jjhunter: Serene person of color with shaved head against abstract background half blue half brown (scientific sage)
[personal profile] jjhunter
Pt. 1 can be found here.

As previously mentioned, the most successful villanelles have two strong, flexible refrain lines. It is thus well worth spending a fair amount of time on your first stanza, since not only will you be repeating the first and third lines throughout the piece and deriving your ultimate 'oomph!' from finally placing them one after the other at the end of the poem, but you will have to rhyme the ends of other lines with the final word of your second line no less than five times.

Here are three sample first stanzas from my own work, in order of oldest to latest. (The final one was my submission to [livejournal.com profile] stillnotbored's February First Line Contest, which closes tomorrow - I highly recommend checking it out.)

the poet's tree:
a pebble from a pool of poetry
falls from the page to break my surface calm
I come to rest beneath the poet's tree

Mornings recall her to her lie
dreams washed away in the shower
and the birds sing hello, goodbye

Proper Shape:
Her bones remembered the proper shape
though time leached their strength and weighed her eyes
she had only her sweet flesh to drape
Further discussion and full text of 'Proper Shape' behind the cut )

Finally, if villanelles are so difficult to write in comparison to, say, a haiku or a free form poem, why would anyone choose to write them? I personally like doing them because they require so much focus and skill. The format is such that I have to completely close out the world around me for an hour or two and just give myself permission to play with words and sounds and concepts. The product may not always be devastatingly brilliant, but I surface feeling cleansed, much like having gone on a long run or having solved a difficult sudoku or having finished translating a passage from Ovid. I have put some small subset of the world in order, and it rhymed to boot.

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bookblather: A picture of Yomiko Readman looking at books with the text "bookgasm." (Default)
[personal profile] bookblather
What in the world is a sestina?

Well, the simple answer is that it's an extremely complicated piece of poetry to write, and I don't know why I torture myself with writing them. The longer and probably more informative answer is that it's a seven-stanza poem, consisting of six stanzas with six lines each, and a final triplet of three lines (called an envoi). That doesn't seem so hard.

Well, actually... every line must end with one of the six words that ended the first six lines of the sestina. In a strict order of rotation.

That's tricky.

The sestina was probably invented as a poetic form sometime in twelfth-century France by, who else, a troubador, likely a gentleman by the name of Arnaut Daniel. It was terribly popular at the time, but fell out of favor after the Renaissance until the nineteenth century, where it saw a resurgance; it was particularly popular in the 1950s. Now, it's mostly used by poets who want to challenge themselves, or feel their subject may be served by a form of extreme order.

A sestina's end-word pattern is as follows, where each number represents one word:
1 2 3 4 5 6
6 1 5 2 4 3
3 6 4 1 2 5
5 3 2 6 1 4
4 5 1 3 6 2
2 4 6 5 3 1
envoi: 2/5 4/3 6/1

In the envoi, the sestina moves to two words a line in order to complete in time. This is really easiest to see when reading an actual sestina, so let's have a look at an example:

Sestina: Altaforte, by Ezra Pound )

Pound's six words are, in order, peace, music, clash, opposing, crimson, and rejoicing. He does deviate from the scheme in the envoi, but he's Ezra Pound and he does what he wants, and at any rate the rest of the sestina is intact. His subject-- war, and specifically the chaos of battle-- contrasts nicely with the sestina's ordered pace.

I write sestinas myself, when the mood strikes me. I can offer a few tips: the first and foremost being to choose your words wisely. Words with more than one meaning (light, book, color) give you more flexibility. Verbs can alter in case: jumping, jump, jumped, jumps. I suggest avoiding proper nouns, particularly for your first sestina, since they complicate matters considerably.

The life of the sestina author is made easier in a few ways. A sestina needn't rhyme, or be in any particular meter, so you don't have that to worry about. Line length is variable, adding some flexibility, although I personally enjoy iambic pentameter. Finally, the sestina really is fun to write. Given time and practice, it only gets easier.

