Oct 272010




Entries close midnight Sunday, November 21.


The First Annual Numéro Cinq Rondeau Writing Contest opens for entries November 1 (midnight tonight as of this writing). The rondeau is a slightly intricate little form (see preamble and definitions below). You should not attempt to write one under the influence of intoxicants or while using a cell phone (unless you are writing it on your cell phone). Also do not attempt to operate heavy machinery while composing your rondeau. Don’t shy away from trying a rondeau just because you consider yourself a rhyme & rhythm-challenged prose-writer. Fiction and nonfiction writers always need a dash of form in their lives, something to make them sit up straight (or just to jar the gears loose). As with all the NC contests, there is a method behind the madness. Beyond the discipline of form, we discover the freedom of aesthetic space. Every contest is a teaching moment, a formal lesson, and a moment of unleashing (paradoxical as that seems). Also, if you look at our previous contests, you will see that they are fun. Submit entries by typing them into the comment box beneath this post.

The Contest

The rondeau is an old French form, and, like the villanelle, works with a refrain. The refrain starts as the first words of the first line of the poem and is repeated at the end of the second and third stanzas. And the trick is to get the refrain, especially at the end, to dovetail nicely with the theme of the poem. (It might be helpful to begin with the refrain and invent the rest of the poem around it.) And just because I started this in a tone of high seriousness doesn’t mean you can’t parody the form. Remember arrogance and wit are the supreme values at Numéro Cinq.

Here is a description of the form patched in from the About.com rondeau page (check this out for more examples).

As it is used in modern English, the rondeau is a poem of 15 lines of eight or ten syllables arranged in three stanzas — the first stanza is five lines (quintet), the second four lines (quatrain), and the final stanza six lines (sestet). The first part of the first line becomes the rondeau’s rentrement (refrain) when it is repeated as the last line of each of the two succeeding stanzas. Aside from the rentrement, which obviously rhymes because it is the same repeated words, only two rhymes are used in the entire poem. The entire scheme looks like this (with “R” used to indicate the rentrement):




As with all previous NC contests, you enter by copying your poem into a comment at the foot of this post. Entry is open to anyone, not just card-carrying members of the NC community. If you are under 16, please indicate this fact in case we want to set up a separate contest class. Enter more than once, if you like. Please proofread your poem before you hit the submit button because you can’t go back and edit it after it’s submitted. The contest begins November 1 and closes midnight November 21. Remember to display wit and arrogance. You don’t stand a chance in this pirate crowd without wit and arrogance (and a sense of humour). Also please get the form straight (rhyme scheme & refrain) before you enter! Canadian spelling will win you extra points but is not necessary.

Here is another description (with examples) of the rondeau form. And here.

John McCrae’s famous Would War I poem “In Flanders Fields” is an example of the form.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

As is W. E. Henley’s “In Rotten Row.”

In Rotten Row

In Rotten Row a cigarette
I sat and smoked, with no regret
For all the tumult that had been.
The distances were still and green,
And streaked with shadows cool and wet.

Two sweethearts on a bench were set,
Two birds among the boughs were met;
So love and song were heard and seen
In Rotten Row.

A horse or two there was to fret
The soundless sand; but work and debt,
Fair flowers and falling leaves between,
While clocks are chiming clear and keen,
A man may very well forget
In Rotten Row.

Newcomers who are unfamiliar with the way our contests operate, please look at the Contests page.

The usual expensive prizes, laurels, kudos will be awarded at the usual venue. For those who wish to tip the judges (cash, gold, Treasury bills) beforehand, an address will be provided. Competition is expected to be fierce, vicious, underhanded, and highly politicized.


  108 Responses to “The First Annual Numéro Cinq Rondeau Writing Contest”

  1. Believe it or not, I too memorized this poem in elementary school. I think I was in 5th or 6th grade, but my history teacher, Mr. Powers, made us learn it by heart. It came back to me quite acutely when I was in Belgium last year, and passed many of the famous WWI battlefields (Verdun, Ypres, Liege, etc.) Seeing those names on roadsigns struck me as eerie, the seemingly benign nature of roadsigns juxtaposed with the historical contex. I regretted not being able to visit any of the sites because I was a h/s football coach and we were on a bus heading to a game, but it made an impression.

  2. An example from John Hollander’s *Rhyme’s Reason*:

    The rondeau’s French in origin.
    For several centuries it’s been
    Of use for light verse, in the main;
    Handling its lines can be the bane
    Of someone with an ear that’s tin.

