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.
I Because I do not do the limerick line Because I do not do Because I do not do the limerick Desiring this man’s schtick or that man’s joke I will stick to knocking out free verse (If here and there a rhyme so much the worse) In mournful moans Presented ragged-right upon the page.
II There once was a Lady with three White leopards, a juniper tree, And a bag full of bones That sang their sad moans Of what they had once hoped to be.
III At every turning of the turning stair, Your breathing hard, your eyesight edged with dark, You see the face of hope and of despair.
You breathe the vapor of the fetid air And toil as if some atmospheric shark At every turning of the turning stair
Was hunting through the gathering darkness there, While back and forth across the narrative arc You see the face of hope and of despair.
At every turning there’s a window where You contemplate a drop that’s still more stark At every turning of the turning stair.
Instead you circle upward as you swear Like you are looking for a place to park. You see the face of hope and of despair.
You can’t endure the future’s dismal dare Nor drag yourself to put out your own spark At every turning of the turning stair.
You’re learning how to care and not to care And whether you will make or be a mark. You see the face of hope and of despair At every turning of the turning stair.
IV Higgledy piggledy Here we are all of us Trudging along where some Billions have trod
Smelling the flowers and Trusting religionists’ Tergiversational Rodomontade.
V If the word that is lost isn’t lost, And the word that is spent isn’t spent Then silence is actually speaking, And meaning is something unmeant.
If the meaning is what is unheard And the word is the thing that’s unspoken Then how do you hear if a word Has a meaning that hasn’t been broken.
If the unspoken word must be still And the unheard is what it’s about To have heard the unhearable meaning The inside has got to be out.
If the unheard were out of this world And the light shone in darkness were dark Then the unlit unheard would be meaning If the snuffer provided the spark.
If the yadda can yadda its yadda And the pocus was what hocus took Then gobble must surely be gobble Though dee separates it from gook.
VI Awake! Your hope to turn or not to turn Is wasting time – but go ahead and yearn To see the light or hear the word to know A heaven human beings can’t discern.
There’s nothing there for such as you and me; We make our meaning up from what we see And hear and touch and taste and smell and think — But all there is is fragments and debris.
The steps are just the steps, the stairs the stairs, The rest is merely human hopes and prayers That do no more than hopes and prayers can do, And nothing’s chasing you except your heirs.
No unmoved mover writes upon some slate That mortals may abate or not abate; No hope and no despairing of that hope Reveals what nothing states, or doesn’t state.
Whatever happens happens because of us We get a muss when we don’t make a fuss Demanding right from wrong not mere convenience: We’re all complicit underneath this bus.
Awake! Don’t hope to turn or not to turn, Don’t pray that this is none of your concern. Awake! What will it take for you to learn That if it all burns down you, too, will burn?
Marcus Bales has produced this wonderful set of parodies of the long T.S. Eliot poem ‘Ash Wednesday‘, beginning with a piece in the poem’s style for Part I, Because I do not hope to turn again Because I do not hope Because I do not hope to turn Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
but then moving into a limerick for Part II’s Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
and a 22-line villanelle for Part III’s At the first turning of the second stair
and a double dactyl for Part IV’s Who walked between the violet and the violet
and quatrains for Part V’s If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent If the unheard, unspoken Word is unspoken, unheard;
and finally rubaiyat with a strong flavour of FitzGerald’s Omar Khayyam for Part VI’s Although I do not hope to turn again Although I do not hope Although I do not hope to turn
‘Ash Wednesday‘ has proved one of Eliot’s best-known and most quoted poems, with its signature mixture of Christian mysticism, personal emotion, loose form and scattered rhyme, rich imagery and memorable wordplay. Bales’ ‘Slash Wednesday‘ is an appropriate tour de force of a back-handed homage, mocking Eliot’s ragged rambling with a sampling of forms that could have been used (inappropriately) instead.
Not much is known about Marcus Bales except that he lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, and that his work has not been published in Poetry or The New Yorker. However his ’51 Poems’ is available from Amazon. He has been published in several of the Potcake Chapbooks (‘form in formless times’).
This is being posted two days late for T.S. Eliot’s birthday, but as it’s for the already late T.S. Eliot that shouldn’t matter too much…
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.
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).
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: