Visualize Your Villanelle

Analyze your repeating lines. In the case of the villanelle being discussed here, the first line —"The stalks of wheat appear to writhe and bow" — suggests images of agony, nightmare and wind. The other line —"The farmer ends his dreaming with a plow" — suggests a reaction by the farmer to such an image or situation.

After I realized this, I plugged those lines into the form on my worksheet. It looked like this:

A1 The stalks of wheat appear to writhe and bow b As funnel clouds descend upon the plain. A The farmer ends his dreaming with a plow.

a (Compose lines related to agony, nightmare b or wind)

A1 The stalks of wheat appear to writhe and bow.

a (Compose lines that trigger a reaction b by the farmer)

A2 The farmer ends his dreaming with a plow.

a (Compose lines related to agony, nightmare ;

b or wind)

A1 The stalks of wheat appear to writhe and bow.

a (Compose lines that trigger a reaction b by the farmer)

A2 The farmer ends his dreaming with a plow.

a (Compose lines that relate to agony, etc., b and that trigger a reaction)

A The stalks of wheat appear to writhe and bow. A The farmer ends his dreaming with a plow.

Do that throughout the entire poem, and you'll get a sense of which rhyme words to use. For example, in what became the second stanza of my villanelle, I imagined a tornado warning (wind-related image) being sounded to heighten suspense. When I looked at my list, my eye fixed on the word blow. The second rhyme word was easy— pain — in keeping with the idea of agony.

Then I worked on lines using those words until they scanned, rhymed and made sense:

The sirens in the village always blow

As if to synchronize his life of pain.

The stalks of wheat appear to writhe and bow.

Finally, I followed the same process to complete the remaining three tercets and first two lines of the ending quatrain. The result was a villanelle whose very form helped me generate the poem "Burial" without wrenching rhyme or forcing lines.

In fact, the entire process took less than two hours. I credit that to the fact that I know the formula.

Now let's devise a formula for a poem that can stump the most accomplished formalist.

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