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Poetry Friday -- A Villanelle
About ten days ago, I posted about writing villanelles

I posted about writing a particular villanelle, actually -- my ekphrastic response to a lithograph at 
The Blanton Museum of Art.

A poet friend solicited the work, inspired by pieces in the museum's permanent collection. Some of the poems will eventually be posted next to their visual muses in the gallery, and all of them will come together in some sort of collection -- printed or online. 

I said yes because that's my default setting.
And because reconnecting with and stretching my poetry muscle is on my to-do list these days.
And because I like my poet friend and everything she touches is thoughtful and inspired and lovely.
Who wouldn't want in on that?

Only then I actually had to write the dang thing. 
And I chose to write in form.
And it was kind of hard. (Subtle understatement.)

I turned it in on the last hour of the last day of the submission period.
(Because that's another one of my default settings.)

So now it's time to follow up with the goods, right?
And I know ya'll are nice folk and have never been anything less than kind and receptive but oi, I'm nerve-wracked about sharing this one. Not to mention the fact that I have to transist straight into sonnet writing now, because the kidlit blogger's crown sonnet is rolling along and I AM NEXT. (Yes, I shouted that. I'm a little on edge...)

But stretching my bravery muscle is on my to-do list, too, so here goes.

A villanelle is a haunting French form of 5 tercets and a concluding quatrain.
The first and third lines are repeated throughout the poem, and there's an aba rhyme scheme, too.

Here's mine, inspired by a piece by John Wesley Bellows called Splinter Beach.

Splinter Beach

-- after the lithograph by George Wesley Bellows, 1916



Today sprawls, unpredictable – water dark and daylight pale.

We hover, some of us, while others plunge in deep.

Are we like boat or bridge? Will we leave behind us wake or trail


while time stands still for us to swallow or assail?

It is as if we’re jumping in while still asleep –

today sprawls, unpredictable (the water dark, the daylight pale).


We’re at the edge of everything, river wet and city hale.

Oh, to freeze this simple morning we might keep.

Are we like boat or bridge? Will we leave behind us wake or trail


as we move beyond today on wheel and rail?

(Because we must; it’s time’s impassive creep.

Today sprawls, unpredictable – water dark and daylight pale –


but tomorrow is assured, its promise filled or failed

by us – and ships and steel and smokestacks steep.)

Are we like boat or bridge? Will we leave behind us wake or trail?


We do not know. For now the water cures all that ails

and some bloke whistles Love’s Sweet Song, each note a leap.

But day sprawls unpredictable – water dark and daylight pale.

Oh, are we boat or bridge, and will we leave behind us wake or trail?


 -- Liz Garton Scanlon, 2008







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Oh, Liz. That was lovely. Lovelier by far than the image that inspired it.

And the question you ask, "will we leave behind us wake or trail?" has a resounding depth to it. I am proud to know you, my dear. You have written a villanelle that doesn't just work, it sings. Well done!

You are too kind, Kelly. I'm proud to know you right back. And if it works for you (with your very fine nose for all things poetry) I'll take it...

your post about villainous nellies inspired me to do a sonnet for my blanton piece (i piced the luca cambiosa painting of lucretia's suicide). sonnets= easy. villanelles= oof. i doubt ill ever even attempt a villanelle again. like, ever. they really are wicked (and wickedly hard to pull off!). I don't think I've ever written a successful one-- kudos to you for writing one that IS!

Um, Jill. I doubt it. You are a queen mistress of form. Can't wait to check out the sonnet...

wake or trail

wow, liz. haunting and beautiful.

Oh, gosh. Thanks...

I'm bowing to you, master. What a profound and haunting poem. "Today sprawls unpredictable, water dark and daylight pale . . . we're at the edge of everything . . ." You dove in deep.

Aw, shucks. You guys are sure making me feel better...


Elaine M.

Liz, that's quite an accomplishment! I've never tried writing a villanelle or a sonnet. Did you find it restricted your creativity--or did you come to feel it distilled your thoughts about the subject?

I think the form sort of takes over, in a helpful kind of way. Though you'll notice I tinkered with line 1 & 3 a bit. Not being a total rule follower...

Yes, I noticed. I love that sort of inspired tinkering. It adds grace notes to a poem that is already lovely, and makes me feel that the poet is inviting us to really take the poem to heart and make it our own.

And what a beautiful line you picked to resound throughout the poem. I'll be asking myself boat or bridge? for a long time...

Inspired or desperate? You'll never know about my dark hours with the page, will you Sara? :)
Boat or bridge, boat or bridge....

Lovely. I've always liked the Ashcan School in general and George Bellows in particular, and now I get to see that particular print in a new light. Thank you.

Becky at Farm School

Really? See I didn't even KNOW George Bellows. I'd heard of the Ashcan School. I have to admit complete naivete when I came to this piece. Which maybe helped...
So glad it spoke to you, Becky...

holy moly! tight abs AND this? hot diggity.
i love love the poem, liz. it seems so timeless.

I actually do crunches while I write.

cloudscome says:

*gasp* Incredible! That is one amazing poem! I have to sit down for a minute and read it again. Lord have mercy. I love your to-do list.

Man. Lord have mercy for all these comments.
Y'all do a person some good!


I'm about the 12th person to sigh, "Lovely," but I'm not going to let that stop me.


The 12th Lovely

was from Mary Lee.

About Villanelles

Hi. I have recently become enamored of Villanelles, and I created a blog dedicated to this genre of poetry:

If you're interested in the Villanelle, please feel free to check out my blog, in which I am trying to compile a compendium of Villanelles, sorted by Poet and by Title. My own Villanelles are included as well.

I also liked your Villanelle. If you'd like, I could include yours as well.

Anyway, you have a nice blog. Keep up the good work, and have a nice day!


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