Block

Fingers hover, poised above board, the keys to composure.
Energy drains to less than nothing, apathy creeps
in, sleep beckons with droopy fingers, except
I woke not long ago, optimism soaked,
creative vitamins popped, vitality
bursting skin with sparks of
fragments of ideas. What
drained this resolve?
I see it hunched,
plodding
away.

Discoveries

I’ve been a bit adrift following a blizzard of activity to meet a deadline. So I decided to do a bit of electronic decluttering and reorganising. My files aren’t very organised to start with, and I’ve got bits and pieces of writing, journals, notes, fragments, everywhere. So I’ve been opening documents and seeing what’s inside. And I found this, a list of words at the start of a summary about some collaborative reflective writing about mirrors (pun intended). I have no idea why I wrote this list or what I was thinking when I picked out those words and placed them in this order, but I love the poetry, and I love the way you can insert your own punctuation to create different meanings depending on how you group the words. Here they are:

Think
Write
Time
Light
Mirror
Like
Really
Dark
Thing
Metaphor
Just
Space

My first poem with them, just playing, is:

Think, write.
Time, light.
Mirror, like really dark thing.
Metaphor.
Just…
Space.

And what if I put them in alphabetical order and then group them anew?

Dark
Just
Light
Like
Metaphor
Mirror
Really
Space
Thing
Think
Time
Write

Dark:
Just light,
like metaphor.
Mirror, really, space thing.
Think time.
Write.

I think I prefer the first one.

Christmas crackers, coeliac, constraint and creativity

This week, I went for a coffee with my husband. On the table was a Christmas menu card, in the shape of a cracker. Except, it wasn’t actually in the shape of a cracker; it was just a straightforward, straight edged, open-ended cuboid.

What made it look like a cracker was the triangle shape cut out from each corner near the top, and a dark band of colour intersecting the excisions, giving the appearance of the bit at each end of a cracker, where your hand grips when you pull it. Even though each side was completely straight up and down. It was very effective.

My husband is a graphic designer, and he pointed out how the constraints presented by the form, probably chosen for cost reasons, had sparked creativity. It had pushed the designer to come up with something slightly unexpected, when complete freedom of form might have resulted in a more conventionally cracker-shaped object, which would probably have been less engaging.

This is why I enjoy working with poetic forms like the villanelle.

The word villanelle is derived from the Italian villanella – a folk dance or song – stemmed in turn from the Latin villa (farm) via villano (peasant or farm hand). Jean Passerat is credited with the first literary imitation of these rustic songs, in sixteenth century France[1]. Many well-known poets have written villanelles: Oscar Wilde, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, WH Auden, and Dylan Thomas.

Villanelles are composed of 19 lines of any length, grouped into five tercets (a stanza of three lines) and a quatrain (four lines). It has two rhymes: the tercets rhyme aba; in other words the first and third lines rhyme. The quatrain rhymes abaa. It helps to actually see these principles put into practice: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas  is a famous and very effective use of the form

But what makes the villanelle interesting, I think, is not structure but repetition. The first and third lines of stanza 1 are repeated in the other stanzas in a set pattern. Line 1 ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ is repeated as line 6. Line 3 ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’ as line 9. This happens again as lines 12 and 15. In the quatrain, these two lines together conclude the poem.

This allows the poet to play around creating subtly different meanings for those significant lines, using the rest of the stanza. For example, in  Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl’s Love Song, sometimes the line ‘I shut my eyes and all drops dead’ is the start of something happening, when followed by ‘I lift my lids and all is born again’, for instance. Other times, its meaning is an ending, reflecting its position at the end of a stanza: ‘And arbitrary blackness gallops in / I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead’. When I write in this form, I am often surprised by the creativity that is ignited by the need to find words that rhyme and also that make logical and lyrical sense.

This villanelle was inspired by another constraint requiring creativity: adapting a sticky port gravy recipe, so my coeliac mum can enjoy it. It’s a bit rushed and unsubtle, I dashed it off while making the gravy (I didn’t want to get too absorbed and leave the ‘bits’ to get to the wrong side of burnt!) starting with a few lines from the recipe itself, which kept referring to the ingredients as ‘bits’. I played around with the tenses, and changed one or two words on the repeated lines so it makes sense. When I have more time, I might go back and improve it.

 

[1] Lyric Forms from France, by Helen Louise Cohen)

Sticky port gravy bits

Toss the whole lot to mix it, so all bits are churned:

Giblets, drumsticks, garlic, onions, in an ovenproof dish.

(You’ll want them just the right side of burned.)

 

Mix honey and not soy sauce (unless gluten removed)

scan the cupboard, spot the Bovril, and use that instead.

Toss the whole lot again, so all bits are churned.

 

Back into the oven to caramelise, bits drowned

By sticky juices, brown gooey and tasty,

(You want them just the right side of burned.)

 

Sprinkle cornflour on the sticky browned

Mess, (because that’s gluten free).

Toss the whole lot again, so all bits are churned.

 

Back again in the oven for a last minute burst

Then a splash of red vinegar to loosen the bits that

you wanted just the right side of burnt.

 

If your dish is flameproof add stock and some port,

Squish with a masher, then strain through a sieve.

Toss the whole lot to mix it, so all bits are churned:

(You wanted to keep them just the right side of burnt.)

Waves

 

The walk along a sandy shore swells long,

crunching feet in rhythm thinking on what

the sea creates and renders moot today.

 

Dissolving thoughts, collapsing rolls of spray,

marbled green tainted sudsy white stirred up.

 

All life and death begins and ends repeat

and rinse again with salty spitting spume.

At times, you throw a lonely boot, reboot.