{seven sisters poetry challenge: the villanelle}

the poetry seven

The villanelle is one of those forms which has a lot of repetition, so on the surface, it looks easy – I mean, how hard is it to write nineteen lines when you get to reuse two of them, one every stanza? Harder than it looks. My advice? Start out with a good couplet — a really good one, that you can live with. Those are the two durable lines you’ll hear again and again.

I had a perfectly serviceable poem, based loosely on the Naval hymn and a plaque from the Kennedy library engraved with lines from a Breton fisherman’s prayer– “O God, Thy sea is so large, and my boat so small” – and I tried to do something interesting with the end-rhymes – and felt pretty okay with the attempt.

But then, as sometimes (READ: often) happens to me, my attention was diverted by something I heard.

Now, I don’t get angry that often anymore. Tech Boy maintains that this is because I am too busy wearing out the thesaurus with Annoyed, Aggravated, Bellicose, Belligerent, Caustic, Churlish, Exasperated, Frustrated, Indignant, Outraged, Perturbed…yeah. You get the point. If you grow up in a household where one person holds the title on anger, you become chary with your expressions of, er, rancor…irritation…what have you. But, every once in awhile, anger sneaks up on me and the lava blooms. I erupt. Usually into incoherent sobbing, much to my disgust, (and the open-mouthed astonishment of the people around me). The latest thing that made me gut-punched, breath-stealingly, word-sobbingly infuriated was a story I heard on The Moth Radio Hour, about a woman who was denied help from her insurance company when her comatose son needed care. Stephanie Peirolo was evaded, lied to, set up, and abandoned by a for-profit system which decided her son was a loss, and wrote him off. As I tried to explain the story to Tech Boy, I was vibrating. My hands were shaking. I burst out, “HOW COULD THEY DO THAT TO HER?”

Suddenly, my neatly prepared poem wasn’t going to work anymore. I wanted to say something about the roaches in the world, that scurry when we flip on the light. I wanted to articulate my wish to use the sun as a floodlight, turning it on dark, loathsome things huddling in this world like mold, and frying them with thermonuclear goodness.

Basically, I wanted to punch something. Hard. Things make me angriest when there’s no one to hit.

Fortunately(?), along with crying when I’m mad instead setting someone on fire as I so passionately desire, I also tend to write poetry. This poetry has razor teeth and shiny claws and it exhales righteous FLAME.

After the hideous incidents in the story, Stephanie Peirolo went on to make sure that, should someone else need it, there is help for anyone whose criminal-behaving insurance company is keeping help from them. Because she didn’t let the world incinerate her, but held up a torch against the night, that insurance company – and the executives at her old job – can’t get away with their disgusting business practices. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.

project sunlight

How far that little candle lofts its light –
And darkness-dealers cringe against its beam.
Its spark of hope ignites against the night.

“Walk in the light,” shine, noonday-justice bright;
Numinous blaze, come banish spiteful schemes.
How far that little candle lofts its light –

Candescent day this nightmare dream rewrites –
Defies the dark, its thousand points agleam;
Ignites our hope, to burn away the night.

So shines the good, in setting wrong to right,
Against unending gloom and bleak extremes:
So far, that little candle lofts its light.

Illuminating — putting shades to flight
Erasing shadows for a hopeful scene
A flame of hope, which luminates the night.

Deep calls to deep, as zenith calls to height,
In times of doubt, in Stygian extremes,
How far that little candle lofts its light —
A blaze of hope held up against the night.


So, do we project sunlight, or is sunlight our project? Which suits you? Choose your own meaning.

Ready for more? Don’t miss Tricia’s villanelle and cool story about a chateau; Sara taking a page from the birel-ing playbook of Ogden Nash; Laura’s brilliant science about rock stories; Andi rhapsodizing about seeds, growth, and — peppers; Kelly writing an UNTITLED villanelle on winter gathering – of all things – light, and Liz writing cleverly about King Tut — and beards.

Hilariously, Greg Pincus is also tuned into the villanelle wavelength today. He found a SONG about them. Because, poetry, yo. And, apparently, villains.

Poetry Friday is hosted today at Liz Steinglass’ blog.

This poem cross-posted at Hobbits Abroad ©2015, Tanita S. Davis

11 Replies to “{seven sisters poetry challenge: the villanelle}”

  1. Tanita, your passion is so visceral on the screen. “Deep calls to deep, as zenith calls to height,” is my favorite line on this read, though my fav changes each time. I’m glad you write poetry instead of setting people on fire. Prison time would be unfortunate;>) Keep shining your light on the cockroaches, Tanita!

  2. How did I miss a THIRD poem?!

    I haven’t listened to the story yet, but I’m not sure I have the heart for it, especially after reading your beautiful poem. My favorite lines are ““Walk in the light,” shine, noonday-justice bright; Numinous blaze, come banish spiteful schemes.” I love the fierceness of this poem.

    1. I always decide at the last minute I don’t like either of the first… you should see my room, trying to get dressed in the morning. There’s the outfit I planned, the outfit I decided worked better, and then the one I slip on five minutes before I hit the door… it’s a wonder I’m not always late!!!!

  3. Oh, Tanita. Yes. I felt what you felt when I listened to this podcast. Infuriated. Broken hearted. Ultimately inspired. Thank you for making something of all that. You’re ingenious, my friend. Passionate, righteous and ingenious.

  4. May I say that your description of the “darkness dealers” as “loathsome things huddling in this world like mold” is just….brilliant. As is your impulse to turn anger into poetry. We think of sunshine as all cheery, in the same vein as rainbows, but you remind us that the light BURNS. Poetic alchemy!

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