Thursday, March 26, 2009

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

This week's selection is a lovely and sad villanelle by the late Rad Smith. Smith died of lung cancer in 1998 before his one and only book, Distant Early Warning, was published -- his wife sent out the manuscript and it was eventually picked up by Tupelo Press in 2005.

I chose a villanelle to demonstrate that "archaic" forms, even those that incorporate rhyme and word repetition, can be applied to modern themes very successfully. Smith's poem sounds like idiomatic speech and is a very distant cousin of Roethke's lofty poem in the same form, "The Waking" ("I wake to sleep and take my waking slow/ I learn by going where I have to go"). Villanelles are surprisingly diverse, tonally.  I like them and think contemporary poets should tackle them more often.

Old Lovers

Best never to revisit them unless
years afterward, you're still tormented,
or it's late, and you are willing to say yes

if one asks you to unzip her dress
in the dimly lighted room you've rented.
Best never to revisit them unless

galloping stallions don't distress
you, or you've forgotten how she once said
I'm late. And you are willing to say yes

to an invitation with no return address
on purple stationery hotly scented.
Best never to revisit them unless

you can bear the heartlessness:
ravaging hands, teeth, a scorched bed.
It's late. Are you willing to say yes

yes yes to a devouring caress
despite the wreckage last time you consented?
Best never to revisit them unless
it's late, and you are willing to say yes.

1 comment:

J.A.G. said...

Ooh, a villanelle... I just learned something new.

I'm not sure how I feel about the way the author used the rhyme scheme. Is each stanza ABA, meaning that all the B's are supposed to rhyme? They don't, really. With "torMENted" and "said," the stress is on the wrong syllable... and you can't pretend they do once you already rhyme "torMENted" and "RENted".

Not to knock your poetry-is-good mission. Very noble. I'm adding my contributions because I am an avid fan of solid rhyming, and I won't accept anything less. Yes.