A Christmas Villanelle (Sort Of!) by Georgie Tennant

A confession: generally speaking, I am a poet without form. So much so, that I can rarely enter poetry competitions, which often state a 40-line maximum in their rules. I am a poet of rambling free verse, cathartic thought, spilling across the page, then reshaped into something poetic, sharable. Despite my indiscipline, many say they enjoy my poems – they resonate, make them cry (they assure me this is a good thing). Occasionally, though, I am tempted by the challenge and discipline of writing in a set form. I adore a haiku and have shared my forays into those before. I periodically compose a sonnet, enjoying the restrictions of form and metre and the thrill of condensing my thoughts into an exact rhythm and rhyme scheme. It was Amy Robinson who introduced me to the Villanelle – a bit like a cryptic crossword puzzle for writers. They are such fun. I have written one (almost – more on that in a minute) for my church Christmas Carol service today, so thought I would take the opportunity to share it here and, in doing so, give you are crash course in writing one. How to write a Villanelle First, the stanzas. A Villanelle is composed of five, three-line stanzas, followed by one four-line stanza, so six stanzas in all. Next, the rhyme scheme. Poets denote matching rhymes using matching letters, so, for example in: the black cat / sat on the grey mat / he looked around the house / and spotted a mouse, the rhyme scheme, or pattern would be denoted a, a (cat, mat), b, b (house, mouse). A villanelle is composed entirely of words that must rhyme with sound a and sound b – just two sounds allowed through the entire poem. Lastly, structure. The structure is the most complex element and can be denoted thus: a1 b a2 a b a1 a b a2 a b a1 a b a2 a b a1 a2 a1 and a2 are lines that rhyme and that must also be repeated throughout the poem. These must be carefully chosen or you will trip yourself up before you even begin. It Is important to also ensure that, whatever lines you choose for a1 and a2 have plenty of other words that rhyme with them as you can see from the structure (all the a’s) that you will need those throughout. The sound for b must be carefully chosen for the same reasons. The photo below shows my notes as I experimented for words that might work. Once you have your central idea, your repeating lines and some words that you plan to use throughout the poem, all you can do is experiment – write, cross out, write, cross out – keep going backwards and forwards until you end up with something you think works. This sounds simple, but can take time. In the case of my Villanelle, below, it’s ALMOST a Villanelle, because I altered the lines slightly throughout, to make them work for the message I was trying to convey – well, what are poetic form rules for, if not to be broken?! If you want something fun to write over the Christmas period, do have a go! Perhaps you could post your attempt on the ACW Facebook page. I hope you enjoy my attempt. The First Christmas A hurting world in anticipation,Encased in the darkness of night,Needs God’s light to break in to turn gloom to elation. Tyrants and rulers, oppressing a nation,Causing peace and hope to take flight.A hurting world in anticipation. Rumours abound of a coming salvation.Dare anyone hope they are right?Can God’s light break in and turn gloom to elation? A baby is born in the strangest location;A mother’s heart bursts with delight.A world, no more in anticipation. Shepherds see angels, in dazzling formation,Piercing the darkness of night.God’s light breaking in, turning gloom to elation. Wise men bring gifts to the incarnation,Guided by dazzling starlight.The world is no more in anticipation,God light has broken in, turning gloom to elation. Georgie Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive. She is married, with two sons, aged 14 and 11 who keep her exceptionally busy. She writes for the ACW ‘Christian Writer’ magazine occasionally, and is a contributor to the ACW-Published ‘New Life: Reflections for Lent,’ and ‘Merry Christmas, Everyone.' More recently, she has written 8 books in a phonics series, published by BookLife and taken on some freelance writing for King's Lynn Magazine. She writes the ‘Thought for the Week’ for the local newspaper from time to time and also muses about life and loss on her blog: https://ift.tt/H10OAdc
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