“First Grade, November 1963” – overly serious odd attempt at French Ballade


(Doesn't Really Go With Poem, but Nice Drawing.)

Agh!  The wonderful dVerse Poets Pub, hosted by Gay Reiser Cannon, has a prompt to write another French Ballade today.  I find this a very difficult form–not so much because of the rhymes, but because it has a relatively short line–8 syllables, rather than my usual 10 or 11.  At any rate, here’s my second attempt.  (My first was two weeks ago and probably a bit better.  Both are a bit heavy for ballades–sorry!)

First Grade, November 1963

The day Jack was shot they put us
on the playground, our place for fun,
our place for recess, only dust
seemed to fill the air, a strange one
for November–was there some sun
showing overhead? Blur defied
blue; the word “assassination”–
we didn’t know that it meant died.

I mean, they told us, with some fuss,
the exact time, Dallas–and gun
flashed through our minds, surely it must
have, with that next combination–
“shot” and “head”–a conjugation
of the past tense (rarely denied).
But on the blacktop, our place to run–
we tried not to know that it meant died.

The older girls joined arms, their busts–
for their breasts had at least begun,
they ten or twelve–heaving with gusts
of young hearts’ plunge to the undone;
we feigned a game of horse, hair slung
about like reins, but the chase cried
out its halt, could not be won;
we could not not know that it meant died.

What to feel?  How not to let on?
Watching the big girls–hard they cried–
President shot–his name was John–
We didn’t know what it meant–died.

(As always, all rights reserved.)

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8 Comments on ““First Grade, November 1963” – overly serious odd attempt at French Ballade”

  1. Gay Says:

    Powerful and exacting use of the form K. I had my first child just a few days before that. I was IN Dallas but learned of it late with no television at the time. Your refrain becomes more sorrowful with each stanza and in such a modern way, it doesn’t feel like “form” at all.

    (Oh btw for future reference, YOU get to decide on the line length. It is not restricted to any number of syllables. It’s only when you do decide (for the formal version of the form, of course) the others should be the same length.)

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks, Gay. I don’t mean to whine! I like to try something new and a new form (new to me) is always an interesting exercise. Your prompt made it very clear that one could/should play with the form, and I only realized part of the way through how wedded I am to a slightly longer line in terms of rhythm, etc. But that itself was an interesting lesson. I think it’s the end line that doesn’t quite work, and that’s what I might try tweaking a bit.

      Thanks again. K.

  2. Gay Says:

    Oh and meant to say it’s a superlative use of the form. Quite excellent.

  3. Caty Says:

    I thought it worked! you may find it difficult, but I think this was a very good write. and I was interested in the story of it too.

  4. Laurie Kolp Says:

    I like how it reads smoothly. What you have written here is what I had in mind, but now I see I failed. Great job!

  5. zongrik Says:

    so, i’m thinking, were in in first grade when this happened? i remember, but i was four. to me, it was just everyone being so sad, so upset, i can’t remember that much sadness for so many people again in my life.

    the how to feel thing, i understand what you mean, cuz we were so young, we knew we were supposed to be sad, but it didn’t come from the heart.

  6. Bodhirose Says:

    This is a story of a time, I’ll never forget either…I was 12 in 1963…sent home early from school that day…in a daze.

    Thanks for sharing and using the form so very well in the telling.

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