An uncomfortable villanelle

I picked up a great book in the library the other day. A Kick in the Head – An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms is a children’s book describing and illustrating about 30 poetic forms. It includes obvious ones like the limerick, haiku, sonnet and couplet, but there were several that I hadn’t encountered before. I especially appreciate the forms with very rigid constraints, such as the villanelle, the triolet and the very tricky pantoum.

A few days later, I read an article by Michael Hofmann in the London Review of Books about the “professional controversialist and Austropathic ranter” Thomas Bernhard. Hofmann quoted a passage and said it “loops like a villanelle”. (The passage, a powerful yet demented diatribe, makes me want to read the book.) Encountering villanelles twice within a few days inspired me to write one. Very restrictive forms are easier to write in a way, since there are fewer choices to make.

Uncomfortable

A feeling that’s uncomfortable and new
Has filled your heart and clouded up your mind.
It seems that something’s happening to you.

Your old contentment’s slowly turning to
A strange sensation of a different kind:
A feeling that’s uncomfortable and new.

You used to know exactly what to do
But now you’ve left such certainty behind.
It seems that something’s happening to you.

Your thinking seems all tangled up in blue –
Wandering, unfocussed, ill-defined –
A feeling that’s uncomfortable and new.

Caught up in the turning of the screw,
However hard you try, you can’t unwind.
It seems that something’s happening to you.

You’ve been like this about a week or two
Since when you met her; now each day you find
A feeling that’s uncomfortable and new.
It seems that something’s happening to you.

The most famous villanelle (by a long way) is Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night (“Rage, rage against the dying of the light”). I also found another, lighter but still brilliant, at Cat and Girl.

A Kick in the Head is just one of many great kids’ books I’ve borrowed for myself while taking my boys to the library. They liked this one too — the illustrations are very lively.

Next step: set the poem to music. I’ll have to keep practising my guitar. The months just fly by!

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