Poet-a-Day: Meet Richard Pierce
You can’t really have a conversation about villanelles without mentioning Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. Last time I referred to that poem in a group discussion, I was directed to another, lesser known (but not for much longer) villanelle called “Go Gentle,” written by my friend Richard Pierce. I loved it immediately.
In fact, I love Pierce’s response to Thomas so much, it has displaced Thomas’s original in How to Write a Form Poem. In “Go Gentle,” Pierce responds to Thomas with his own villanelle, choosing to play heavily off the “go gentle” refrain while keeping the middle lines unrhymed. But wait—is that allowed? Good question. Throughout How to Write a Form Poem, we’ll talk about variations on forms—how and why they work (or don’t) to give shape to a poem’s meaning.
For now, here are the first two stanzas of Pierce’s poem to whet your appetite:
Go Gentle (excerpt)
What good is fighting now? You’re dying. Light
will greet you wherever you go. Or it
will not. Go gentle into that good night.
Why rage against your sleep another night
with fists that won’t unclench the twisted sheet?
What good is fighting now? Your dying light…
Here’s what the poet has to say about his villanelle.
Tania Runyan (TR): Tell me a little about the origin story of “Go Gentle.” What do you think Thomas would have to say about your poem?
Richard Pierce (RP): I got the idea for the poem the night my father was on his deathbed, dying from cancer. It was terribly sad to see him fighting death so hard. I thought of Thomas’s poem and responding to it with a villanelle of my own.
I’m not sure, but I think Thomas might give the poem a backhanded compliment.
TR: Other than villanelle, what other forms have you explored? Do you have a favorite?
RP: I have worked with the Petrarchan sonnet, the Shakespearean sonnet, the ballad stanza, the haibun, the prose poem, blank verse, alliterative verse, and open form. Blank verse was probably my favorite.
TR: What do you hope poets can learn from a book like How to Write a Form Poem?
I hope poets will better appreciate and utilize the lyric tradition in English. With a better understanding of form and the history of poetry, poets can make more informed choices about which forms will work best with which content. This understanding, of course, also enriches one’s reading of poetry.
About Richard Pierce
His chapbook, The Book of Mankey, was published by Cooper Dillon Books. He lives in southwest Pennsylvania with his wife, Blenda, and their puppy.
Hear Richard Read “Go Gentle”
(go to 1:10:34 to hear Richard read)
Photo by Nathalie, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Tania Runyan.