{pf: the poetry peeps build a villa(nelle)}

Greetings! Welcome to another Poetry Peeps adventure on Poetry Friday!

You’re invited to try our challenge in the month of August! Here’s the scoop: We’re writing after the style of Jane Yolen’s eight line, unrhymed poem, “What the Bear Knows,” a poem written in honor of her 400th book, Bear Outside. Our topic is What the ____ Knows, modeled here by Joyce Sidman. Maybe you may know something other than what a bear knows. Maybe you know what the finch knows? or what linden trees know? maybe fishing creels? …mailboxes?! Are you thinking of something? Good! You’ve got a month to craft your creation(s), then share your offering (or someone else’s) with the rest of us on August 27th in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals.

One of the problems with pulling your theme for the month out of your metaphorical hat is that occasionally that hat might have better suited another outfit. Either we were not in the mood for villanellery this month, or we’d nearly forgotten how to write one, or we remembered there was a theme mid-villanelle – and there’s really no good way to change partners once you’ve started this dance. Suffice it to say, we each had more than a few moments of “Ugh!!!” -but in the immortal words of Sara Lewis Holmes, “What the heck, I’ve gotta have something – so here I go:”

Viva La Villa(nelle)! Sara’s poem is here; Liz’s poem is here. Laura’s is here. Cousin Mary Lee’s is here, and Tricia’s is here. Andi and Kelly are out on the beach, but they’ll come inside at some point. Heidi’s in the villa, along with Denise, writing about truth and lies. Michelle is joining with us, and Donette wrote a villanelle, too, though for a different project. I really appreciated Margaret’s jeremiad villanelle. Carol’s villanelle is here, and she’s open to suggestions to improve it. If this is your first time joining in, welcome! Other Poetry Peeps links will be dropped into the villa as I find them, so stay tuned!

Wait – whose bright idea was it to include dichotomy in this challenge? Oh, yeah, mine. ::sigh:: I started three villanelles, the first was contrasting past and future, which was fine, but sheesh, kinda grim. The second one, which I was really getting to like, started within the theme, but became completely mired in something wholly different – both off-theme and equally depressing. (This happens a lot for me when I have a repeating form. One sad thought gets bounced around endlessly.) SO! I started again, first taking time to read back over old villanelles from Poetry Seven projects in 2015, 2017, 2019 and the like. (Hmm… we do tend to hit this form in odd years, don’t we!?) I found that I often write villanelle when I’m emotional – qué sopresa, no? As I’ve mentioned, the repetition of the first and third lines, together with the iron-clad rhyme scheme tends to mimic how a thought can pound into the brain. Throughout the poem the theme tumbles over and over, end over end and if you’re not careful, you’ll get sick of the whole thing. Villanelles are really good for looking at all sides of a thing thoroughly.

My attitude toward friendship changed radically after seventh grade. After a year of false friends and being ignored en masse by almost all the girls who were once my friends, I learned to be all in, or all out – one or zero, nothing in between – if you showed the least little sign of turning on me, I’d find somewhere else to be. After eighth grade, and all the tearful promises of keeping in touch, I wondered, with a mixture of panic and plotting, what I’d do if I had to see those people again… Well. A couple of years ago, I found out… and honestly, this poem could have been my internal monologue. I imagine someone could perform this pretty well, slam-poetry style.


Hah, no – I did not come here to be friends
My seventh grade heart bled to pay my dues
Now you’re my enemy – let’s not pretend.

You called me weird – said I would never blend
I tried, but you kept shifting social cues
So no, I did not come here to be friends.

Each cliquish tween sorority depends
On “Just ignore them, girls” – words which excuse.
Now? They’re my enemies. I won’t pretend.

Do you think that’s too much? Do you defend
Your “harmless childishness” like I’m confused?
Uh, no. I did not come here to make friends –

Nor did you – no, you came to condescend.
I shrank when bullied. You grew large, amused.
An enemy, clearly – let’s not pretend
We graduate together in the end,
They sign yearbooks and cry, keep up their ruse.
Years on – I will not look to them as friends
They made their choice – I refuse to pretend.

Mmm, nothing like the smell of scorched earth in the morning.

