Posted by: Viola | July 7, 2014

Love and Villanelles

I wrote my first villanelle about four years ago. Let’s just say, since then, I have not been too eager to return to the form. I feel the way about form in poetry the same way I feel about having too many rules. It can get claustrophobic for me. Writing poetry that follows a relatively strict form is an exercise in patience and discipline. But as one of my poetry professors explained, if you can stick with a form long enough, you can actually relax into it because you have a finite space within which to roam, you have a fixed structure to play with, and you can eliminate lots of extra things that might distract you. Of course, I still don’t like rules and stiff structures.

I suppose what makes form more bearable is the fact that poetry allows for play. You can bend the rules. You can decide to fool around a bit with the structure, just maintain enough of it to stay true to the form but then liberate yourself–introduce something that subverts the form a little bit, perhaps use an imperfect rhyme or a shorter/longer than expected line, and in the case of the villanelle, you can try new positions for words and phrases.

An extra challenge with my second villanelle is that I am making it a love poem. However, villanelles tend to be very heavy things, all doom and gloom. That’s what the form lends itself best to, I suppose–very serious subject matters like death and loss. But the villanelle’s repetitiveness hints at deep obsession, and romantic love is nothing if it is not an obsession. So I think a villanelle can do well as a love poem.

Now, as I sit here, trying to marry the obsession of the villanelle with the obsession of passionate love, I am stuck again. Suddenly, the poem is sounding gloomy. Suddenly, the villanelle has blindsided me with solemnity. And my tender poem has quickly turned sad, sad, sad. Still very tender but sad. I have no choice but to let it weep. This poem is first and foremost a villanelle. Before anything else. And so the form rules the day and sets the tone of the poem, no matter how much I try to play with it. And well, there goes love again, the sweet thing turned sorrowful. Which, I suppose, is what love often does. So perhaps love is just some close sibling–or some distant soul mate–of the villanelle.

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