Friday, 19 November 2010

The Enchanted Bus – writing our lives (and save the villanelle!)




I know this is early but it's ready so let's just get on with it. This week's Poetry Bus prompt was suggested by Chris at Enchanted Oak (thousands and thousands of miles from here). It's a straightforward task – no messing around. She gave us this:

Poems that address your existence on this earth. Good, bad, or indifferent, tell us something, anything, about your life here.


I had a couple of false starts on this (won't bore you with all the details... suffice to say writing about me and my life is not something I'm very keen on just now) but then I slapped myself a couple of times in the face and walked the dog again (photo of typical walk this week above and there are many more here). After all that it seemed I was ready to get on and write something. Literal... metaphorical... I'm covering all bases here.

poem temporarily removed

Some of you (maybe even all of you) will recognise straightaway that this poem is a villanelle and this is a poetic form that I use every now and then. I love some villanelles (first loved them via poet Wendy Cope, I think, her 'Manifesto' is good and there's one of hers online here) but I should tell you that they are very unfashionable in British poetry just now. Obviously all the slam/young/hip poets don't bother with them (not as far as I know anyway) but even some of the fogey/literary/academic/respected poets look down on them these days. One of Scotland (and Britain)'s most influential poets, Don Paterson, seems to be running some kind of evil campaign against them as he has slagged them off (again!) in his recent article about Shakespeare and his sonnets (he had a go at them at our Brilliant Poetry event back in April too). There is a long but interesting piece (by Paterson) about his new book “Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets” here and I have bought the sonnets book... because despite his foul smearing of the villanelle I am not anti-Pati (not at all, not at all). In this article however he even quotes that bloody Carol Ann Duffy villanelle about villanelles (again!) and I'd have to say that, from what I've read of it so far, it's not one of her best pieces (even poet laureates have off days, I'm sure...). I mean I just don't understand it (well, I do but I don't agree...) - does a person hate the tango just because ex-conservative MP Ann Widdecombe makes a flying mash of it on “Strictly Come Dancing?” (No, a person does not... but you can see it here if you really want to suffer in the interests of research). So do we blame a poetic form just because some people have used it as a basis for unappealing or just plain crap work? I don't think so, I really don't (and even though I'm here in poetic obscurity I don't think that makes my opinion any less valid... does it?). All this villanelle-bashing makes me feel quite sorry for the poor old form. Even more so as some of my best work has been in villanelles (which probably says heaps of bad things about me and my writing... oh, undoubtedly it does... I like repetition... I said ' I like repetition'...). Indeed if it weren't for the fact that there's so much else to protest about just now (the tories are in power – just that in itself...) I think I might be pacing the streets with a placard reading 'Ring a big bell/save the villanelle!' I might start up a magazine filled entirely (every month!) with villanelles! I might devote my whole life to the cause...

Well, I did say 'might'. In the meantime other villanelles of mine, in case you're interested, are here (Radiohead one), here (Michael Marra one) and here (eating pizza on acid one). And there's one in the next issue of 'About Larkin' (out later this year – I'll let you know when it's available).

Speaking of singing (as I was in the poem before the villanelle declaration) here is one of my favourite singers (though I have a LOT of favourite singers...wrote about some of them a few years ago – back here). I watched the recent TV interview with this singer last night (taped from a few weeks back - "Robert Plant: By Myself") and it covered his highs, his lows, his more popular phases and his times in something more like obscurity. Most of all it was good to watch a programme that was really about the work of singing rather than just all the usual pop/rock biog. nonsense. It was glorious.

Here he is with the old band:




and here he is with a more more recent band doing an old favourite:





I'm not sure how I will manage the Bus next week because I'm part of another writing project next Saturday (details here). I'll try to make it though!

x

42 comments:

The Bug said...

Long live the villanelle!

I love your poem - it could describe me, literally & metaphorically. I've always wanted to SING - I have an ok voice, but no real talent. Sigh. And this is true in so many areas of my life. It might be a lack of ambition. So, I've found my new anthem!

