Thursday, November 30, 2006

Villanelle: Devout; Depressive Thinking


I wake up to a house cold as a stone.
The old dog limps downstairs, I let him out.
He wanders in a forest of his own.

My wife nests in her bed, warm but alone.
Her sleeping face warms me, what love’s about.
I wake up to a house cold as a stone.

She loves me more than anyone I’ve known.
Her heart’s heat is what keeps the true chill out.
He wanders in a forest of his own.

There is no sin for which these words atone.
My love, being deaf, can’t hear them if I shout.
I wake up to a house cold as a stone.

Love is a small, shy bird easily flown
And can’t be caged in words within, without.
He wanders in a forest of his own.

We’re not just one, we’re not each other’s clone.
Our separateness doth make our love devout.
I wake up to a house cold as a stone.
Love wanders in a forest of his own.

This marks the end of my villanelle composition for November. I’ve already touched upon Nature, Death and God, so I thought one on Love would be a suitable ending, though I think my darker villanelles were in general, better.

What have I learned from writing these 23 villanelles? First, that form is still relevant. Second, that the power of anaphora persists as strong as ever; repetition of phrases adds power to poems. Third, this form isn’t hard, although the choice of end-rhymes is important as you only get two rhymes. You don’t want to end a line with “industrial,” for instance.

I can only hope the reader enjoyed these poems as much as I did writing them. The artistic discipline they required each morning has been one stay against my ongoing depression. While writing I think about the poem, not myself. (My wife encouraged me to no longer rate my mood, but I would put it at 1.5 kilorats today.)

Yesterday I sent another ms. off to another ms. contest, this time “The Richard Wilbur Award.” I think I have mss. floating in four contests now, but the odds that my one ms. out of 500 should be selected are rather astronomical. But it is a discipline or sorts, even if it costs $25 a pop.

I cried yesterday while sitting with Kathleen. I felt myself a complete failure. Between tears I mumbled: “So this is my choice: To be a lousy poet or a crazy doctor.” So I felt. So depression makes me feel. But Kathleen reminded me that I was an outstanding doctor, and I was. And she doesn’t think I’m a lousy poet; she thinks I’m good. When I’m feeling better, I, too can have such positive thoughts. But now I walk through a wasteland of self-despite. My twisted logic says: “If I feel this bad, I must be this bad.” When feelings rule, you’re really up shit creek. In depression feeling drives thought; in normal mood, thought drives feeling. In depression I think of myself sadly because I’m sad; in a normal mood I would feel sad only if I suffered some loss.

I’m also terribly ambivalent about poetry, a love-hate relationship I’ve had for a long time, because I feel my poetry will never gain the recognition I had hoped, and therefore fear I am wasting my time, and I need to find a real job (if only my back and mood were better). But I go on writing. As I say to my students (and I haven’t had one for a while), “Only write poetry if you cannot not write poetry.” That’s how it’s always been for me.

I have not decided on a form for December. I’m considering pantoums and ghazals. Tomorrow I should debut the new “form of the month.”




  1. Well, I have gained a certain pleasure from reading your work, not all to my taste, but in my untrained, unproffessional minds eye, they're competant pieces.

    I hope you still chuck in the odd Villiwhatsit, as I have enjoyed learning about form etc etc.

    Curious to see what's next :)

  2. I like this one — almost a feeling of being blanketed in snow. Which, ya know, you don't feel all that often when you live in San Diego.


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