    The first words with which we begin
    Return, like a recurring sin–
    More Magdalen’s than the crime of Cain.
    (The rondeau’s French!)

    That’s called the rentrement; and in
    The course of hearing these lines spin
    Themselves out, one may wait in vain
    For more rhymes, or a full refrain.
    With hardly any loss or gain
    English replaces, with a grin,
    The rondeau’s French.

    • Thank you, v. I was hoping someone would put up a more contemporary poem. And this one’s about itself. Nice.

    • The form has since evolved to what is now called a Rondeau Redouble. It reads like a mix between a Rondeau and a Pantoum. Here’s a great (and witty) example with a great refrain:

      Rondeau Redouble
      By Wendy Cope

      There are so many kinds of awful men –
      One can’t avoid them all. She often said
      She’d never make the same mistake again;
      She always made a new mistake instead.

      The chinless type who made her feel ill-bred;
      The practised charmer, less than charming when
      He talked about the wife and kids and fled –
      There are so many kinds of awful men.

      The half-crazed hippy, deeply into Zen,
      Whose cryptic homilies she came to dread;
      The fervent youth who worshipped Tony Benn –
      ‘One can’t avoid them all,’she often said.

      The ageing banker, rich and overfed,
      Who held forth on the dollar and then yen –
      Though there were many more mistakes ahead,
      She’d never make the same mistake again.

      The budding poet, scribbling in his den
      Odes not to her but to his pussy, Fred;
      The drunk who fell asleep at nine or ten –
      She always made a new mistake instead.

      And so the gambler was at least unwed
      And didn’t preach or sneer or wield a pen
      Or hoard his wealth or take the Scotch to bed.
      She’d lived and learned and lived and learned but then
      There are so many kinds.

  3. I just caught a bullet with my hard head.
    Someone (my wife) really wanted me dead.
    But I’ve played catch with her a thousand times
    Plates, vases, even grandfather clock chimes.
    So I pleaded with her, “Why this bloodshed?”

    “You motherless fucking bastard,” she said
    “Why is my sister sprawled out in our bed?”
    I said not one of my long-rehearsed lines,
    I just caught a bullet with my hard head.

    While I have played catch with plenty of lead,
    And many have wished me deader than dead,
    Surviving is one of my dear pastimes
    (And so is, by the way, the Guggenheim).
    Now my blood and some light merge infrared.
    I just caught a bullet with my hard head.

  4. Yesterday I memorized “In Flanders Fields,” (which my father can still recite), wrote down the rhyme scheme and set out on a three week journey to write a rondeau. But when I read (and fiddled with) this again this morning, I thought it would be fun to be the first to enter. Let the games begin!

    Things Unknown

    What to write about
    I’ve no idea. A trout
    Might find it sooner than I.
    My writing’s substance’s in the sky,
    It’s whipping down a stream: a kite

    Has swum away with it. I’d flout
    And toss my themes like stars about
    If I could only, for a start, ply
    You with what to write.

    Stars form constellations without
    Knowing how we scout
    For rhyme and reason; try
    The same with my
    Heart and I’ll find out
    What to write.

  5. Repayment

    Thirty-five years ago
    Looking out the car window
    Being driven home from camp, the sky vast,
    Watching the telephone lines loop past
    Falling asleep with a stuffed tiger pillow –

    And now I finally know
    How you earn such grace. You grow,
    You drive your own son home, car fueled and gassed:

    Somehow, the debt’s repaid.

    It’s nothing more than this, you know:
    To drive as you were driven, to go
    Along the same highway, not fast
    Cautiously, responsible, at last,
    Letting the sleeping child in the back seat show:

    Somehow, the debt’s repaid.

  6. Douglas Fields

    In Douglas fields the moss does grow
    a blade of grass won’t break status quo*
    to every person the field panders
    why would anyone go to Flanders?
    Douglas fields is where you’ll go!

    behind the backyard the creek does flow
    and Hobbes does roam the ground below
    he’s chomping on a moose’s antler
    in Douglas fields

    the signs of autumn start to show
    when on the lawn the leaves do blow
    stop by my friends, take a gander!
    Flanders field is much blander!
    you’ll never quarrel with a foe
    in Douglas fields

    *for those of you who haven’t seen our lawn, we’ve actually stopped calling it the lawn and started calling it a made up word known as ‘mawn’. Mathematically speaking, the mawn is moss + lawn which of course equals mawn.

  7. What Dad means, is that we wish we could be on his adventure with him. It’s not like Hobbes to leave us home when he goes for walks. Clearly though, we weren’t allowed to come because we are a bit slow for his romps in the forest.

