January 18th, 2008


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