Wordsmith Wednesday: Guest Post by Vivienne Blake

I’m delighted to invite fellow poet/blogger, Vivienne Blake, as hostess for this week’s Wordsmith Wednesday. Originally from the UK, Viv blogs for us from France at http://vivinfrance.wordpress.com/  I’ve been impressed with Viv’s creative spirit, her avid response to various prompts and the fact that her poetry is well-crafted. In addition to poetry, Vivienne shares her beautifully crafted quilts.

Vivienne Blake

Today Vivienne discusses the role of poetic form and its usefulness is tickling your creative muse:

Thank you, Victoria, for allowing me the space to sound off on a subject close to my heart, poetic form, despite it being a bête noir for many poets. I’m hoping to persuade them at least to try.

During my final course of degree studies, in 2009, we were introduced to formal poetry. The straightjacket of poetic form was not my scene, I thought, but resolved to try. As Bill Greenwell says, struggle is essential to writing poetry.

A revelation awaited me. The liberating effect of obeying the rules of strict poetic form went to my head. I had enormous fun with the Villanelle. Having written and discarded several villainous examples, I came across the words Duality Dichotomy, Debate quoted in The Ode Less Travelled (Stephen Fry p227): This inspired me to write about the rebellious mood induced by trying to write such formal poetry.

‘Duality, dichotomy, debate’
wrote Jason of the Villanelle,
confusion we must deprecate.
Do I hear you say to wait
and see what’s what? It’s just as well
duality, dichotomy, debate
are such a part of life, too late
their unseen influence dispel
confusion that we deprecate.
Now is the time to get this straight.
This vicious form’s a prison cell.
Duality, dichotomy: debate.
Subdue the power to create,
cause wilful poets to rebel
against confusion; deprecate.

Into your poem re-instate
the dreaded words that work so well:
duality, dichotomy, debate.
Confusion no more deprecate

That excitement was the epiphany which led me to a passionate period of experiment with poetic forms provoking me to search for examples, leading me to play with other forms such as ballade and rondeau. I found a site which has stood me in good stead: A guide to poetic form http://www.volecentral.co.uk/vf/index.htm . I resolved to work my way through them all – a long way from achievement, but many forms have been tried and from each I have learned something, and exercised the thought muscles.

Last Post, a villanelle in iambics with alternating tetrameter and trimeter in each tercet was written from a prompt, I heard a footstep at my gate. A story clamoured to be told, despite accepted opinion that villanelles are not suited to story-telling. We are also advised when using narrative in poetry to keep it sparse, leaving something for the reader to work out.

This poem fell naturally into two halves: yesterday, irritation; today sadness. Most of the lines are end-stopped, reinforcing the story-telling aspect of the poem. With hindsight, I should have preferred more subtle rhyming, as in my first example, and I have since learned to use enjambment more effectively.

Last Post

I heard footsteps at the gate
and raised my eyes to see
the postman was, as ever, late.

I stepped outside to remonstrate
and take the letter brought to me
by shaking hands across my gate;

a symbol of the world awaits,
a letter from across the sea.
The postman was, as ever, late.

Today a stranger at the gate
knocked twice and asked for me,
with sorry news of someone’s fate;

so sad, you will appreciate,
he’s gone too soon, you see,
that postman, now forever late.

I turn away, disconsolate
then back again to see,
a woman mourning for her mate,
the widow of the postman, late.

I then tried a pantoum, but the result was a trite piece of doggerel – another of those going-round-in-circles forms. My difficulties seem to be a hazard of the prescribed form: I found Wendy Cope’s Your Mother Knows, (1995) from her collection Two Cures for Love, Faber. Her Pantoum is similarly circular doggerel with simple rhymes.

Political Pantoum

I am repulsed by politics
hypocrisy, cant, and worse, lies.
we should all believe in kindness
as such we keep the truth.

Hypocrisy, cant and worse, lies
prevent us reaching happiness,
by the antithesis of truth,
all partners to aggressiveness.

We never will reach happiness
if we pursue with selfishness
those partners of aggressiveness
hypocrisy, politics, and lies.

We must be done with selfishness
and live our lives in kindliness
care, honesty and goodliness
and be repulsed by politics.

The sestina – a spiral mathematical form, invented by French Troubadour Arnaud Daniel in the twelfth century – holds an idea captive, unable to break out from the rules. Six words, chosen empirically, fail to develop the idea. They remain static, handcuffed to a specified order, immutable. Arnaut Daniel wrote I am Arnaut who gathers up the wind,/ And chases the hare with the ox,/ And swims against the torrent.

I gleefully took up the challenge to experiment with variants of the chosen words, but without swimming upstream. I made a template with the key words inserted in the correct order, and this has proved a useful and repeatable tool. For a more comprehensive article on the sestina, see the dVerse Poet’s Pub at http://dversepoets.com/2011/08/25/formforall-sestina/ It is a good idea when writing a sestina to choose words which have homonyms, and can be adapted to form noun, adjective or verb. Breaking the strict rules in this way is part of the fun.

