Like most of the world, I have been experiencing some hefty emotions as of late, and they get tangled up in the acknowledgment that what I am going through is nothing compared to what others are experiencing. Sorrow, anger, jealousy, heartache – they all pay a visit but I tell them they don’t belong here because actually, “I’m fine. Everything’s fine. I have no right to indulge in your visits, you monsters!”
This doesn’t stop them from showing up, and the truth is whether I deserve to feel them or not doesn’t matter. What matters is whether I invite them in and see what it is they have to offer me, and what it is we might be able to do together.
It’s not an easy call (is a call every easy?). Part of the difficulty is feeling what we feel. The other, more rigorous and treacherous task is expressing how we feel.
Here, I suggest working within the boundaries of a poetic form. Expressing yourself within the perimeters of a form keeps those harder feelings safe and snug, while still allowing them some exposure. Think of it as swimming in a pool with lane lines. You’re still doing the tremendous work of pushing yourself through the water while figuring out how to breathe, but you know where you’re going, and you know you have a specific, declared space to do the work you need to do.
Take the villanelle, for example. You get six stanzas and the first five are three lines. The last is a quatrain (four lines). So far so good.
Here’s where it gets tricky, but also really good – the first line in your poem is also the third line in the second and fourth stanzas.
But wait! There’s more. Your third line in your first stanza is your third line in your third and fifth stanzas.
Finally, those first and third lines make up the couplet in the sixth stanza, thus ending the poem.
It sounds like a headache, I understand, except what would happen if you got to say that hard thing a few times and put it to poetry? Would the rant become music? Would the sorrow become a lament? Would you find that Jealousy just needs a cozy scarf that would pull out the green in her eyes and make her see the beauty in who she is?
Consider Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. I’ve probably spent a total of 30 minutes studying that poem in an English class in 1993, but I have never forgotten the repeating lines: “Do not go gentle into that good night,” and, “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
While I had not yet had an experience where I would say these words to someone as Thomas said them to his father, I still took comfort in Thomas’ writing them again and again. At the time, they helped me manage the inevitable future: graduating high school and leaving home. I was happy for the word, “rage,” and the phrase, “do not go gentle.” No, death and going off to college are not the same things, but I still felt what I felt, and Thomas’ words helped me take care of my feelings and do what I needed to do: grow.
This week, sift through some of your heavier emotions and put them to the villanelle. Click here for villanelle instructions and examples.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Monica Sharman we enjoyed:
Photo of an Archer
Arm extended, aim held steady.
Hand suspended, drawn and ready.
Stretch and strain of muscles caught
on photo film, the bowstring taut
but never sending. No release.
Pull and tension never cease,
the way relentless yearnings find
a soul, eternal yet confined
to earth and time and lifelong wait.
The pull of longing won’t abate
’til target’s sighted. Hope defies.
Fingers open. Arrow flies.
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