusted.” More on this from from Norton:

“Perhaps the single feature of the villanelle that twentieth-century poets most made their own is the absence of narrative possibility. Figural development is possible in a villanelle. But the form refuses to tell a story. It circles around and around, refusing to go forward in any kind of linear development, and so suggesting at the deepest level, powerful recurrences of mood and emotion and memory.

“Unlike most other rhymed poems, where the sound of single syllables is repeated once or twice, the villanelle repeats on sound thirteen times and another six. And two entire lines are each repeated four times. It is this last feature that sets the form aside from other poems. the villanelle cannot really establish a conversational tone. It leans toward song, toward lyric poetry. and while the subject of most lyric poems is loss, the formal properties of the villanelle address the idea of loss directly.

“Its repeated lines, the circularity of its stanzas, become, as the reader listens, a repudiation of forward motion, of temporality and therefore, finally, of dissolution. Each stanza of a villanelle, with its refrains, becomes a series of retrievals.”

“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop

Poem #2: In Shenandoah

Posted in Love Poems, Poems with tags , , , on April 14, 2009 by czarnickolas

In Shenandoah

The woods were yours –
you quarantined me there
afar from other hearts
and lungs, the air our very own.

Leaves stole the sun,
clouds too. We hid
in colored caps from bears
and other ursine strangers.

The fruit you brought
for us was not enough,
and so we hunted
apple trees together.

We surfed on rocks
and branches, skipping
stones across dirt paths
where sober boulders slept.

I scaled dead trunks
to try the skies and tore
my only pair of jeans. You
held my cares below.

At rest we studied
shadows, light tales
whispered by waves,
slight and indistinguishable.

The wind’s sylvan song bent
branch silhouettes, unveiling
distant glades, endless hills
and homes long ago abandoned.

We sleuthed to sunset, apples
always absent. Trees hung bare,
some not trees at all. Leaves
crunched beneath our crestfallen retreat.

We forsook your woods alone,
your heart’s repose surrendered.
At dusk we drifted home apart
and never spoke again.

@NBF 4.13.2009

virginiabarn

Virginia, 2005

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Notes

Sometimes I read before I write to help calibrate my brain. Today I began with a few poems from Elizabeth Bishop’s Geography III, “In the Waiting Room” and “Night City.”