Apr 292011
 

Exciting scenes from last year's regional villanelle writing competition. No animals were harmed in the production of these images. Special prize for anyone who can pick out NC Contributing Editor Gary Garvin.

ENTRIES CLOSED; THIS ONE HAS GONE TO THE JUDGES!

HUMONGOUS PRIZES!

BECOME A LITERARY CELEBRITY AT NO COST TO YOU!

Time for another kick at the can, another chance to be instantly famous across the Internet, around the world, in your neighbourhood—paparazzi will hound you, small children (not your own) will ask for your autograph, the greeter at McDonald’s will escort you to your table amidst hysterical applause, Kate & William will send telegrams (all right, tawdry celebrity is not all it’s cracked up to be, but this is the price of literary fame).

Entries will be accepted between May 1 and May 21. Entries, as with the aphorism contest, should be posted as comments on this page. Entries are open to anyone in the world, but only if they are written in  English, French, Latin, or classical Greek (the only languages anyone can speak in this house). As with the aphorism contest, I encourage you to familiarize yourselves with the form. See the craft and technique page for help. Roughly speaking, we’re talking about a 19-line poem written in tercets (except for the last stanza which has four lines). The first and last line of the first stanza become the last lines of the following stanzas and also turn into a couplet at the end of the last stanza. These are fun to write and can actually turn out surprisingly well if you arm yourselves with strong refrain lines (think: panache, drama, obsession, schizophrenia). You need not be a poet to enter. And it’s always a good thing for prose writers to extend themselves; it makes their prose more interesting. One lesson to be drawn from writing a poem like this is the way form drives content instead of the other way around.

One example, familiar to most of us, is Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.




But look around for other examples and check out last year’s entries. For example, here is Gary Garvin’s delightfully inventive “Spam Villanelle”

When will we meet again?
Can’t you answer the call?
Re: Order status 56041

It’s cold, don’t keep me waiting
Here is my number
When will we meet again?

Lovemaking bliss can be yours too
Reward your experience with marketable degree
Re: Order status 56041

Is your cell phone always busy?
Message you sent blocked by our bulk email filter
When will we meet again?

Let’s meet as usually
Your lady will not believe her eyes
Re: Order status 56041

We seek for you all day!
Come upstairs!
When will we meet again?
Re: Order status 56041

—Gary Garvin


And here is last year’s winning entry from Gwen Mullins.

Lovers and daughters slip and stray,
Laughing ungently at outstretched heart.
They will not linger; they cannot stay.

Like an errant skiff pulled from the cay,
The undercurrent serving its treacherous part,
Lovers and daughters slip and stray.

Shout from the shore, drink the drowning day,
Forget they planned to leave from the start.
They will not linger; they cannot stay.

Usher them toward safety into the quay,
Clasp them tight even as they depart;
Lovers and daughters slip and stray.

Still they go, they slide away
Like souls, they’ve mastered that sweet art.
They will not linger; they cannot stay.

Let them go and learn to pray;
Navigate by a new star chart.
Lovers and daughters slip and stray.
They will not linger; they cannot stay.

—Gwen Mullins

  71 Responses to “The Second Annual Numéro Cinq Villanelle Contest”

  1. Oh, goodie! Looking forward to villanelling.

  2. Sounds awesome – thank you for offering this opportunity. However, Kate and I never agreed to send telegrams to the winner. Wishing you the best, William

    • 🙂 No, William you did promise. Must have slipped your mind. We were all grouse-hunting on the moors and tippling the Talisker. You distinctly said Telegrams shmelligrams. Which I took to be assent. Perhaps with all the wedding excitement…

      p.s. Thanks for entering the NC spirit.

  3. Ooh! Ooh! Can’t wait to rustle up another one!

  4. To Raise A Child It Takes A Villanelle

    It’s easy to fall in love with yourself,
    Create a tome to your life and your work.
    To raise a child it takes a villanelle.

    Chapter two finds you married and happy as hell,
    Climbing the ladder, working for perks—
    It’s easy to fall in love with yourself.

    So you keep blotting the paper, working pell-mell,
    Gradually turning into a jerk—
    But to raise a child it takes a villanelle.

    Then you wake up one day and you can’t even sell
    Your own kids on themselves (just one of their quirks?)
    It’s easy to fall in love with yourself.

    You’ve spent so much time on your self-centered plot
    You’ve lost the characters somewhere in the murk—
    To raise a child it takes a villanelle.

    The answer is not in cutting out chapters, nor adding
    In order to tell what only can be felt in verse.
    It’s easy to fall in love with yourself.
    To raise a child, it takes a villanelle.