My sestina, again about poetry is in unrhymed iambic pentameter. I played with the core words, and avoided too many end-stopped lines, in an effort to disguise the repetition. The sestina is a meditative, spiritual form and with that in mind, this sestina reflects on my progress as a poet, and my commitment to poetry.

Sestina – A Love Story

I started reading poetry to learn,
re-awaken my old interest in words,
and found a subject I have grown to love.
The distillation of mere words into a poem
has aroused in me a passion which will shine
for ever in my life: a treasured gift.

This unexpected blessing, this small gift
is something that in future I will learn
to handle like a lamp, somehow to shine
its brightness on my wilful way with words,
illuminate them to create a poem
that by chance someone will come to love.

Greeting each new verse like a lover,
playing with it. Thank God for this gift,
this unrhymed effusion of a poem,
far from perfect yet. But I am learning
to choose, to blend, to manage all the words
until the form that suits them starts to shine

through the dross. The meaning has to shine,
brought to life with skill and care and love.
Meaning is a tool that hones the words,
a talented, sharpened chisel; it is a gift –
essential as a means of shaping. Learn
to use it prudently to make a poem.

My ambition is to write a poem,
shrewdly polish words to make them shine.
Metaphor, form and rhythm must be learned;
strict rules used with skill and love
until the infant poem is a gift
to move you, calm your fears with words.

Gratefully offered, sublime recompense, words
must be melded, moulded and teased for a poem
to emerge. Poems call for many kinds of gifts –
assonance, metaphor, images, synonyms – shining
brightly, all to be mixed in the cauldron of love.
To emulate this pleasure I will learn.

With these words I pray that light will shine
on poems shaped for you with love –
my gift to you is all that I have learned.

For today’s discussion, I’d like to suggest that you share your own experience with form poetry…perhaps a form that had you stymied but then resulted in a break-through of sorts. I am including a Mr. Linky for you to share your work, or, if you prefer, use the comments section of this post.

Thank you, Vivienne, for your enlightened post!


14 thoughts on “Wordsmith Wednesday: Guest Post by Vivienne Blake

  1. Jamie Dedes says:

    Excellent choice of guest, Victoria. I’ve visited Vivian’s blog quite frequently over time, though not sure I’ve commented.

    Vivian your point is well taken. I tend to resist from and will take a clue from you and look forward to a bit more experimentation. Excellent post and poems. Well done…

    Thanks to you both …


  2. I’ve never tried any form, I think I have a lot to learn first before I do! This post and Vivienne’s presentation was interesting to read. I liked the most the Last Post poem!


  3. Ravenblack says:

    Really appreciate this article since poetic forms are something that I find elegant but not something I’ve been able to do. Thanks for this article writeup and links, Viv and thanks Victoria for the feature.


  4. viv blake says:

    Victoria, that looks an awful big lump of a guest post, seen in one go. Thank you very much for the chance to get on my hobby horse.

    Would it be possible to edit the stanza breaks into the villanelles and the pantoum? BTW that pantoum is mine. I would hate anyone to think that poor Wendy Cope had anything to do with my amateurish stuff!


    • I’ll try to edit. Your stuff is not amateurish!


    • You are dear, aren’t you Vivienne? “…an awful big lump (to be) seen in one go….” That is delightful. This Yank almost heard a British accent as I soaked that in. Your sestina is quite pleasant, I love them so, probably due to my inability to create one un-repetitiously. That’s not even a word, hence my inability. I read every one of your poems EXCEPT your pantoum. It contained the word “Politic” in some form or another. Miss Vivienne the subject riles me so that I simply avoid it everywhere. But when I saw your comment down here about the stanza breaks (At first I thought you were trying something different like me, who can never ever complete a perfectly formal poem. It must have my signature, like removing the breaks or a missing period here or there, though even that is too subtle. Throw caution to the wind and lace it with words that aren’t even words but music to the ears.) and your comment about being amateurish and off I was back to the top to read that poem. And do you know what? I still hate politics Vivienne. .But it’s not amateurish. It’s almost beautiful. It might have made it all the way to beautiful if you didn’t choose to write about POLITICS……. Beautiful poetry…..


      • vivinfrance says:

        How very kind you are, Johnallenrihter. Perhaps the title should have been “I hate politics”, because I do, which causes me to write the occasional diatribe about the subject and its practitioners.


  5. It was great to read about Viv. I consider a poetic friend. I submitted a new poem, sonnet about Politic, and I a going to include a sestina.
    Again, thank you for bring light to a wonderful, talented and delightful woman. Sending blow kisses over the ocean!


  6. zongrik says:

    I left my Space sestina. I hope the Wordsmith Wednesday readers enjoy it.


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