MTB–How to Write a Villanelle

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Hello, this is Frank Hubeny. Today’s form is the villanelle. Colin Lee used this form in a poem last month which gave me the idea to focus on villanelles today: https://pescetarianpoet.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/in-love-with-fantasies/

We’ve done villanelle’s before, but the last one was over two years ago and that was based on a repost of Samuel Peralta’s original post: https://dversepoets.com/2015/04/02/the-art-of-villanelle/  In that post you can find Dylan Thomas’ famous villanelle begging his dying father to rage against the night.

I see the villanelle as having two perspectives. There is a “theme” and there are the “details”.  This is how I would go about writing a villanelle.  If you have other methods let us know in the comments below.

First, I summarize the theme in a couplet. This is the punch line or the reason why I am writing the poem. I will use the idea that “the menu is not the meal” to come up with a couplet as my theme. You have probably heard that idea before. I will want to rephrase it so it doesn’t sound like a cliche. This is what I initially came up with.

The menu isn’t tasty like a meal.
Beware the dreamer’s trust in what is real.

I made each line a single sentence because these lines will be repeating throughout the villanelle. It makes it easier to connect them to something else if they can stand on their own as a sentence.

Second, I need to fill in the details. There are six mini-poems in a villanelle, one for each stanza, and I need to fill in the details so the resulting poem resonates with the reader and develops the theme. Here is the structure so far:

Detail 1: The menu isn’t tasty like a meal.
X-rhyme line
Beware the dreamer’s trust in what is real.

Detail 2: Line rhyming with meal
X-rhyme line
The menu isn’t tasty like a meal.

Detail 3: Line rhyming with meal
X-rhyme line
Beware the dreamer’s trust in what is real.

Detail 4: Line rhyming with meal
X-rhyme line
The menu isn’t tasty like a meal.

Detail 5: Line rhyming with meal
X-rhyme line
Beware the dreamer’s trust in what is real.

Detail 6: Line rhyming with meal
X-rhyme line
The menu isn’t tasty like a meal.
Beware the dreamer’s trust in what is real.

For Detail 1, I think I will use something like this:

The menu isn’t tasty like a meal.
It helps the heart decide on what to do.
Beware the dreamer’s trust in what is real.

If I like that first detail, I have a new constraint: the “X-rhyme line” should rhyme with “do”. The villanelle flips around on only two rhyme sounds. In this poem, it will be two sets of words rhyming with “do” and “meal”. Are there enough easy rhyme words so I don’t have to think too hard about the rhyme? If I have any doubts, I would go to http://www.rhymezone.com and look at the lists of rhyming words.  For these two rhyme words, I see there should be plenty of them.

I haven’t finished this poem yet. It might look quite a bit different from this first draft, but I hope by the time this post appears I will have a poem I can link to it and serve as an example.

If you are like me you probably find villanelles difficult to write. If you have written one in the past, you are welcome to link that older poem for this challenge. It will be nice to see how people approach this form. Also, if you want to change the meter from iambic pentameter to something else, that is fine as well. It is also fine if you take the villanelle form and make something new out of it. If you do, let us know how your new form relates to the old villanelle.

Here are the general procedures:

  • Write a villanelle (or a modified villanelle) on your blog or find one you have already written.
  • Link that particular blog post in the Mister Linky below. It will be open for two days.
  • Comment below if you would like to chat about your poem or are unclear about something or just to tell me you have linked something.
  • Read what other poets have linked and comment on their poems. We get to know each other better that way.