Using form: villanelle: Melissa Balmain, ‘Villain Elle’

Whenever I wake up and don’t feel well,
I like to read a women’s magazine.
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle,

Cosmo or Glamour, Self or Mademoiselle,
instead of pills, elixirs or caffeine,
whenever I wake up and don’t feel well.

Page Eight has bathing suits that look just swell
if you’re six foot and live on Lean Cuisine.
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle.

Page Nine’s a list of “wardrobe musts” that sell
at reasonable prices—for a queen.
Whenever I wake up and don’t feel well,

Page Ten says how to age, yet stay a belle.
The photo? It’s a model of eighteen.
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle

to make my time in bed such living hell,
I’m out of there in sixty seconds clean.
Whenever I wake up and don’t feel well,
I know that I can count on Vogue or Elle.

*****

Editor: The villanelle is a highly structured poem, its two key lines rhyming and repeating several times. One of its challenges is to make each repetition fresh and interesting, either by developing and deepening the context, or by varying the repeated lines slightly or, as with this one, by having the same words resonate differently. Here “I know that I can count on” gives an initial impression of a favourable attitude to women’s magazines, but at the end the words show total disgust. This ‘Villain Elle‘ is typical of Balmain’s twists and puns and absolute control of form.

Melissa Balmain edits Light, America’s longest-running journal of light verse. Her poems and prose have appeared widely in the US and UK. She’s the author of the full-length poetry collection Walking in on People (Able Muse Press), chosen by X.J. Kennedy for the Able Muse Book Award, and the shorter, illustrated The Witch Demands a Retraction: Fairy-Tale Reboots for Adults (Humorist Books). Her next full-length collection, Satan Talks to His Therapist, is due out in fall 2023.

‘Villain Elle‘ is from Walking in on People © Melissa Balmain, 2014. Used by permission of Able Muse Press.

Photo: “304/365 – 8/8/2011” by GabrielaP93 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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