you made yourself at home inside my head

13 March, 2010

It’s weird the way things go… the exciting ‘aha’ feeling that I wrote about here seems to have coincided with the complete loss of any half-formed work ethic I may have had, and the last week or so has been a write-off (if you’ll forgive the pun) when it’s come to actually getting on and writing. I had to send round my last submission of term (and actually, in terms of workshops, of the year) today so this week has been rather pressured. I had a lot of ideas and a lot of notes and five poems I desperately wanted to write, but in the end I only got three sent round, and one of them was really only halfway to being an actual poem – more notes towards one, really.

But they’re done, and sent, and it feels a huge relief. I probably didn’t make it easier for myself that one of them was a villanelle, which is a ferociously demanding form, and one I’d not tried before. It’s a tercet (stanzas of three lines) form where the first and third lines are repeated alternately as a refrain in the third line of each following stanza, and the middle line of each stanza rhymes with the others, so you have only two rhymes for the whole piece and thus have to choose your words very, very carefully. And of course the whole thing succeeds or fails on those two refrains. The trick is to write two lines that will increase in significance throughout the poem rather than fall into dullness through repetition. I don’t know if I managed it, and the poem I wrote certainly turned out very differently to how I thought it might, but I’m glad I wrote it. It’s a piece about obsession, essentially, so it seemed an appropriate form, with its returning to those two lines again and again. I have no idea how it’ll be received but I’ve rather fallen in love with it myself (never quite sure if that’s a good or bad thing) so fingers crossed.

Of course the best way to write a good poem, as our tutor reminded us a few weeks ago, is to read good poems, so once I decided that this particular piece suggested itself as a villanelle I set out to read as many as I could. The best known (in the English language) is Dylan Thomas’ phenomenal ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, but I was stunned by ‘One Art’ by Elizabeth Bishop; I’ve read her first collection, and a few anthologised pieces, but not come across this one before. Here it is:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied.  It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

She plays fast and loose with that third line, unlike Dylan Thomas, but really, the whole thing is faultless. Incredible.

It seems almost blasphemous to say this after that tour de force, but as ever if you want to see my rather clunky offerings, just e-mail me and I’ll send them your way.

This post brought to you by dodgy white wine and the delicious Marky’s badly packed kebab

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied.  It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.She

One Response to “you made yourself at home inside my head”

  1. […] in a controlled/formal way that you can get away with saying quite dark and dangerous things. My villanelle from last term is a case in point: the incredibly tight form allowed me to put a lot of feeling […]

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