This month I really wasn't sure how many submissions there would be because writing in form can be a daunting task. There weren't many mails in the inbox to be sure, but what submissions there were, were interesting because of the ways in which they failed or departed from the form.
First up is Gayatri Chawla's poem, "All Through the Night" which, she explains, is based on a Welsh lullaby. To make a lullaby of the villanelle is an interesting experiment in itself. The repetition of lines could have made for a soothing, somnolent rhythm. For it to succeed, however, the choice of rhymes is as crucial as the substance of the repeated lines, and this is where Chawla's poem falls short. The half rhymes are grit under the eyelid and serve wakefulness more than they do slumber. There are also some odd exhortations: why would a child who is being soothed into sleep need to "practice solitude"? What is this disturbing, jumbled up world of heirlooms and witches and jasmine and how are dream catchers filtering out eyes? If I were a child, these contradictions would keep me awake.
It's a brave attempt, however, and I still think there's gold in the idea of making a lullaby out of a villanelle. The poem would need to be re-worked substantially, though, with a lot of thought given to line length and rhythm and rhyme, as well as to how lullabies work.
Here's the poem in full:
Abhimanyu K Singh's untitled villanelle is a poem that sounds as if it should be familiar. The speaker sets himself firmly in the Romantic mode, a kind of brave outsider recognising the monstrous in the everyday. The most interesting thing about it is the ways in which it departs from the form of the villanelle. Like Elizabeth Bishop's villanelle, "One Art", Singh's poem varies the end line of each succeeding stanza, but his variations differ from Bishop's in one very significant way: while "One Art" remains tonally within a clearly Western tradition of poetry, Singh's villanelle takes on the subcontinental flavour of the ghazal.
Even the way in which he sets up the initial stanza and then ranges through recognisable territories of the heart, of mirrors and of godhead, reminded me of the ghazal. Though there is the occasional clunky line, such as: "All wisdom remains essentially wasted tutelage", there's something very interesting going on in this poem. I wouldn't call it a success but it's got the blueprint for something much better because of the grafting of the ghazal on to the villanelle. My major issue with the poem is the prodigal who can't hide his glee. I'm not convinced he has a role in the poem at all, either as a prodigal or as a person filled with glee.
The final poem for this week is Aditya Mani Jha's "A Villanelle for Walter White". It's an attempt that succeeds in many ways. It speaks to popular culture both in its nods to books and cinema, and through the voice of the chosen character (See Leah Umansky's poems on The Game of Thrones, for another instance); it uses a strong masculine rhyme scheme, softened by the vowel-endings of the middle lines; line lengths are consistent, the words are short and are spit out like bullets. There's a clear sense of a speaker who is seizing the day and taking no prisoners.
Some minor issues include the fused word "freebird" and a missing article at the beginning of the line "Score or two to settle" but these are easily remedied.
The question of whether poems about popular culture have any kind of a shelf life is a more thorny one and one I'm not going to go into here. It's enough for now that an exercise in the villanelle produced this poem.
*Walter White, the protagonist of AMC's TV series Breaking Bad, is a 50-year-old high school chemistry teacher, who upon learning of his terminal lung cancer, sets about taking over New Mexico's methamphetamine empire, working under the pseudonym "Heisenberg".
That's it for this month. Thank you for your submissions. Do look out for next month's prompt at The Sideways Door.