Posted tagged ‘summer’

Villanelles – Banana Pudding

September 7, 2009

I love formal poetry, particularly villanelles.  I will write about the exact form (a traditionally French embrace of repeating lines and rhymes) tomorrow.  (I hope.)

Today, I’ll just say that the form itself generally ensures a villanelle a certain amount of built-in music and irony.

The form is a bit complicated, however.   So getting your villanelle to more or less follow the rules, and also to make sense, is often about all you can hope for. Profundity must be left to the sidelines. (Traditionally French, remember?)

My view is, well, who really cares that much about profundity when you’ve got built-in music and irony? (I don’t. But remember that I’m also someone who has spent a not insignificant amount of time blogging about Robert Pattinson.  See e.g. posts re same. )

Another reason I like writing villanelles (besides their music) is that I am fundamentally (or perhaps I should just say, mentally) lazy. This makes a villanelle kind of perfect for me because (a) as mentioned above, profundity is often left at the sidelines, and (b) the whole poem revolves around two repeating lines.  Which means that once you get your repeating lines right, you don’t have to come up with all that much else.

The poem also involves only two different sets of rhymes: the rhyme of your repeating lines and the rhyme for the intersecting lines.   This limited rhyme scheme definitely narrows your options, a great benefit for someone like me:  a narrowed field of choices means fewer places to get lost, side-tracked.

As I was thinking about all this on the subway this morning (hungry),  I realized that the seeming complexity (but actual simplicity) of the villanelle is very much like Magnolia Bakery’s Banana Pudding.

Although the dessert, a layered concoction of creamy custard, banana slices, vanilla wafers, and whipped cream, seems very elaborate, it is in fact made with a relatively small number of ingredients, several of which are prepackaged (as in the vanilla wafers and the bananas).  What the recipe does require, however, is planning;  i.e. your pudding needs time to set, your bananas must be more or less uniformly sliced (and not too soon before assembly); your cream whipped, your wafers unboxed.  Without that planning, the whole concoction is flat, runny.

Which is amazingly like writing a villanelle.  Because you really do need to spend a bit of time getting your repeating lines right, and choosing flexible rhymes. Otherwise it will just collapse.

But once you have your base ingredients ready, the assembly is really quite fun.

Unfortunately, villanelles, like many poetic forms, seem to have fallen from fashion in modern poetry. (I’m guessing it’s the whole profundity thing.) Some critics might even say that villanelles, like Banana Pudding, are essentially a Trifle. (As in an English confection of sherry-soaked cake, fruit, custard, cream.)

All I can say is that Trifle, like Banana Pudding, is pretty terrific stuff.

*                   *                   *

Despite the similarities to Banana Pudding, most of my villanelles are not particularly light and fluffy. As a result, I am re-posting one that I posted several weeks ago simply because it is one of my more cheerful, and suits the end of summer. I’ll put some different ones up later in the week.

The two repeating lines are “our palms grew pale as paws in northern climes” and “in summers past, how brightly water shines.”  Rhymes are based on climes/shines and skin.


Swimming in Summer


Our palms grew pale as paws in northern climes
as water soaked right through our outer skin.
In summers past, how brightly water shines,

its surface sparked by countless solar mimes,
an aurora only fragmented by limb.
Our palms grew pale as paws in northern climes

as we played hide and seek with sunken dimes,
diving beneath the waves of echoed din;
in summers past, how brightly water shines.

My mother sat at poolside with the Times’
Sunday magazine; I swam by her shin,
my palms as pale as paws in northern climes,

sculpting her ivory leg, the only signs
of life the hair strands barely there, so prim
in summers past. How brightly water shines

in that lost pool; and all that filled our minds
frozen now, the glimmer petrified within
palms grown pale as paws in northern climes.
In summers past, how brightly water shines.

Copyright 2008, Karin Gustafson, All rights reserved.

If you like elephants swimming, please check out 1 Mississippi at the link above or on Amazon.

For more on Villanelles and how to write them, click here.

Going On Somewhere

August 21, 2009

Porch

The porch pulled them to its side,
invited nestling upon shaded planks,
recalled cool soft times, clover in fields,
the day she cut his hair, and then they picked
out smooth flat stones
and lined them along its surface, thick with
years of knobby deck paint.  Against it,
the stones shone like perfect moons to plant upon
winter table tops, reminders
that nights sown by fireflies
were going on somewhere, some time.

All rights reserved.

Poem for a Summer Night

August 10, 2009

This is a poem that I know wrote  as an exercise with my writing buddy, whom I’ll call Agnes.   I don’t remember the requirements of the exercise exactly as it’s an older poem.  I think we had to use verbs associated with butchers – “mince,” “debone,”” weigh,” “haggle,” (we had a list of these) in conjunction with a few random nouns– “leaf”,  “barefoot,” “moon.”

It’s a country poem, though I remembered it tonight, walking sticky city streets.

Summer Night

The frogs mince the night with
keening chants that haggle with the moon
for precedence: whether still, dead, light can outweigh
the cry of living tissue, deboning the memory
of barefoot afternoon in the black green
lurk, a leather  of
heavy leaf and humid longing.

(All rights reserved, as always.)

For something cool and blue, check out the link re 1 Mississippi, available on Amazon.

A Poetic Interlude

July 31, 2009

For those of you that can’t relate to Twilight (or understand my obsession –I can’t either), I’m posting aVillanelle.  This was written as part of a writing exercise over the phone with my dear writing buddy.  (See Blocking Writer’s Block  – Part II), and when I was lucky enough to be in a quiet woodsy place where I could walk while jotting.

Swimming in Summer

Our palms grew pale as paws in northern climes
as water soaked right through our outer skin.
In summers past, how brightly water shines,

its surface sparked by countless solar mimes,
an aurora only fragmented by limb.
Our palms grew pale as paws in northern climes

as we played hide and seek with sunken dimes,
diving beneath the waves of echoed din;
in summers past, how brightly water shines.

My mother sat at poolside with the Times’
Sunday magazine; I swam by her shin,
my palms as pale as paws in northern climes,

sculpting her ivory leg, the only signs
of life the hair strands barely there, so prim
in summers past.  How brightly water shines

in that lost pool; and all that filled our minds
frozen now, the glimmer petrified within
palms grown pale as paws in northern climes.
In summers past, how brightly water shines.

Copyright 2008, Karin Gustafson, All rights reserved.

Check out 1 Mississippi on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/1-Mississippi-Karin-Gustafson/dp/0981992307/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1249040514&sr=8-1