    What my dear father is forgetting, is that WE ARE STAYING POSITIVE!

  8. A revision, this draft correct in form:


    Somehow, the debt’s repaid. To owe
    So much: thirty five years ago,
    being driven home from camp, the sky vast,
    Watching out the window as the telephone lines loop past
    Falling asleep with a stuffed tiger pillow –

    And now I finally know
    How you earn such grace. You grow,
    You drive your own son home, car fueled and gassed:
    Somehow, the debt’s repaid.

    It’s nothing more than this, you know:
    To drive as you were driven, to go
    Along the same highway, not fast
    Cautiously, responsible, at last,
    Letting the sleeping child in the back seat show:
    Somehow, the debt’s repaid.

  9. My friend Dana Wilde write an excellent nature column for the Bangor Daily News called The Amateur Naturalist, and he also runs a poetry space called Uni-Verse. He gets complaints from aggrieved readers that the poems don’t rhyme. I sent him this.


    Why don’t they rhyme, the peevish man complains?
    And the editor once more patiently explains
    That poems lilting with bright poppies about the dead
    Disgusted those who watched friends die in bloody mud
    And called such cloying songs an insult to their pain.

    Surely, we should whistle some happy tune
    Whenever terror that unbeing might be our doom
    haunts our lonely brains. Thus he still rejoins,
    Why don’t they rhyme?

    Despite aggrieved and righteous whines
    No one buys poem books, even those with rhymes.
    So poets please themselves now, late or soon,
    And no longer scribble verses about moons in June.
    Yet those deaf to sounds of sense inside of lines
    Still ask, why don’t they rhyme?

  10. I’m going for the Canadian angle…

    In Fort St John

    In Fort St John, the has-been drives
    his musclecar trying to revive
    a fleeting moment of his youth
    a memory of sweet vermouth
    on Friday nights inside some dive.

    Once he was slick, fiery, alive
    inside his skin, unlike this jive
    burned-out fat Peter Pan, uncouth
    in Fort St John.

    I watched too many like you thrive
    on pumped up chests, on high sex drives
    on women’s cries. Tonight the truth
    conscripts you to a barroom booth
    of scorn and lies. Now you’ve arrived
    in Fort St John.

  11. Very cool, Genni.

  12. My entry:

    by Ashley Inguanta

    Love, take me back to Idaho,
    to that place where all your women go
    to watch the bees and the bears sip rain,
    while their own bodies starve, a refrain
    echoed in deep, sweet places below.

    Below is where the plum-hearted go,
    Who have not yet been harvested, hollowed.
    Yet they watch the women starve in vain,
    Saying, love, take me back to Idaho.

    But love is just a full moon thrown
    Into the palm of a girl not yet grown,
    Who feels as if her heart has gone lame
    As she sees mothers starved sick in the rain.
    When bees and bears fill their bellies for show
    Daughters say, take me back to Idaho.

  13. The Me in the Moose (after Reading Derrida)

    I lost myself in the moose’s eyes.
    He waded across the river, we, on opposing sides.
    He looked up from lunch to gaze
    I from Me was sundered in an abyssal haze.

    He went on unaware, but I was anaesthetized.
    No longer was my Me inside
    The moose hadn’t a clue, I surmise
    That he had taken my Me away.
    I lost myself.

    Part of my I in the moose now lies
    The part which was hurt, when my I cried,
    But the moose doesn’t know his sundering ways.
    I blame him not but only praise
    For I found my I in the moose’s eyes
    But lost myself on the riverside.

  14. Thistle Down

    Among the thistle down a swing
    A tiny beast weaves silken string
    With hairy legs and rapid eye
    Though brown as loss, fails to belie
    his endmost warp ‘til death bells ring

    We sprawl in weeds where crickets sing
    As Spider wefts one final fling
    a lacework aperture to sky
    Among the thistle down

    We trade the woes of winter’s cling
    for long last looks at Spider King
    Whose reign on life relents to die
    Whose wasted labors bend and dry
    And loose their grasp and take to wing
    Among the thistle down

  15. Soul Searching

    I followed my hunger around the Earth,
    a search to discover my own self-worth.
    Home, I, again, begin to question all,
    all I sense, all I experienced; call
    my soul from Fall’s bare end. I in my berth,

    a voice without volume, can not traverse
    the span, initiate healing, rebirth.
    A phoenix without flame, cooled, a seagull,
    I follow my hunger.

