How To Write A French Poem
Before we get to the how, we must first understand the why. According to Fluent U, we want to write poems in French to explore, to become an active participant, to strengthen our language skills, and to challenge ourselves.
Not learning French? Do you have teenagers? Have you fallen in love with a dog after decades of proclaiming your deep fear and dislike for all canines? Are you middle-aged? Then guess what? You have a plethora of new words and worlds to explore! Don’t you want to become an active participant in them? Of course you do! Or, should I say, “Mais, oui!”
Let’s face it — if you’re alive, you’re being challenged. Why not rise to the challenge with language and poetry?
Fluent U suggests four types of poems for French learners. In today’s post, we will discuss three of them. The first is the Calligram. These were invented by Guillaume Apollinaire, and they are what we might already understand as object poems. Calligram sounds way more sophisticated, though. See? NEW LANGUAGE SKILL. We’ve barely begun and we’ve already learned something. How easy is this?
Here’s my example:
It is still winter in May
so the box of Beignet baking mix
is Jesse’s response
to dark and cold and rainy mornings
Fried dough and puffs of powdered sugar
for the journey
to walk the dog
“Somebody’s living right,”
Hadley says as she walks
into the kitchen
“I’ll get the plates,” Harper offers
Next is the Alexandrine, what Fluent U calls, “the French answer to iambic pentameter.” Frankly, I didn’t know iambic pentameter was asking a question, but really, who isn’t moved to write after reading Juliet’s soliloquy after she finds out Romeo hath killed Tybalt:
O serpent heart, hid with a flow’ring face!
Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
Beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical!
Dove-feather’d raven, wolvish-ravening lamb!
Despised substance of divinest show!
Just opposite to what thou justly seem’st,
A damned saint, an honourable villain!
O nature, what hadst thou to do in hell
When thou didst bower the spirit of a fiend
In mortal paradise of such sweet flesh?
Was ever book containing such vile matter
So fairly bound? O that deceit should dwell
In such a gorgeous palace!
Alexandrines are “a rhythmic style of verse wherein each line of poetry has 12 syllables, divided in the middle to make six and six. Often, but not always, Alexandrines will rhyme.”
“But that’s too hard!” you’re going to say. “That’s too many rules!” you’ll shout. “I cannot.”Je refuse!”
But don’t you know this kind of poetry is the answer to life? Yes! Yes, it is. We are bound by responsibility and obligation, but so often we forget to seek out the love that’s tethered to what can feel like constraints. Constraints give us the opportunity to seek.
“Teeth have memory” the
hygienist tells me. “Make
sure Harper wears her re-
tainer.” Hearts have mem’ry
too,” I think as I nod.
Finally, there is the Poeme en Prose. This is a free verse type of poetry that is written like prose and can include dialog along the way, but do not be fooled. It is difficult to go with the flow, especially when emotions float heavy; when they sizzle and pop, but here is another place poetry waits to be found:
at the end of the day on the couch across from your daughter
listening to her tell you about soccer practice while your other daughter
still in her dance attire hair slick with gel and in a bun curls up next to you
a recent ritual these days her head in your lap —
“The soccer ball rolled over what we thought was a rock,” she tells us.
“it was an egg,” she says
and we all shift and sigh she tells us the rest — her teammates huddled around
the ball and the egg the soccer coach and the mama bird in the distance,
Try It: Write a French Form Poem
Choose one of these French form poems and use it to explore and participate in a world you might not understand, one you might feel constrained by, but it is a world you are très, très amoureux de.
Featured photo by Barry Creative Commons, via Unsplash. Post by Callie Feyen.