  5. Kali’s Villanelle

    Her tongue is coated with spice.
    I reach into the cabinet for the chilies, seeds of
    heat to serve with the rice.

    I see her image in the glass door:
    long hair, large eyes
    and her tongue longing for spice.

    She is longing for the taste
    and fullness, sated numbness to
    the heat served in the rice.

    Until I’ve assembled the masala,
    the pan, a stirring spoon and the mortar,
    her tongue is coated with spice.

    I fry the seeds and chilies in shimmering hot oil,
    pour the salt and water to boil
    over the heat with the rice.

    I want the shimmering heat of curry:
    garlic, ginger, and onion
    on my tongue, coated with spice
    and the heat that softens the erect rice.

    (dg, thanks, this was fun! Obsession and schizophrenia, check. -A)

  6. Canadian Shield, or
    A middle-aged woman’s thoughts turn to the cottage

    In spring I long for an outcropping of rock,
    pink and gray granite sparked with quartz, stroked with moss
    and an eager puppy leaping off the dock.

    To brave the cool lake, cast off shoes and socks,
    rest against sun-warmed boards, forget winter’s dross,
    in spring I long for an outcropping of rock

    where lichens and leafy liverwort run amok
    cushion and tickle bear cubs’ curious paws,
    while an eager puppy leaps from the dock,

    paddles out to chase a sprawling flock
    of geese that flap and honk their way across.
    In spring I long for an outcropping of rock.

    Overhead turkey vultures tilt with a hawk,
    guard their new-laid nest from potential loss.
    Below, an eager puppy jumps off the dock.

    To tramp through the woods on a long longed-for walk,
    touch the rough bark of pines, their fresh green floss,
    in spring I long for an outcropping of rock
    and a sleepy puppy curled up on the dock.

  7. Antonj van Leeuwenhoek

    Under a lens and good light
    the draper viewed threads of linen and wool
    Such wonders he brought to sight

    Tartar from teeth whet his appetite
    for microbes that wiggle and swim
    under a lens and good light

    In a vial of pond scum was much to delight
    Spirogyra! Volvox! Vorticella!
    such wonders he brought to sight

    Dissections and diagrams, yes Antonj was bright
    Fleas have fleas he discovered
    under a lens and good light

    In pulsing blood flowed the erythrocyte
    Add rainwater – see them explode!
    such wonders he brought to sight.

    Shivers and shudders for one parasite
    Yes, it was he discovered the spermatocyte
    under a lens and good light
    such wonders he brought to sight

  8. Mystery of Domesticity

    There’s nothing like the myst’ry of domesticity
    to shock one late or betimes,
    like laundry charged with static electricity.

    Sheets on clotheslines wave in simplicity,
    a sinkful of dishes soaking in grime:
    there’s nothing like the myst’ry of domesticity.

    Rarely free are we from adversity.
    Spouses, sisters fight: love’s petty crimes.
    But laundry’s charged with static electricity.

    An herb-lined path offers benedicite—
    Parsley, sage, rosemary and Time:
    Fragrant myst’ry of domesticity.

    Meals prepared with heteroscedacity—
    smoothies, wine, tomato, and limess
    stain laundry charged with static electricity.

    Two sisters sneak treats in complicity
    before the cast iron dinner bell chimes.
    Behold the myst’ry of domesticity,
    Like laundry charged with static electricity.

  9. On Writers

    Writers are liars, gossips, and thieves,
    each work a show of made-up life.
    But what one paints on the page, you believe.

    The writer directs from what she conceives,
    but in every scene, dashes in with a mask.
    Writers are liars, gossips, and thieves.

    All writers aspire to what Shakespeare achieved.
    To pen the page and raise the curtain, both.
    But what one paints on the page, you believe.

    How well one plays each part sums up the legacy he leaves:
    Director, stagehand, actor, ghost.
    Writers are liars, gossips, and thieves.

    Within each sentence lies a dream retrieved,
    painted layer upon layer, though the sketch you’ll never see.
    But what one paints on the page, you believe.

    An irony, perhaps—the task to paint, expose, deceive.
    But at the end of the tragedy, rests the writer’s reprieve.
    Writers are liars, gossips, and thieves.
    But what one paints on the page, you believe.

  10. I love the energy of this poem, Vanessa!

  11. Nice rhythm, and content very appropriate to NC. Thanks, Vanessa, for sharing your lies, gossip, and all!

  12. Lee Busby

    Fish Bar Villanelle

    I’ve been asked twice to pass this drink
    to the guy behind me. He keeps telling some blonde,
    “Bourbon tastes better when you’re heartbroken,

    and two bourbons taste twice as good as that.”
    But I haven’t passed him his first even though
    I’ve been asked twice to pass this drink.