I leave you with a sestina of my own, written about a year and a half ago.

Summertime )

Further explanations and examples may be found here, but please be aware that one of the sestinas at that link contains disturbing subject matter.


Works Consulted

Comfort, Heather, Jenny Dobbins, Tracy Slinger. Sestina. http://www.public.asu.edu/~aarios/formsofverse/reports2000/page9.html

Davies, Caroline. Writing a Sestina. http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue197/sestina.html

Pound, Ezra. Sestina: Altaforte. http://poetry.about.com/od/poemsbytitles/l/blpoundsestinaaltaforte.htm
jjhunter: Closeup of the face from postcard of da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa' with alterations made by Duchamp, i.e. moustache and goatee. (LHOOQ)
[personal profile] jjhunter
I'm taking a leaf out of [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith's book and splitting my post about the villanelle format into two. In this post, I'll give a brief historical overview of the format, offer a historical example, and provide links for further readings. In the next post, I'll use one of my own villanelles as the basis for discussing what I personally have found challenging, and occasionally satisfying, about writing in this format.


The French are to blame for the villanelle. Or, more specifically, minor nineteenth French poet Wilhelm Ténint is responsible for accidentally turning a single obscure sixteenth century poem into an entire 'Renaissance form' that his contemporary Théodore de Banville then 'revived' and popularized. The form hopped the channel - and the language barrier - from French to English in 1877 with Edmund Gosse's "A Plea for Certain Exotic Forms of Verse", and has essentially never looked back since.

In English, the villanelle consists of five stanzas of three rhyming lines (i.e. five tercets) and a concluding four line stanza (i.e. a quatrain). So far, so similar to other interlocking forms like the terza rima. What distinguishes the villanelle is that, of a total of nineteen lines, a full six lines are alternating repeats of the first and third lines. This 'dual refrain' can be powerful, but it requires two brilliant lines that play off each other well.

Breakdown of format with using first stanza of modern example )

Here's another example, one whose copyright is a bit more permissive:

'Do not go gentle into that good night' )


Questions for Discussion )

Further Reading:
Refrain Again: The Return of the Villanelle by Amanda French (text available for free online; I highly recommend it!)
et al. )


Format: Villanelle (Pt. 2 of 2)


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ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
The terza rima is an Italian form of poetry.  Dante Alighieri invented it late in the 13th century.  It is written in tercets.  It uses an interlocking rhyme pattern in which the outer lines of each verse rhyme with each other, while the middle line rhymes with the outer lines of the following verse: aba, bcb, cdc ...  The end can either loop back to the first middle rhyme (aba, bcb, cac) or close with a couplet (aba, bcb, cc).  Other variations exist but those are the most common.

For those of you who like to set poems to music, the terza rima makes an intriguing divergence from ballads, and it also sounds good when read aloud.  Interlocking rhymes add to the structural integrity of a poem, making this form well suited to formal or classic topics, but also to imaginary things such as fairy tales.  Of course, ethnic/national forms are always a good choice for poems about the same place or people.  My historic fantasy series Fiorenza the Wisewoman takes place in Italy, so I've used various Italian forms including the terza rima (in "Fair Maiden Meets Fierce Villain") and sonnet ("Plumbing the Depths").  Not only do the cultural aspects match, but the subtle linguistic expectations of the poem also suit the names of places and people in the same base language.  It's a little easier to fit the meter with an Italian form than an English form, because the name are Italian even though the text of my poems are largely English (with a few borrowings from Italian).  

Pay attention to word choice in writing a terza rima: you'll want to choose end-words with a good selection of rhymes so that you don't paint yourself into a corner.  Consider things like "sky," "play," "sea," "bait," "meet," "blown," etc.  However, the tercet offers an ideal opportunity for contrast: consider alternating vowel rhymes and consonant rhymes, or stressed and unstressed rhymes.  Either can break up the metronome effect of tight rhyming if you want to ameliorate it without removing it.

