Tag Archives: James J. Stevenson

How to Write a Villanelle + Publication!

"You should TWEET James's poetry! Haha! I'm so funny. And I'm just a dumb ceramic bird."

I like villanelles. They have a lot of restrictions, and that is one of my favourite things about writing poetry. I do write free verse, but I am happiest when trying to do something new in old forms.

My latest villanelle was just published online in The Literary Nest.

It’s called “The News in Villanelle” and is about how we don’t change our behaviour even when the news reports similar tragedies over and over again. Please check it out here!

But first, you might enjoy this description of how to write a villanelle. This is not just for poets. I think it’s always fun to learn about the behind-the-scenes practices of art. AND, as a bonus, I’ve put one of my older villanelles at the end of this post as well.

Enjoy!

A villanelle is complicated poetical form that has the following features:

  1. There are nineteen lines in six stanzas.
  2. The first five stanzas have three lines; the last stanza has four lines.
  3. There are only two rhyming sounds allowed at the end of lines.
  4. The rhyme scheme looks like this: a1ba2 aba1 aba2 aba1 aba2 aba1a2.
  5. The a1 and a2 indicate that the entire line repeats in those places.
  6. All the lines should be in the same meter (I usually use tetrameter or pentameter).

Confusing? It is a little bit because it’s like a puzzle when you’re putting it together. First, let’s look at a famous villanelle that you may have studied in high school or university:

“Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas

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Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

.

The poem is in pentameter (five beats per line, which usually means ten syllables total).

You can see that “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” repeat and make a pretty badass, memorable couplet at the end.

So how can you write your own?

I usually start a villanelle by thinking of either 1) a topic that would benefit from a form with a repetitive structure or 2) a really great ending couplet (the two lines that rhyme at the end).

The trick is finding two lines that will be able to repeat four times in the poem. I really like to have lines that I can play with grammatically so that every time they repeat, the meaning of the sentence changes.

The first villanelle that I ever wrote was published in 2012 by Wisdom Crieth Without. Their website has since disappeared, so I am going to post it here now for your reading pleasure.

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There’s Nothing Else I Want (Adam’s Villanelle)

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That burning image will forever haunt

me in the middle of my promised land;

despite my fears, there’s nothing else I want

.

to know but why I let that lone tree taunt

me with its secret knowledge on command.

That burning image will forever haunt

.

my love as well. She comes, and from her gaunt

clenched fist pushes a gift into my hand.

Despite my fears, there’s nothing else I want

.

but a taste; it’s too small a fruit to daunt

me, but one bite oils fire and expands

that burning image. Will Forever haunt

.

me as teeth break skin mix fluid? A jaunt

disrupts, the plants disperse, all turned to sand.

Despite my fears, there’s nothing else I want

.

but this new choice — in erring sin — to flaunt

our free will.  Though Eden is forfeit and

that burning image will forever haunt

despite my fears, there’s nothing else I want.

by Gustave Dore

Paradise Lost

By ending line a1 with the verb haunt, I was able to make it refer to a different object each time. My favourite is in the fourth stanza where a period breaks the line and makes the second half part of a question.

Pro tip: Remember when you read poetry aloud, you don’t have to pause at the end of a line: keep following the punctuation as you would prose unless the poet has written the poem in such a way that end stops are assumed to have punctuation.

This poem did not look exactly like this when I first wrote it. I changed it a few times over a few years as I experimented with breaking up the repeating lines. You definitely don’t have to do that (Dylan Thomas didn’t after all!), but it is pretty satisfying to pull it off.

My newest villanelle, as advertised above, can be found here in The Literary Nest!

 

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The Were-Traveler Publication

Penny Dreadful is a great show btw.Just in time for the holidays: a bunch of my poems for you to read!

The Were-Traveler publishes speculative micro-fiction and poetry, with Issue #19 completely devoted to poetry with fantasy, sci-fi, or horror themes.

Five of my poems are in the issue and three of them were given lovely artistic accompaniment. I hope you enjoy them!

There are a lot of wonderful poems in the issue, so please check it out here. Links straight to my poems are below.

The Were-Traveler Issue #19

  1. After Receiving the Superpower of My Choice
  2. Princess Takane and the Raven (a ballad)
  3. Poetry Robot
  4. 8 Minutes of Sunlight
  5. A Poet is a Vampire (a sonnet)

Carousel Publication

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I’m very proud to announce my publication in the newest issue of Carousel Magazine!

It’s a wild journal of “Hybrid Literature”.

You can buy a copy of Issue 37, featuring my poem “Hometown, BC” on their website.

It’s only $10 CAD + shipping.


FanExpo Vancouver 2016

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It’s been a long wait (with its new fall schedule), but FanExpo is here in Vancouver from November 11-13!

I will be co-piloting the HMS Bad Idea airship (aka: booth A8 in Artist’s Alley) with Peter Chiykowski of Rock, Paper, Cynic, Is It Canon?, and Dad Joke Han Solo fame.

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Like last year, I will be writing haiku for the special guests in attendance like Jewel Staite ♥, Kevin Smith, Christopher Lloyd, and Carrie Fisher!

     

I met Carrie Fisher last year, jumping her autograph queue because my dad had shown her the Limited Edition Princess Leia vs. Captain Kirk haiku print that I had made with Aaron Plants (of Big Simple Comics and Is It Canon?), AND she wanted a signed copy. I was giddy for days after that.

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I won’t be doing any limited edition so spectacularly this year, but I will have lots of great poster and post card prints, as well as freshly-made copies my Existential Lop comic (a pet rabbit’s guide to philosophy) that sold out at Word Vancouver.

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Peter will have his amazing selection of books, posters, and album of nerd-rock music: Borken Telephone.

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Hope to see you there!


Word Vancouver 2016

This is my second year at the Word Vancouver festival, and I will be selling posters, postcards, and chapbooks in the Alice MacKay room of the Vancouver Public Library all day today (Sunday, September 25). I will also have lots of my friend Peter Chiykowski’s Rock, Paper, Cynic merchandise available too.

I’m still working on my Star Wars action figure comic, but I took a break to write a little book that I’m really proud of: The Existentialist Lop.

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“I just read Existentialism as a Hoomanism”

It’s basically a beginner’s guide to existentialism as told through the thoughts of a lop bunny rabbit. Lops have long, droopy ears, and they are delight to follow on Instagram. My comic is in the style of the Lops of Instagram who refer to their “Mommy” or “Hoomans” in their first-person posts.

I also have a poem coming out soon in Carousel Magazine. The issue will debut at the Word on the Street Festival in Toronto… today I think! I’ll post more about this soon.

Hope to see you at Word Vancouver!


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