I'm driving the bus next week. Maybe I'll give you a sneak peek :)

Rachel Fox said...

I've always an anthem-writing tendencies...

Yes, that peek would be much appreciated! My email address is on the blog or use facebook if it's easier.

x

Rachel Fox said...

And yet I also miss words out... there should be a 'had' up there somewhere!
x

Peter Goulding said...

Crap. One of my favourite poems wot I read is a poem called Villanelle Villanelle. Never realised CAD had written one too. Must try and find it now.
Have you come across the terzanelle? Its a bit less repetative than the villanelle...
The do-be-do-be-do twist is very clever

Peter Goulding said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel Fox said...

Is it one of your own poems, Peter? Can you link to it?
x

Peter Goulding said...

Hi Rachel - its on Snakeskin - http://homepages.nildram.co.uk/~simmers/snake158.html

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks Peter. Guess you won't be in the Villanelle Defence League with me then..?
x

The Weaver of Grass said...

That poem tells me such a lot about you Rachel - amd I would like to bet that you are a better singer than you think!!

Rachel Fox said...

Maybe... maybe... bit of a limited range... oh and there I am again talking about writing...
x

Totalfeckineejit said...

How could anyone not like this poem?
So open, honest, vulnerable. I think you sing beautifully.I'll punch them if they don't!

Rachel Fox said...

Cheers Captain.
x

hope said...

And yet another side of you :) Someone who loves music as much as you HAS to be able to sing...even if it's in your own key. Loved this one!

Must be "reformed musician" week as last night we watch the rise, crash & burn, then resurrection of Eric Clapton. And it verified what I always thought: I liked him better when he got older.

Have a good weekend!

Peter Goulding said...

Au contraire, mademoiselle. I love the villanelle - its just bloody hard to write a good one like yours!

Rachel Fox said...

As for literal singing... I did sing the odd solo in primary school but then was overcome with self-consciousness in teenage years (re singing anyway) and I pretty much stopped singing for years. A couple of years ago I had a few lessons to see what I could manage... it was OK but I'm not very good at finding my place in a song, I'm only strong in the middle range and I'm terrible at holding harmonies! Should practise if I want to improve but I have been distracted of late with other things. Excuses, excuses...

Glad you're in the Defence League after all, Peter. And so you're saying I'm good at something deeply unfashionable... that would be right!

x

Enchanted Oak said...

Ah, Rachel, you've offered much for me to think about on this lovely Saturday morning in California. With Plant and Paterson and villanelle fashion, I've gone through a whole cup of coffee here with you.
What it all comes down to, though, is that you touch me with your plaintive song about singing. It's a good metaphor for the life of an obscure poet and anyone else aware of their imperfections. "The struggle is me" stands out as an anthem in itself.

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks Chris - for the comment and thoughts and for the prompt.

Now I'm worrying that I write like a whinger too much. Of course I do have days when I feel fantastic (like the lead singer of a favourite band) so this poem is only part of the story. I sometimes wonder how more level-headed people feel - always been more the temperamental, highly emotional type myself. Deep breaths, deep breaths...
x

Rachel Fenton said...

Dislike of the form is, as you say, fashionable, but you know that there's no point following it becasue as soon as you join the fad it'll all go belly up and the villanelle'll be the best thing since egg slicers again.

Rachel Fox said...

Oh egg slicers! Joy! May have to write an ode (or villanelle) to them...
x

Titus said...

Oh God, I knew I loved you!
What a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant post.

The poem is strong; wonderful finish which is one of the real joys of the villanelle for me. As one who likes the form.

And I now have a whole image of villanelle lepers wandering from Literary Festival to Literary Festival, wearing sackcloth, ringing bells.

And thanks for the pointer to the sonnets book - might take a look.

AND THANKS FOR THE ZEPPELIN AND PLANT. I know capitals are rude and unfashionable, but sometimes you have to.

You just have to.

Helen said...

I do sing ... but not nearly as well as you write!!!

Rachel Fox said...

