Monday, August 1, 2011

Poetry Friday: Villanelle

As teachers, our students often expect us to have all the answers. Many years ago, I was assigned to teach the brand new "Just Say No" drug prevention unit to 75 fifth graders. The school was located in a small low-income community. I lived just a few miles from the school and knew many of the children and their families.

As I started preparing my "Just Say No" lessons, I couldn't help but think of how the lives of some of the children had been affected by drugs and alcohol. I'd heard the stories; I'd seen the pain in their eyes. They knew much more about the subject than I did. How could I teach them about something they lived with everyday? That question led to writing this villanelle in my poetry journal.

(I don't know if it's okay to separate the last stanza of a villanelle into two couplets, but I thougtht a pause was needed. I once had a teacher who said it's better to focus on the meaning of the poem than stick to a strict form. What do you think?)


Preparing a Lesson on Drug Abuse

I see in their eyes what they try not to show,
these ten year olds living in anger and fear.
What can I teach them they don’t already know?

Sam’s mom left him for drugs— six months ago
But he still hasn’t cried one tear.
I see in his eyes what he tries not to show.

Katie Davis’ grades have fallen so low,
she lost her smile— and her brother last year.
What can I teach her she doesn’t already know?

His parents vowed to quit drinking, but Joe's
heard it before— (the words insincere).
I see in his eyes what he tries not to show.

And Jen doesn’t have a winter coat although
her father always finds money for beer.
What can I teach her she doesn’t already know?

I wonder what’ll happen to them as they grow.
The people they’ll become remains unclear.

I see in their eyes what they try not to show.
What can I teach them they don’t already know?

copyright2009 Linda Kulp

16 comments:

  1. Wow! This form is perfect for the kind of frustrated, no-solution thinking you were doing about this problem. Powerful. And I think the pause between that last two couplets is perfect.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Linda, this poem is amazing! You show why the villanelle is such a great form to explore things we obsess about. The repeated line speaks to your frustration & helplessness.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Mary Lee,

    Thank you. I was worried about breaking the form, but when I read the poem it seemed to need that pause.

    Laura, I appreciate your kind comment. I'm always nervous about posting my poems because I don't know if anyone else will get my meaning. I really like the villanelle form.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great poem, Linda. The couplet pairing at the end is quite effective!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for sharing this poem. I agree it's powerful. I appreciate the pause at the end as a reader coming to this. And it's fitting: wondering about "Just Say No" and questioning form -- set rules don't always work.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Linda,

    I think the form you chose suits the subject well. Thanks for sharing your poem.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Jama, thanks for stopping by.

    Martha, I'm usually a rule follower so breaking the rules doesn't come easy for me. I think you're right though, set rules don't always work.

    Elaine, this is the first villanelle I ever wrote. I wanted to use repetition so I thought I'd give the villanelle a try.

    ReplyDelete
  8. You're welcome, Linda! Hope you post more originals.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks Laura, my only worry is that once I post them, I'll never be able to get them published in a journal or anthology. (Hopefully I'll eventually get them good enough to be published.)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Ted Kooser, former U.S. Poet Laureate says in his book, The Poetry Home Repair Manual, "As you revise, with care, your poem will develop toward the form it ought to have. You almost always hurt a poem if you choose its structure before you concentrate on giving shape to an experience or emotion. It is the process of writing that urges the writer toward a poem's most natural, most effective form."

    So, I'm sure Ted Kooser would say you did good!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks, Diane. I admire Ted Kooser so much. I've been meaning to get that book. I'm going to copy the quote from your comment and paste it in my poetry journal. : )

    ReplyDelete
  12. The other commenters are right - this is a very powerful poem. I think the form is just perfect for the subject and I like the pause in the last stanza. Villanelles are hard to write but I really love the repeating line as a way of meditating on a theme. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  13. A VILLANELLE FOR VAN GOGH

    You saw beyond the blue that filled your eye
    And like a child lost in evening prayer,
    You brushed against the stars as you passed by.

    You spun nocturnal truths out of the sky
    In waves of rolling flame upon the air.
    You saw beyond the blue that filled your eye.

    Your steeple still transcends the hills that try
    To touch the golden dreams that held you there.
    You brushed against the stars as you passed by.

    You searched the other side where shadows lie
    In swirling pools of night upon your stare.
    You saw beyond the blue that filled your eye.

    But Theo and Gachet could only try
    To pull you from the depths of your own glare.
    You brushed against the stars as you passed by.

    Your final stroke fell on a canvas sky
    Where dreams once prayed upon the evening air.
    You saw beyond the blue that filled your eye.
    You brushed against the stars as you passed by.

    ©2009 Charles Ghigna

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thank you for sharing your lovely villianelle.
    I appreciate you stopping by. : )

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thank you for sharing your lovely villianelle.
    I appreciate you stopping by. : )

    ReplyDelete
  16. Wow! This should be part of the just say no curriculum you taught. Really. Lovely.

    ReplyDelete