November 12, 2019

Tuesday, November 12


   To get your brains warmed up in this prematurely chill weather, I’m asking you this week to write a poem. Not just any poem, though. You have your choice of two poetic structures, out of the more than 100 that exist for poetry. These are simple, delightful structures that rhyme, use repetition as a structural element, and in the case of the pantoum, are typically ruminative, or in the case of the villanelle, anything you want. 

   This is an opportunity to train your brain to do what’s necessary to build structure. In all writing, master the rules first. Then go ahead and break them.


1. Remember that a pantoum, which is a Malaysian poetic form, is similar to a villanelle, with lines repeating throughout the poem.

2. A pantoum contains a series of quatrains (stanzas of four lines), that rhyme abab until the final stanza (you’ll see why in number 5).

3. Repeat the 2nd and 4th lines of each stanza as the 1st and 3rd lines in the stanza that follows. For example:

Stanza 1 lines: A B C D
Stanza 2 lines: B E D F
Stanza 3 lines: E G F H

4. Continue for any number of stanzas

5. Switch it up in the final stanza: last line grabs 1st line from very first stanza, 2nd line grabs 3rd line from very first stanza. The final lines often play with the original lines a bit to offer up a slightly changed form. 

Final Stanza lines: I C J A



Another Lullaby for Insomniacs

By A.E. Stallings


Sleep, she will not linger:

She turns her moon-cold shoulder.

With no ring on her finger,

You cannot hope to hold her.


She turns her moon-cold shoulder

And tosses off the cover.

You cannot hope to hold her:

She has another lover.


She tosses off the cover

And lays the darkness bare.

She has another lover.

Her heart is otherwhere.


She lays the darkness bare.

You slowly realize

Her heart is otherwhere.

There’s distance in her eyes.


You slowly realize

That she will never linger,

With distance in her eyes

And no ring on her finger.





villanelle is a fixed-form poem consisting of five tercets (A stanza with three lines) and a quatrain (a stanza with four lines) and also follows a specific rhyme scheme using only two different sounds. Thus, the villanelle has nineteen total lines.


The first and third lines of the opening tercet (A stanza with three lines) are repeated alternately in the last lines of the succeeding stanzas; then in the final stanza, the refrain serves as the poem’s two concluding lines. Using capitals for the refrains and lowercase letters for the rhymes, the form could be expressed as: 

A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2.



Mad Girls Love Song

By Sylvia Plath


“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”