The Art of Writing a Villanelle

A structured verse often leads to a creative outcome

Photo by davisuko on Unsplash

Poetry and verse can be more than just rhyming and meter. Once you begin to study poetry, you realize how many forms there can be and how much structure goes into a poem.

Many traditional forms are called received forms because they are passed along from generation to generation and involve some kind of repetition, which is a form of return. In a villanelle, the first line of stanza 1 is repeated as the third line in stanzas 2 and 4 and the second-to-last line of the poem; the third line of stanza 1 is repeated as the third line in stanza 3 and 5, and the final line of the poem. In addition, the first and third lines rhyme in each stanza; the second lines of all the stanzas rhyme with one another.

A villanelle is often a great way to unlock creativity because you never know where the poem will lead.

Still with me?

If you were to write poetry using a villanelle structure, imagine sentence A as a description of something specific, a tangible item eg ‘the laundry is piled with unwashed clothes’. It should be no more than 10 syllables.

Sentence B would be a completely unrelated description of something tangible. Or even better, it has to be something you believe is true eg ‘the moon shines brighter at night’ or ‘men always think with their penis.’ Sentence B MUST rhyme with sentence A.

Thus a villanelle is a nineteen-line structured poetic form consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain

The structure would look something like this:

A. Rhymes with B
2. (rhymes with all other lines 2)
B. Rhymes with A

1. Rhymes with A and B
2. (rhymes with all other lines 2)
A

1. Rhymes with A and B
2. (rhymes with all other lines 2)
B

1. Rhymes with A and B
2. (rhymes with all other lines 2)
A

1. Rhymes with A and B
2. (rhymes with all other lines 2)
B

1.Rhymes with A and B
2. (rhymes with all other lines 2)
A.
B.

Here’s how my villanelle looks:

Marriage

Beaten down to a whimper
There was nothing he could do besides
Count the days of his long midwinter

He was often seen to malinger
Tired and worn from a life battling the wife
The gold ring squeezed the wedding finger

On the wall hung the certificate inscribed by an inkjet printer
He was trapped and alone with no quality of life
Billy the Kid was a rogue gunslinger

He imagined dating again on Tinder
A cut from the betrothed with a surgical knife
The gold ring squeezed the wedding finger

Instead, he lay there with barely a whimper
Unable to imagine how he’ll survive
Billy the Kid was a rogue gunslinger

He only stuck around because of the kinder
They needed Daddy, they needed him alive
The gold ring squeezed the wedding finger
Billy the Kid was a rogue gunslinger

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