Sunday, December 31, 2006

Villanelle: Avoidant; Hope for the New Year


You wake: the house is cold, the light is dim.
Make coffee, walk the dog, turn on the heat.
The redwoods eat the sun; the light is thin.

You think about the things that might have been:
New car, big house, the children bright and neat.
You wake: the house is cold, the light is dim.

You know you’ve got to take it on the chin.
You wish life weren’t so damnably concrete!
The redwoods eat the sun; the light is thin.

The light is thinner than an actor’s skin.
(To read your poems out loud would be a feat.)
You wake; the house is cold, the light is dim.

Where do we get the courage to dig in?
It isn’t for survival we compete.
The redwoods eat the sun; the light is thin.

I used to tackle tasks with a mild grin.
Now I turn my head as they accrete.
You wake: the house is cold, the light is dim.
The redwoods eat the sun; the light is thin.

Today’s poem started off as a sonnet, then the villanelle form took over. It’s easy to write about the immediate because “the immediate you have with you always.” Per usual I make no judgment of the poem’s worth; I find that impossible for any poem unless it be years old. I have not submitted any of these formal attempts to anyone; one thing I must do in the New Year is aggressively submit to magazines. I don’t know if these formal attempts of mine are any more than anachronistic curiosities.

Our landlord just stopped by to tell us our heating bill would be $240. This is patently unfair since he divides the three units by inhabitants, not square feet. He said he would switch to the square footage next bill, but that doesn’t help us now, especially with the increased outlay (always inescapable) for Christmas.

This is New Year’s Eve. There is much I could do today, I suppose, but in the spirit of the holiday (as in the spirit of my poem) I likely won’t do much besides work on my writing. I did sweep the porches yesterday, bring in the trash cans, and did some other minor duties associated with reality, but after all, a poet lives in his head.

Will all practical poets successful at the business of life please raise your hands?

I have never been good with money; I am not neat; I am usually anxious when I pay bills, fearing I won’t have enough, indeed, leaving them unopened for a spell like fortune cookies whose fortunes I know will be bad. This may have started when I was a poor student for so many years, scraping by. Then even when my income was greatest I had to file for bankruptcy. To me, money means unhappiness. To the normal mind, I suppose, money is a blessing. Much of my attitude stems from my family of origin; money always caused unhappiness, it seemed, especially in the hands of my father as a bludgeon to confirm our unworthiness.

Yet as impaired as I may be, I can still benefit the human race, I can still dream of a future more amenable than my present circumstances. This is hope, the one virtue most needed in depression, and the one virtue least available in the same.

Here’s to Hope in the New Year!



p.s. My reference to “anonymous” yesterday included more than one person, Norm. ;-)


  1. Best wishes for a good new year.

  2. Here's to a wonderful 2007 for you CE.

  3. "The redwoods eat the sun" is a damned good line.

    I like the progression of priorities upon waking: Coffee, dog then heat.

    I always turn on the heat first. Always. Then coffee. Then the cats get fed.

    I've never attempted a villanelle. Yours brings Bishop's best to mind--the art of losing isn't hard to master--as well as Roethke's which has always spoken directly to me--I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.

    Money's never been important to me. I never thought it could buy me happiness. My goodness, but it has bought me some woe, though. I used to do as you do and leave the bills unopened. The lesson of financial responsibility was one no one could teach. I had to learn it the hard way. On my own.
    Now, the instant a bill comes in the mail, it goes right back out the same day. I don't let a single bill linger in my possesion over night. Out, out, damn spot.

    I'll never be rich. And frankly, I don't want to be. But at least my credit rating is gold.

    Happy new year to you, sir.

    Thanks for posting your villanelle. Thanks for reminding me of Bishop and Roethke tonight.

  4. Have a good 2007, CE.

    I thought it wasn't a bad villanelle, although it's very hard to write a truly great one.

    I'm fairly sure there are a number of poems worth working on and submitting in those poems you've been writing over the last while.

  5. So good to hear from you all, especially with the encouragement. I love Roethke's villanelle, second only to that by Dylan Thomas, in my judgment. I wrote three sonnets today but did not post them. Two may be passable. Maybe one out of ten of these quick formal efforts is worth submitting. I actually submitted to three magazines yesterday--only magazines that pay, my new standard. So far no success on that front. Non-paying webzines are an easier hurdle, but don't want to go down that road anymore. Some do pay, like Pedestal.

  6. Where are you Mr. Chaffin? Its been too long since you posted. I'm waiting patiently for your next installment. Thanks for all you've put into this good blog.

  7. Have you given up on blogging here?


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