    I find in my new persona no mirth.
    Squawk Squawk Squawk. No intellect, scope, a dearth
    of passion, patience, perseverance; gall,
    primitivity guide me. Harsh snowfall.
    I long for summer fire, to regain girth,
    to follow my hunger.

  16. Yes

    Yes, yes, yes, he says as night
    falls fantasmal over mustard light
    of street lamps, snow falls, clisp,
    clisp, and the air a gelid mist
    burns fire in the lungs and blurs sight.

    The girl leans in, eyes shut, for a tight-
    lipped kiss, and the scent of her breath bites
    like the scent of apples, cut hay and wist-
    ful dog day love. Yes, yes, yes, he says.

    Happy, she says. Don’t ask, she says, fight-
    ing love’s fatality and the blight
    of need. Smell, she says, touching her wrist
    to his cheek, then disappears into the mist,
    the snow, the gelid dark, whirling in her flight.
    Oh, yes, he says.
    Yes. Yes.

    • Ok, what do you expect in 20 minutes?

      I didn’t get the syllables right, but I don’t like the sing-song effect anyway (I know, I know, it’s part of the form). But it rhymes!

      But I like this because it’s autobiographical and refers to a New Years Eve sometime in the last century when DG pulled holiday duty at the Examiner where he was a reporter. He had just been taking photos at a drunken, squalid ball for the social page and stepped out into the night and a lovely, sweet young thing (dg was young then, too), walking alone just after midnight, leaned her face up and kissed him and said Happy New Year and walked away.

  17. Well, you know, she didn’t have the educational advantages some of the rest of us have had…MFAs, and all that.

  18. And how do you know the sweet young thing who kissed you wasn’t Molly Bloom herself?

    • Okay, well, this opens up the whole question of why I seem to think of Molly Bloom as a large red-faced sweaty washerwoman. I believe there is no textual evidence for this at all. In any case, in my mind, she could not have been Molly Bloom (wrong age, too–maybe Molly Bloom’s grand-daughter).

  19. What I should be doing on this day off from my job: Working on creative thesis. What I am doing: Trying to write a rondeau. I am employing the theory that doing so will unleash a burst of creative juices (which I hope is not as messy as it sounds) which will propel me through revisions and on to newer, brilliant work.

  20. Okay, so at least the rentrement and title come from Canadian sources.

    What Do You Do With a Headstrong Girl?

    She practices, participates,
    Planning for time in other states
    Scowling at her dad and at me
    What can we know? How dare I plea?
    She bides her time; she tensely waits.

    We live by deadlines, marking dates
    Until she leaves, soul wrapped in fates
    For stranger times, a life made free.
    Oh, my headstrong girl.

    Years arranged to pass these last gates
    Or so she hopes, anticipates.
    How can I say what life will be?
    Patterns repeat; the warnings we
    Throw fall short and false. Nothing sates
    A headstrong girl.

  21. Who Do You Think You Are?

    I’m writing a poem, he said to the girl, a rondeau.
    She sat at his table and her cleavage did show.
    You a poet? she asked. This chick had some swank
    And poets get lucky, so no need to be frank.
    He told her he was as she ordered Bordeaux.

    Poets are sexy, she said, but lacking in dough.
    I write too, on occasion, my name’s Alice Munro.
    He felt horribly trapped, and his mind it went blank.
    I’m writing a poem.

    Where had he published, she wanted to know,
    New York, Paris, Sydney, Toronto?
    He slurped down the wine, regretting his prank
    Then he shouted with pride, On Numero Cinq!
    So take your short stories, your wine and just go,
    I’m writing a poem.

  22. In Litmag Land

    In Litmag Land the writers play
    With words and phrases, day by day,
    While Editors, with sneering lip,
    Rolling eye and cracking whip,
    Watch their victims beg and pray.

    We are the Arbiters, they say.
    Blue pencils poised, they have their way,
    Rejoice with each rejection slip
    In Litmag Land.

    But lowly scriveners, come what may,
    Dare not from their fond dreams to stray;
    With sharpened pencils in their grip,
    Or brand new pens in ink they dip,
    Persist until their locks turn gray
    In Litmag Land.

  23. The Way To A Man’s Heart is Through His Stomach, or
    Kitchen Ostinato

    In the kitchen, eating avocado,
    Sits a housewife and a desperado.
    He weeps gently while she peels a carrot.
    “Things are not what they seem!” squawks her parrot,
    then with his beak, pecks an ostinato.

    The housewife drinks some amontillado
    then scoops a handful of turbinado
    to sweeten the tea before they share it
    in the kitchen.

