Tag Archives: villanelle

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Susan McLean, ‘Deep Cover’

Nakedness is the best disguise.
When you discard the final veil,
it always takes them by surprise.

Because men think that compromise
is weak—that if you yield, you fail—
nakedness is the best disguise.

Though you expose your breasts and thighs,
your mind is as opaque as shale.
It always takes them by surprise

to find out that the body lies.
Surrender can conceal betrayal.
Nakedness is best. Disguise,

equivocation, alibis
can be seen through. To lay a trail
that always takes them by surprise,

hide nothing and you’ll blind their eyes.
Go ask Judith. Go ask Jael.
Nakedness is the best disguise.
It always takes them by surprise.

Susan McLean writes: “When I think of which subjects have lasting appeal in poems, I think of the subjects that have never changed and never will, such as human nature, but also of the questions that have no definitive answers, such as the nature of truth.  This poem expresses several paradoxes: that overt shows of openness are the most successful ways to deceive someone; that everyone lies, so telling the truth is always surprising–and is often not believed; that no matter how much truth you tell, there is always much that you don’t say; that when there is a power difference between two people, surrendering can be a tool of resistance. 

“Another thing that I think gives a poem lasting appeal is the use of rhythm and sound to create a music with words.  Though we live in a time in which free verse is dominant and ubiquitous, I don’t think people will ever lose their innate love of the songlike in poetry, a quality that also makes poems easier to remember. One of the most songlike of poetic forms is the villanelle, and it has been one of my favorite forms for many years.  Though I know that many readers find the repeating lines in villanelles to be tedious, small variations in the lines, in their punctuation, and in the surrounding lines can enable the narrative to move forward without losing the appeal of a songlike refrain.” 

Susan McLean grew up in Oxon Hill, Maryland, attended Harvard University and Rutgers University, and taught English for thirty years at Southwest Minnesota State University. She has published two books of poetry, The Best Disguise (winner of the 2009 Richard Wilbur Award) and The Whetstone Misses the Knife (winner of the 2014 Donald Justice Poetry Prize), and one book of translations of the Latin poet Martial, Selected Epigrams. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa.

‘Deep Cover’ was originally published in Mezzo Cammin, a journal of modern formalist poetry by women. Susan McLean’s ‘Lessons From A Fool’ appears in the Potcake Chapbook Careers and Other Catastrophes.

https://www.pw.org/directory/writers/susan_mclean

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Claudia Gary, “Blues Manqué”

Claudia Gary

Claudia Gary

I’ve suffered, but I can’t quite sing the blues.
My troubles are occasional, not chronic.
My angst is true, but not the kind you’d use

against the everyday, to find or lose
your heart. My chords are major and harmonic.
I’ve suffered, but I don’t dare sing the blues.

Any attempt would probably amuse,
but not in ways your songs have made iconic.
Your angst is true, while mine’s nothing to use

in threatening to blow a major fuse
or skip to Paris on the supersonic.
I’ve not suffered enough to sing the blues.

Saying I have is asking for a bruise.
You’ll throw tomatoes. They’ll be hydroponic.
This angst is true, but nothing I can use

to make you say mine is the pain you’d choose.
The plates I spin are porcelain, not tectonic.
I suffer from a need to sing the blues
with insufficient angst, too kind to use.

Claudia Gary writes: “I chose this poem because people have seemed to enjoy it at various readings, as did the wonderful editors who chose to include it in “Love Affairs at the Villa Nelle.” Also, villanelle is one of the forms I love to teach at writer.org—currently online, so people can “Zoom” from anywhere in the world and wear their pajamas to class.”

Claudia Gary teaches villanelle, sonnet, and meter “crash courses” at The Writer’s Center (writer.org). A three-time finalist for the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award and semifinalist for the Anthony Hecht prize (Waywiser books), she is author of Humor Me (David Robert Books, 2006), chapbooks including Genetic Revisionism (2019), and poems appearing in journals and anthologies internationally. She also writes chamber music, art songs, and health/science articles. See also pw.org/content/claudia_gary, @claudiagary (twitter), and claudiagarypoet (instagram).

August 3: Annual Surreptitious Sonnet Day

Wallace_Stevens,_1948

Wallac Stevens

“Engaged at the office all day on a sonnet – Surreptitiously.” This charming journal entry by Wallace Stevens for August 3, 1906, triggered a fine sonnet by Frank Osen some years ago:

Cover Memo

To Distribution:
Stevens was aware
That many poets must go leopard-like
Among the striped, yet not be spotted there.
This isn’t easy, when desire may strike
At work, although it called in sick last night,
And, stricken, one must chase in search of tea
Or oils or oranges, to some distant height—
Or only to the nearest OED.
Yet, when protective coloration’s risked,
A job transcends that mental game preserve
Where fauna don’t go frolic, but get frisked.
For all who bear an office to observe,
We ought to mark each August third this way:
As Annual Surreptitious Sonnet Day.

This in turn caused a rueful villanelle by Marcus Bales:

August Third

On August Third I have to write a sonnet
As Wallace Stevens did in Nineteen Six —
And here I’ve got a villanelle, doggone it.

And ever since Frank Osen got right on it
By writing his he’s put us in a fix:
On August Third I have to write a sonnet.

I hope you’ll Vladimir-and-Estragon it,
While I arrange my sonnet’s final mix
Cause here I’ve got a villanelle, doggone it.

It may be that allusion’s over-drawn – it
May not be your cliques that I transfix
When August Third I have to write a sonnet.

I haven’t got a shocking denouement – it
Isn’t how a villanelle does tricks,
And here I’ve got a villanelle, doggone it,

So as you don your writing hat, or bonnet,
Don’t mix your forms as I did, dicks and chicks —
Cause here I’ve got a villanelle. Doggone it,
On August Third I have to write a sonnet.

Well! What will today bring, I wonder?