    The guy keeps nudging me, but not on purpose.
    He’s not paying attention, so I tell my blonde behind the bar,
    “Bourbon tastes better when you’re heartbroken.”

    It’s my line now, but she doesn’t think it’s cute,
    says, “No, honey, it’s not working tonight,
    and I’ve asked you twice to pass that drink

    to the guy behind you.” I don’t move. He’s forgotten
    about his drink. He’s on to a new girl, telling her that
    bourbon tastes better when you’re heartbroken.

    He backs into me, squeezes me up against the bar.
    I down his bourbon and lean towards my girl,
    “I know you’ve asked me twice to pass this drink,
    but bourbon tastes best when I’m heartbroken.”

  13. OOOEEEE! Yes!

  14. God (and by God I mean dg) only knows what the judges will think about the disregard for rhyme scheme but, Dude, I’m sitting right beside you. Can hear the bar babble, feel the buzz and smell the stale bar air. Nailed it.

  15. I’m in love with this thread!

    I went with uplifting in honor of spring!

    Rapture

    The dog fidgets when anyone leaves the room
    My life’s this way because I’m sick and lazy.
    There is a great white star that contests doom.

    This spring’s a mess of green and burgeoning gloom
    The most of art comes mostly from the crazy.
    The dog’s upset when anyone leaves the room.

    The water crests the limits of the womb.
    They say you remember some but most is hazy.
    I’ll probably shampoo and then vacuum.

    The bees are drunk on Andromeda bloom.
    I’m uncertain about rapture but, okay, maybe.
    There is a great white star that combats doom.

    The air is thick with lilies strong perfume.
    I’d guess these signs of life are just a phase.
    The dog’s upset whenever you leave the room.

    Birds, seeds leave hulls a kind of heirloom.
    Perhaps I’ll take a rest here on the chaise.
    The dog fidgets when anyone leaves the room.
    There is a great white star that battles doom.

  16. Thanks!

    It’s such a gray day today.

    Kim, Our poems have dogs! It’s funny you would think, “my life’s this way because I’m sick and lazy.” is a good line… now,that makes me chuckle.

  17. May 21st:Doomsday Villanelle

    I’m sorry you missed the rapture.
    But I can’t say that I’m surprised,
    You haven’t been reading your scripture.

    You’re not God, but his creature.
    Mr. Hitchens and the rest of you heathens.
    I’m sorry, but you missed the rapture.

    You’d know that this world was bound for disaster,
    But you’ve been too busy reading Nietzsche and
    You haven’t been reading your scripture.

    You’ve been hoodwinked by your culture.
    Scientists told you there was no God.
    I’m sorry you missed the rapture.

    You’ve been a slave to human nature.
    You could’ve been freed from your sins.
    But you haven’t been reading your scripture.

    Due to my eternal future,
    I won’t be here to accept my award.
    I am sincerely sorry you missed the rapture,
    But you haven’t been reading your scripture.

  18. Life is Like a Game of Tag. You’re It.
    (A Villanelle)

    The universe awoke
    and looked around.
    That’s all you know and all you need to know.

    In hunger for a joke,
    without a sound,
    the universe awoke.

    Phylum chordata grow
    in ever-arching, accidental, leaps and bounds.
    That’s all you know and all you need to know.

    The grizzled hurdy-gurdy bloke
    to stagger sweetly through his rounds,
    The universe awoke.

    There’s art in smoke
    and complex pattern in the most discordant sound.
    That’s all you know and all you need to know.

    Laugh at the joke
    and lay your mental cut-and-pasting down.
    The universe awoke.
    That’s all you know and all you need to know.

    • Delightful. I especially like the line: “lay your mental cut-and-pasting down.” Also loved the appearance of “phylum chordata.” But best, of course, the image of the waking universe: “the universe woke and looked around.” That’s an idea worth waking up to every morning.

  19. Oops. Sorry. Left a word out of the title. Should be:
    Life is Like a Game of Tag. You’re It.
    (An Advaitan Villanelle)

  20. Once I Was Lonely (A “Why Not?” Villanelle)

    Once I was lonely, and I brought you home to stay,
    My first dog, true friend, a companion so sweet
    Oh how I love you, will you please go away?

    Next came a puppy, a partner for your play
    She was reckless and snuggly and quick on her feet
    Once I was lonely, then I brought her home to stay.