    The cowboy, trouble aficionado,
    tells her that his name is Leonardo.
    He’s wasted years on things without merit.
    Would he settle down now? Could he dare it?
    He gives her a stolen carbinado
    in the kitchen.

  24. Please note the feminine rhyme scheme, appropriate for a domestic scene with a housewife.

  25. Another rhyme I considered using was “bastinato,” but I decided that wasn’t something I wanted to get into.

  26. So, how long do we have to vote?

    • Hold your horses. No voting yet. Still three days for entries, counting today. 🙂

      • Oh, it’s the 21st; I thought it was the 15th. I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry to post mine.

        • Do another one.

          • Nah, might as well keep up my losing tradition. 🙂

            Besides, I’m in Kentucky celebrating several birthdays (including mine).

          • Well, ok, but just because you asked for it.

            Birthday Rondeau
            (for those of us born in November)

            Advancing age will let us down
            Quicker than a strapless gown.
            The mirror’s view is looking blighted:
            Body a wreck, presbyopically sighted,
            Face fixed in a perpetual frown.

            No longer do we sport youth’s crown;
            These curls are white which once were brown.
            We rue those days in which we slighted
            Advancing age.

            Now Senior is a proper noun
            Though in opprobrium we drown,
            Desire unreturned, lust unrequited.
            Our spurning loves, as one, have cited
            That sad excuse of long renown:
            Advancing age.

          • Unfortunately there are only 13 hours left, and I plan to spend the afternoon/evening with four ten-year-olds at Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I, followed by dinner at the Fuji Steakhouse in Louisville. I’ll be thinking of you, though. 🙂

  27. (Here is one)

    Absurd Rondeau

    An irresistible calling Saul Bellow
    Between the mosses, below! Below!
    And scarred face, and Indian Eye,
    Bombards! Yet gravely ringing by!
    Absurd as eating stir fried crow.

    We’ve been fed fresh fallen snow!
    We jived. We froze. We shot crossbow.
    We stroked; were stoked. And now we sigh
    calling Saul Bellow.

    Take up your hemline a knee to show:
    To you from streets, rocks we throw.
    And scorch the night with flames and thigh
    If ice ye break with us who sigh,
    We do not speak, yet our eyes do glow,
    calling Saul Bellow!

  28. This is thanks to Anna Maria, whose blog and own rondeau lead me to this site.

    My Muse is a B*tch, or
    At Least I Can Still Write a Poem When I Want To

    The string had broken. Days long passed
    Since I had written a song last.
    I tried in vain the chords to find
    That’d go with words to ease my mind
    But insp’ration hath deserts vast.

    When I believed the die was cast
    The songs, they came, and they came fast
    I thought I’d left dry days behind
    The string had broken.

    Passion’s sweet, but strong is its blast
    I saw not that clouds had amassed
    A storm gives rain but is not kind
    It gets you wet and leaves you blind
    Until you’ll realize, aghast,
    The string had broken.

  29. Whew! Finished, with a few hours to spare before the deadline!

    Here are a couple. I couldn’t decide which I felt worked more, so I’m putting ’em out there for the world to see.


    In Nicaea

    In Nicaea, did they all choose
    To gild the words of old Good News.
    In god-like robes, for all to see
    They dressed that soul from Galilee:
    No longer man, this King of Jews.

    Hundreds gathered, filled up the pews
    With Bishops, all to air their views
    On that old question of Divinity,
    Once and for all, in Nicaea.

    Arius said: “Do not misuse
    The name of Christ. Be not confused!
    Our Lord was Man!” That was his plea.
    The rest believed that God was three,
    And by a vote did his side lose:
    A dead man became God in Nicaea.



    In my dream, I swung from the sky
    Like Spider-Man! And whom did I spy
    Standing atop a ‘scraper tall
    But Barak Obama, all poised to fall:
    Had I not caught him, he’d have surely died.

    I also saw, in my mind’s eye
    A poor man chopped to bits. I tried to cry
    Out but awoke, struck my head on the wall.
    Jesus Christ! It was just a dream.

    One night I saw dark heav’n up high
    Burst open in a blaze of light. It dyed
    The air with gold and violet falls,
    Cascading down the starry walls.
    A beatific sight, I dare not try
    To reach. It was only a dream.

    Many thanks to my sister (and fellow writer) Gabrielle Volke, for getting me involved in this!

  30. Missed the deadline, dang.

    My vote goes to Vivian for the Birthday Rondeau. It’s technically accomplished, engages me in terms of advancing age (having slighted it myself and now suffering the consequences) and besides, I am determined to support any poem/poet using the word “presbyopically.”

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