What are some of your favorite terza rima poems?
What things do you like or dislike about this form?
Have you written a terza rima, and if so, how well did it work for you?

Further Reading
"Terza Rima" in Forms of Verse
"Terza Rima" on Thinking Poetry
"Terza Rima" on Upenn
"Terza Rima" on Wikipedia
"Terza Rima and Capitolo"

"2012 Poetry Form Challenge #18: Terza Rima"
"Explore Classic Tercet Examples"
"Terza Rima Example"

ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem belongs to the series Fiorenza the Wisewoman. You might remember Fiorenza from "A Knot of Thyme." You can read other poems in this series through my Serial Poetry page. "Fair Maiden Meets Fierce Villain" is an example of a terza rima, presented here for this week's theme of unusual formats. Another terza rima in this series is "Three Brothers and a Bull."

Fair Maiden Meets Fierce Villain
-- a terza rima

When Fiorenza went to Fermo Fair
She climbed the hill to view the countryside
And all the vendors situated there.

The market lanes were dusty, smooth and wide
With booths spread out as far as eye could see
And herbs from distant lands brought on the tide.

She chatted with the captains of the sea
And traded sprigs of rosemary and thyme
For peppercorns and cinnamon and tea.

The clock upon the hill began to chime
And Fiorenza clapped her slim brown hands
To find a Spanish trader in this clime.

She loved the herbs of all the different lands --
See here, a lavender of Spain, remote
And delicate in green and purple strands.

Too pale by half, the Spaniard eyed her throat
And bargained badly as the sun grew hot.
The herbalist looked closer, and took note.

Some maidens might be innocent but not
A young wise-woman traveling afield
Who'd handled worse already than this lot.

So Fiorenza thought what she might wield
Discreetly in the bustle of the fair
And force the fearsome villain yet to yield.

"I have a pizza pie that I can spare,
If I may take that lavender you hold,"
Said Fiorenza, tossing her black hair.

He grabbed for her. The garlic knocked him cold.
The herbalist just laughed, and danced away.
"You're not much of a villain, truth be told!"

Her lavender was safe in potted clay,
Her spices in their basket neatly laid,
As Fiorenza went about her way.

So let that be a lesson to the trade,
Who should not underestimate a maid.

jjhunter: Paper sculpture of bulbuous tree made from strips of book pages (poetree admin icon)
[personal profile] jjhunter
This upcoming week we'll be taking a break from our usual one Poetry Host per week format in favor of a multi-Hosted themed week. For those who are newer to POETREE, a multi-Hosted week features multiple Poetry Hosts, one per day, who post according to an overarching theme for that particular week. Our most recent one was back in January: Poetry Complements. If you're interested in Hosting here at POETREE but don't have time to do a full week, I strongly urge to sign up for a single day slot for this week. (If that doesn't apply to you but you want to Host anyway, more power to you! We'd still love to have you Host.)

Our theme this time around is 'unusual poetry formats'. For the sake of this context, 'unusual' is any format that is not commonly found in contemporary English poetry. As such, haiku would not qualify as unusual, but haikai would; sonnets would be a borderline case, while sestinas would easily be in the clear. Since [personal profile] lnhammer has done such a wonderful job of covering them this week, please consider tankas already taken; likewise, we've covered haikai here at POETREE in the past.

If you would like to Host a day and a particular format, please leave a comment on this post detailing which format and what days work for you. Formats & dates are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. When it comes time to post, please provide a brief overview of your chosen format and its historical context, and give an example or two of poems written in that format; poems may be yours or others' or some mix thereof. Anything else you would like to include that you consider relevant is delicious gravy.

[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
- Poem: "Fair Maiden Meets Fierce Villain" [example of format]
- Format: Terza Rima

[personal profile] jjhunter
- Format: Villanelle (Pt. 1 of 2)
- Format: Villanelle (Pt. 2 of 2)

[personal profile] bookblather
- Format: Sestina


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February 2017



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