    She heckled and harassed, kept moving all day
    A cyclone, unbridled, unkempt, what a treat
    How I love you both, will you please go away?

    Next came the cat, six pounds of hell to pay
    Put fear of God in the puppy, quite a feat
    Once I was lonely, then you all came home to stay

    Pity to the man who entered the fray,
    Claimed one side of my bed, firmly but sweetly
    Did he say “I love you, now please go away”

    And now talk of children, one on the way
    More love and affection, a family replete
    Once I was lonely, and I brought you home to stay
    Oh how I love you, won’t you please go away?

    • Laura-Rose, this reminds me of a couplet from Rasputina’s “Our Lies”: “I found a lost puppy and I brought him home/Since then he’s agreed to leave me alone.”

  21. A Once Determined Chair

    When sun spurned May’s dark water from the air
    and doves did meet as soldiers on the line
    she sat upon her once determined chair

    so calm a bird built nest within her hair
    scrapped the olive branch and dashed love’s climb
    when sun spurned May’s dark water from the air

    A soldier’s oath proves more than parting dares
    but woman tends all manner of vulpine
    she sat upon her once determined chair

    and watched the bedroom portal through the glare
    and rocked the empty womb her hands entwined
    when sun spurned May’s dark water from the air

    for woman, void of soldier, life would bear
    rain’s curtain as it forfeits sky so fine
    she sat upon her once determined chair

    swift sliced the soldier’s heart, his love’s declare
    and took one final drink of death’s clear wine
    when sun spurned May’s dark water from the air
    and sat upon the once determined chair

    Villanelle inspired by “Interior at Nice” by Henri Matise
    To view painting, click on the following link http://www.henry-matisse.com/nice.html

  22. That’s Art

    How painful to be cut from God’s own heart,
    Just arrived and forced to breathe raw air.
    We gasp, get used to it and learn to live apart.

    Walking upright as we grow can wear us out
    Earth pulls on muscle daily, leaves bones bare.
    How painful to be cut from God’s own heart.

    Dragged down, we breathe but can’t depart.
    Gravity’s a grave we’re right to fear.
    We gasp, get used to it, and learn to live apart.

    Yet breath can wake to sing. Once music starts
    To fill and shake the body, voices vibrate everywhere.
    We gasp, more used to it and not so much apart.

    Singing, we are one, a whole of parts,
    And flesh reflects, as once it did, God’s care,
    Before the cut that chopped us from that heart.

    Voices hurtle through the air and bodies gently fall—that’s art:
    When earth and air collide, the acts we dare.
    How painful to be cut from God’s own heart
    We gasp, get used to it and learn to live apart.

  23. This is the Villanelle I meant to write…it’s post rapture but pre-deadline, I hope!

    I have a picture of my grandson I could add to this but I’m not sure how to do it!

    The Birth of Little Bull

    (When he was born the moon was beyond full.)
    And truth be told to thrive is to consume.
    He crowned the water spilled, a son, our Little Bull!

    We tried to speak but none of us was able,
    When his bright cries arose to fill the room.
    (When he was born the moon was beyond full.)

    A son, on Easter Sunday, the stuff of fable.
    His face turned up toward God and spring in bloom.
    He’s crowned, as waters spill, a prince, our Little Bull.

    He’s born the world is new and life is beautiful
    His bones and blood and heart knit in the womb
    (When he was born the moon was way past full.)

    Rest here, in these soft arms, all matriarchal.
    As Venus, now betrothed, awaits her bridegroom,
    He’s crowned, let waters spill, grandson, our Little Bull.

    Rare blessings seem to spill as from a pool,
    And darkness now is jailed within a tomb.
    (When he was born the moon was beyond full)
    He’s crowned, as waters spilled, a prince, our Little Bull.

    • Beautiful Meg.

      • Thanks, Lynne!

        BTW I love your Villanelle. I’ve a similar love affair with plant biology! Except, I’m not near the expert that you are! Something so artful about it all, the language, the process, the colors!

        In a vial of pond scum was much to delight
        Spirogyra! Volvox! Vorticella!
        such wonders he brought to sight

  24. While the votes are being counted, readers may wish to read a villanelle by the esteemed Donald Hall.
    Warning: Some may find the following material offensive.

    http://www.lovethepoem.com/famous-poems/villanelle-by-donald-hall/

  25. If I must vote for just one it would have to be Laura-Rose’s “Once I was Lonely,” for the fine accumulation of dogs, cat, man, child. But I’ll cast my second vote for Kim Aubrey’s “Canadian Shield,” with the puppy that’s allowed to stay.

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