Flexible Writing Forms, Write a Villanelle and Have More Poetry Fun

‘Whatever is flexible and flowing will tend to grow, whatever is rigid and blocked will wither and die.’

Lao Tzu, from the Tao Te Ching.

Farewell to 2014 and welcome to 2015. Like many people, particularly in my age group, I wonder where the year has gone and if it’s true that it disappears more quickly the older you are!

If I still lived in Scotland I’d celebrate Hogmanay in the traditional manner and in years gone by I’ve kept up several of the cultural traditions, but confess to having a quiet evening at home on New Year’s Eve, allowing my partying dark-haired daughter to bring in the lump of coal I left at the front door.

Actually, it is a briquette (a lump of compressed coal) from the family home at Croydon. Mum gave it to me to use specifically for the ‘first foot’ over the door on Hogmanay, when I moved into my own home in Mordialloc over 30 years ago.

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This time of year lends itself to reflection as well as remembering cultural quirks. Reflection is an important part of growth and change, especially for someone like me who teaches as well as writes.

  • What lessons worked, what ones didn’t inspire?
  • What writing resonated with others, when did the words fail?
  • What new methods can I try to inspire other writers?
  • What new techniques and tools will I introduce in this amazing digital age?
  • How will I grow and change as a writer forever seeking to improve and connect?

It’s no secret to those that know me that I’m passionate about writing and reading – because of course, they go hand in hand. I love sharing knowledge and encouraging others to be equally as passionate about the craft of writing and to expand their reading lists and writing repertoire. As I encourage others to move out of their writing comfort zone, so must I.

On New Year’s Eve I read a book that had me laughing aloud (good for the health) and admiring the pithy, witty, insightful and succinct use of the English language as well as the skilful political observations of many fellow Australians. Pardon me for mentioning… Unpublished Letters to The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald is a collection of letters commenting on the Aussie political scene late 2011- early 2013 that never made it to print (until now). It is unashamedly topical, but even if you missed some of the events (not sure how) the cleverness of the writers will impress you and the laid-back trademark Aussie humour abounds. After reading this book you’ll look at some of the names and wish they were regular published commentators of life here in Oz! (Although with our current PM, I’m guessing the 2014 edition will be unprintable!)

One letter writer quoted on the back cover:

If I get good service in a restaurant I usually tip 10 per cent of the bill. If the service is poor, the tip I leave to the waiter is: ‘Don’t overwater your bromeliads in winter.’        John Byrne, Randwick

My tip is don’t hold a cup of hot tea or coffee in your hand while reading this book especially in the chapter: Crimes Against the English Language. Yes, as well as being amusing, the book can be used as a learning tool – what better way to learn editing skills and original clever angles than to try and encapsulate what you want to say in the strict word limit of “Letters to the Editor”.

I’ve had several letters published in the past, but like many others, read my newspapers online now and I haven’t sent a letter for some time. However, this book has reignited interest and presented another writing challenge for 2015. When reading their statistics, they receive more than 2000 letters by email a week, plus faxes and handwritten missives, therefore to be published your letter needs to have that something extra – and isn’t that what we’d like for all our writing? I’m sure I can organise a lesson for my students to perfect letter writing and thinking positively, some will be published!

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Last year I introduced different poetic forms to my classes. I mentioned the pantoum in a previous post. After showing some examples, I challenged the class to choose a form and write a poem to suit. The results were magnificent, poignant, touching, funny – the whole gamut of emotions encapsulating life experiences.

Dreams Afloat – a pantoum

Ships on the horizon with cargo varied
Stirring memories of long ago
Migrants dreaming of homes adopted
And of lives they must let go.

Stirring memories of long ago
Ships called into ports enchanted
The passengers must let  history go
Seek new friends and spirits kindred

Ships called into ports enchanted
Exotic foods like mango and sago
Tempted passengers and spirits kindred
Amazing changes they’d undergo

Exotic foods like mango and sago
Migrants introduction to homes adopted
Aware of new seeds they must sow
From ships arriving with cargo varied.

Mairi Neil 2014

According to American poet, Conrad Geller, ‘One traditional form of poetry that can be fun to write, is technically easy compared to the most challenging forms, and often surprises the poet with its twists and discoveries…’ He refers to the villanelle and suggests the name derives from the Italian villa, or country house.

The Poetry Foundation say that it is, ‘A French verse form consisting of five three-line stanzas and a final quatrain, with the first and third lines of the first stanza repeating alternately in the following stanzas. These two refrain lines form the final couplet in the quatrain.’

Whatever its origins, a well-known example of a villanelle is Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas. This powerful poem can be read and heard here.

My offering much simpler, but even so, I suggest a good rhyming dictionary will come in handy and should be added to your toolbox along with a normal dictionary and thesaurus. There is a free Rhyming Dictionary online here worth bookmarking if you don’t want to go to the expense of purchasing hard copy.

As Time Goes By – a villanelle

Age brings reflection on each passing year
Sometimes nostalgia like a fever burns,
Loves and lives lost, births many a tear.

Childhood remembered. Time to conquer fear
Learning that paths have many turns
Age brings reflection on each passing year.

Like an uprooted tree, farewell those dear,
The roots left behind for memory churn
Loves and lives abandoned, births many a tear.

Building a new life; opportunities near
Success or failure? You must discern
Change brings reflection on each passing year.

Time marches on, the well-worn maxim clear,
No immunity from grief, mistakes to unlearn
Loves and lives lost, births many a tear.

And when the end of the road draws near
Count blessings. Hope your life did no harm
Age brings reflection on each passing year,
Loves and lives lost, spills many a tear.

Mairi Neil 2014.

Here’s to a happy, healthy and productive 2015 where the words will continue to flow and grow!

4 thoughts on “Flexible Writing Forms, Write a Villanelle and Have More Poetry Fun

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