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Poetry Friday: Another First Day

Over the summer I've been inspired by the Poetry Friday poets who have written villanelles. This was a new form for me, and I have been simultaneously drawn to and intimidated by this form with its many restrictions. The Villanelle form was floating around in my creative primordial ooze all summer, but no evolution occurred until it bumped up against my desire to write a poem for my daughter's first day of school. 

As expected, it was a challenging form to work with. I pretty quickly settled on the number of syllables, and the refrain lines and rhymes, but I was struggling with the second half. I was trying to work with a fixed meter (some sources I looked at said traditional villanelles are written in iambic pentameter). Finally I read over the first half of the poem and asked myself why I liked it so much better than the many lines I was throwing away. I realized that in those lines, I hadn't tried to follow a strict metric pattern, and I liked the internal rhyme that seemed to drive the momentum forward as I was reading. So I abandoned attempts to follow a strict meter or syllable counts (there's a line with an extra beat) and the rest of the poem came together quickly.

In the quatrain at the end, I reference the clave, the beat that is an essential part of Cuban music. The amazing Meg Medina explains about the importance of this beat. 



That video clip has a special meaning for us in our family, so it was no surprise to find that the clave made its way onto the page as I followed the poetic beats on their journey from my head and heart to the page. So here is my fusion of villanelle and free verse. The end result is a poem that mostly follows the form, except where it doesn't, on purpose. Can't think of a better metaphor for life, actually.

Another First Day  (a back to school villanelle)  The path to the future leads through the unknown through a new beginning, another first day. The future begins with a tentative step,  slowly sliding one foot forward, testing ground with caution that was learned and earned the hard way, The path to the future leads through the unknown  where long shadows cast by the past can be found. On good days, bad days, remember on all days The future begins with a tentative step.  In an unknown future where choices abound, you’re the compass you need to find your pathway. The path to the future leads through the unknown,  through the jungle within that teems with the sounds of the voices of the past, of your fears, that stay. The future begins with a tentative step  to your beat, to your clave, the driving sound pounding in you, pulls you, drives you on your way. The path to the future leads through the unknown. The future begins with a tentative step.  © 2021, Elisabeth Norton, all rights reserved


This week Poetry Friday is being hosted by Carol over at The Apples in My Orchard. Click over to check out her fun poems about pets, as well as all the links to the other poets participating in Poetry Friday this week. And next week, the party starts here as I'll be hosting Poetry Friday.

Comments

  1. Elisabeth, what an INTERESTING post! I'm dying to know why Meg's video has special meaning for your family, but even without the details, I hear the clave in your villanelle, which is a great combo of diverse traditions. Keeping your own beat--except when you have to step out of it--is indeed a great metaphor for a first day of life poem!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Heidi! I'm glad you enjoyed the poem.

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  2. Oh, that's a beautiful poem, and I loved the Meg Medina video. As I read about the villanelle, I was thinking that I was even a little fearful to try doing one, and here Meg Medina goes and says that there's no way to be a writer without willing to be scared. Dang. (She says "children's writer," but it's universal, I think.)

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    1. I agree, Susan - Meg's words apply to all of our creative endeavors!

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  3. Love that clip! She digs into the meaty stuff, the hard stuff, in just a few minutes time. Good luck with the new school year! My nephew is starting college and he said that the scariest part is that it is unknown. His comments really echoed your poem. Thanks for sharing your clave with us!

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    1. Meg is amazing! Thanks for the good wishes, Tabatha - and the same good wishes for your nephew. I agree it's the unknown that can be the hardest part of a new experience - waiting for it to start can be harder than doing the thing.

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  4. What a beautiful post...at first I thought, Wow! Elizabeth looks just like Meg Medina. Ha! So many interesting threads from the idea of you having a primordial ooze to the mystery of clave specialness to the wonderful product of your fusion poem. I am also attracted to what's difficult in poetry...why is that? The future begins, the future begins, the future begins...

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    1. Linda - that's a compliment indeed :-).

      Probably no surprise to learn that the protagonist of the novel in verse I'm working on at the moment feels the same way about poetry forms!

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  5. Elizabeth, Your villanelle is beautiful. I am also intimidated by this form and have yet to try it. I think that I will have to make time to do that this fall. I appreciate how you told us about your process. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks for your comment! I adapted a form I found online to use as a template while I was working on my villanelle. It helped me keep track of the rhyme scheme and repeating lines.

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  6. A beautiful poem and thanks for introducing to Meg Medina. I would like to try a villanelle.

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    1. Thanks Jone! I hope you enjoy the villanelle form as much as I did.

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  7. I think I will share this with my older granddaughter, beginning 7th grade this next week. She & I trade poems sometimes & she is ready to read your poem that holds so much heart, ready for the "beat" of her school. I love Meg Medina's words, love her books, too. Thx for that and especially thanks for "except where it doesn't, on purpose".

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    1. I am really touched that you want to share this with your older granddaughter. I wish her a wonderful start to the new school year. Isn't Meg inspiring? Thanks for stopping by and for your comments.

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  8. I REALLY like this, Elisabeth. Thanks for writing it and sharing it!

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  9. I guess the other big writing lesson here is the importance of marinating -- letting a form or topic simmer until you're really ready. Your villanelle is fabulous (and just for the record, I completely ignored the "rules" about meter, too)!

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    1. *whew* Glad to know I'm not the only one who threw at least part of the rulebook out :-).

      Yes to marinating all the ideas! It's taken me awhile to embrace the fact that some ideas just need time to evolve, and that I will be happier with the end result if I don't try to speed things up.

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  10. Villanelles are challenging. Your poem is wonderful! Great choice of repeating lines -- I love how "the future begins with a tentative step" takes on new meaning in each stanza.

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    1. Agreed! Great job, Elisabeth—and I LOVE the line "The future begins with a tentative step" so I was very happy to hear it repeated.

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    2. Thanks Janet and author amok! I loved working around that line as one of the refrains.

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  11. I sensed the strong internal rhyme and the rhythm your poem set up Elisabeth. I heard and enjoyed it as I read. You begin and end with those words about the future and the taking of tentative steps. I often refer to this as sandwich repetition. It is a highly effective literary device and you have used it most effectively to focus your readers. Your persistence has been well served.

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    1. I really appreciate your thoughtful comments, Alan. "Sandwich repetition" is a great way to describe what this form does with the opening and ending.

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  12. Your villanelle is fabulous and I love these lines from your post: "The end result is a poem that mostly follows the form, except where it doesn't, on purpose. Can't think of a better metaphor for life, actually." You've inspired me to retry this form and have provided me with a great mentor poem for doing so. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks mbh! I hope you find working with the villanelle form as satisfying as I did.

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  13. Can't think of a more perfect love letter to your girl, Elisabeth. And your line, "you're the compass you need to find your pathway" is empowering for all of us. And yes, your metaphor for life - true that! :)

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    1. Thanks Bridget! I think one of the hardest things to do in life is to learn to trust our own internal compass as we go through life. I hope your girl is off to a good start in her new school too!

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  14. "Everyone needs an internal rhythm...Everyone needs a clave...something deep within you...unique to you...one true story...Deep writing means we have to go inside ourselves!" Thanks for the video that is such an empowering piece. Your opening line on your poem is a strong one with an inspirational message, Elisabeth.

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