I started reading the sonnets book last night, T. I'm sure some people will hate his approach (a blend of academic with quite slang and matey moments) but I am enjoying it so far. I have loved some Shakespeare plays but have never really, as it were, penetrated the sonnets.

Thank-you Helen - here in obscurity all kind words are greatly valued!

x

Dianne said...

I will have to linger over your links. I think music and poetry are mated.
I will study the villanelle, as I am undisciplined in my form.
Di

Emerging Writer said...

I do like villanelles but I've read so many boring ones in my time. This isn't one, I hasten to add. Love the sea shell alliteration BTW
(Dianne, I am undisciplined in my form too most days!)

120 Socks said...

Fab Villanelle, very moving and funny,and all the things a good poem should be.

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks all, for reading and for comments.
x

Marion McCready said...

I love villanelles too (we've had this conversation before...), great job, I really like this one.

Karen said...

I love to play with poetry with form -- sonnets, sestinas, vilanelles. I never know quite where they'll take me, and that's like exercising the poetry muscles!

You've done a brilliant job with this one! The finish is especially strong, and I love the image of the shell at your ear.

swiss said...

people get themselves worked up about the villanelle. surely that's to be a walking waste of oxygen.

i admire the sentiment of the last line. it fits perfectly.

Rachel Fox said...

Now I'm wondering if there should be more in the do-be-do-do line... like maybe "But I do-be-do-do and I do-ray-mi-mi"... or something.
Not sure!
x

Dave King said...

Yes, I read Don's slagging off of the Villanelle, was quite suurprised by it, even though I've read several times of late that I shouldn't like them. I'm afraid I still do.

Delightful poem. I, too, had a few false starts on this . Nice to know I wasn't the only one!

Kat Mortensen said...

I'm late to respond ( and I hope I can remember all I have to say—thank heavens for "Show Original Post"!)

I hear you, on those "false starts".

I only knew Dylan Thomas's villanelle, until I came across one here, on your blog. I love the form and thumb my nose at nay-sayers (generally).

If you do an all-villanelle mag, count me in!

I haven't seen the Plant interview and apologize if you mentioned this somewhere earlier. (See, I'm learning!) Have you heard "Raising Sand" with Allison Krauss? It's one of my favourite cds.

Oh, and I loved "Croak by Croak" (saint, bitch...whore - a few parallels with you there).
The shell at ear line was a favourite.

Kat

P.S. We'll have a big bedroom with full private bathroom available for guests, so I hope you do get out our way! (It is a rather touristy town in summer.)

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, Dave... we are free to like what we like and say so!

Kat - we definitely had a 'Raising Sand' phase a while back. Must be about time to play it again now. We will be blogging as we go Kat so we'll keep in touch.

x

MuseSwings said...

This is a wonderful poem! I have a one octave range - and even though I can stay on key I can't sing the higher than low notes or the lower than low notes. I can understand your frustration with the do be do do!

Rachel Fox said...

The more I ponder the more I think that this poem (for me) is less and less about actual singing... but glad it's appealing to folk on different levels!
x

Niamh B said...

This is very cool, sorry took so long to get to it, when they're posted early I try to ignore so there's no danger of copying - anyway - particularly liked the shell whispering encore!
Fab

Rachel Fox said...

It's only Tuesday... and it's here forever... more or less.
Cheers
x

Dick said...

Such a well-spun villanelle and, yes, it does have something of the defiant, self-affirming anthem about it.

Rachel Fox said...

I veer between defiance and hopelessness, I think. Damned tiring!
x

The Solitary Walker said...

That's quite a coincidence. I've been away for a bit - got back at the weekend - and this is the first time I've checked out your blog in a while. Would you believe it - I just posted a villanelle ten minutes ago (my first post for several weeks) and now have just read your own villanelle! What are the chances of that happening?

The Solitary Walker said...

And, btw, I watched all that Robert Plant stuff on TV before I went away - and it was indeed glorious!

Rachel Fox said...

Good to hear all that SW. Good to have you back around the place too.
x