Poetry Friday today is hosted by Rebecca Herzog at Sloth Reads, which has one of the cutest little cartoon icons ever. A glasses wearing sloth! It me! Hop over to find more original and shared around poetry to kick off your weekend right. Don’t worry if you’re still mad over junior high – or your last job. It’ll pass, and if not, you can use it as fodder to make art which amuses you, if nothing else. The best revenge is living well – so take joy in your survival. ☮Happy Friday.☮

(NB: My mother would want me to add the caveat that poetry is a game of the mind, and I don’t really believe in enemies as a concept, just super difficult people, and of course I was perfectly chill and polite to former classmates, just… perhaps more chilly than my usual chill… Don’t worry – my ancestors remain unashamed. K? K.)

17 Replies to “{pf: the poetry peeps build a villa(nelle)}”

  1. Your poem is amazing! And it’s wonderful that you role played those social situations with your students. More teachers should do that. It really is an important lifeskill.

  2. ooof, you just took me all the back to when I was the only new girl in school at 13. that sting doesn’t easily dissapate…
    this is such fine work, Tanita… wow….

  3. This whole conversation in the comments is so important–I’m struck by the universality of the experience–and I can’t think of a book, a verse novel, that has done this yet. (Not that I know every book out there.) Wouldn’t it be interesting to do a multivoice collaboration?

  4. Tanita, when you and the Poetry Sisters shared this month’s challenge, I cringed. Why? complex nature and added bonus word, dichotomy. I never wrote a villanelle beforee so mine is ROUGH. Any suggestions you have will be welcomed. Your poem sounds like it belongs on the set of Mean Girls. They needed pointers on how not to be a bully. Thanks for always offering the challenges. (and its good to be okay when writing

  5. It’s so conversational, so ratchet! But even more than your interesting, surprising topic and your fine execution, Tanita, I like your labels. Let’s say what we’re thinking sooner, more often, more clearly.

  6. Oh, Tanita, I adore this so much. When I taught 8th grade, I so wanted to get in bullies’ faces and just cut them down to size. But with the more subtle bullying, hard to prove anything. Ugh. I despised a few kids and the games they played at the expense of others. Wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the paper for scamming old folks or torturing puppies. Makes me angry just thinking of them. I can safely say I related to your poem. :>0

    1. @laurasalas: I think I was a lot harder on my students about friendships because of my experiences. We role played how to be a friend, how to tease in FUN, and how to react when someone hurt you. They groaned a lot, but they learned something, I hope, and were stronger for it by the time they hit seventh and eighth!

  7. 7th grade girls are… One never seems to forget them or the experience etched into memory. My daughter was on the receiving end of a condemning campaign targeted at her, for no good reason of course—so glad we’ve both moved on (my daughter and I) . And hence these lines in your poem hit home,
    “Nor did you – no, you came to condescend.
    I shrank when bullied. You grew large, amused.”
    I could taste the emotions in your edgy poem as you placed me right in the thick of it, powerful Tanita, thanks!

    1. @Michelle Kogan: I am so glad your daughter is over it and moved on, probably an artistic, attractive, upbeat and successful person in spite of everything. – There is still some part of my mind that always wonders, “Why?” No real reason, we just picked YOU to be the one we didn’t like today. Who even does that? I’m glad we know better people.

  8. Oh, wow! I love this, Tanita! My quiet, shy daughter starts middle school in just a few short weeks. I have tried to prepare her for the drama that can be those “cliquish tween sororit[ies]”, but I know that she will still have some heartache and betrayal sprinkled in. Hopefully she’ll come out the other end with more friends than enemies. 🙂 I am glad that you like my little sloth logo–my husband drew it for me. Have a good week!

    1. @Rebecca Herzog: \CHEERS to your girl launching into tweenhood! Middle school is my happy (teaching) place. It’s such a time of growth and learning – and yes, though she walks into the world of treacherous junior high friendships, I’ll wager your girl will be fine. And during those tough moments, Dad can draw them all as something less cute than sloths…!

  9. Wow, Tanita! Sizzling! And your posts always make me laugh aloud several times.

    “Nor did you – no, you came to condescend.
    I shrank when bullied. You grew large, amused.”

    I’m sure your classmates are unwittingly glad you remained “chill and polite” when you saw them.

  10. “Mmm, nothing like the smell of scorched earth in the morning.” Bwhahahhahha! Oh, me. I WISH we had been friends back then, because I would like to have known your fierce soul even longer than I already have. Well-poemed, you.

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