Sunday, December 11, 2011

A failure of the imagination

When it comes to evolution, I seem to have a failure of the imagination.   I just can't conceive how certain things could have done without certain other things, in the evolution 'process'.   The world seems so full of synchronicity that to imagine A without B just makes my head ache.   Hence the poem below, which hopefully won't be too below the belt for most readers....

I so so
So wanna believe in evolution,
but since no one can decide
which arrived first, the
chicken or the egg,
and since the eye has been
discredited as a possible
explanation for design,
being so cleverly designed that
only Evolution with a capital
E could have randomly come
up with it, then I have to con-
clude that when I ask how did the
penis manage to evolve without
the vagina, or the vagina without the
penis, that I’m just a no-hoper on the
scientific front, though not so much of a
no-hoper on the full frontal front.

But boastingly I digress;
what I’m trying to suggest is
that it’s a puzzle how the vagina
decided that it would arrive on the
scene just as the penis came into
prominence – as it were.  Or was
there a penis hanging around
(again I use the language somewhat
loosely) knowing in its own random,
evolutionary way, that there would be a
vagina slinking around in the bushes
somewhere, just kind of thinking,
(randomly, evolutionarily) that a
penis might be close by, and

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The tricks of a Sestina

I mentioned the Sestina in my last post, and gave a graphic version of it, which, when I came to try and use it, wasn't that easy to work with after all.   Stephen Fry lays out the ground plan for a Sestina like this:


That is, the word that corresponds in each case to A or B or C, etc, and appears at the end of a line, gets shifted around as the poem winds its way through the spiral.  At the end of the six stanzas we have an Envoi, a kind of final greeting to the reader, which uses this pattern  BE/DC/FA, squashing up the six key words into three lines.  

It's rather difficult to explain, so here's a properly formed example from W H Auden called Paysage Moralisé.   In this poem you can see how the key words at the end of the first six lines (valleys, mountains, water etc) wind their way around the poem.

Being keen to have a go at the Sestina, if only to say I've actually tried it, I produced the item below (notice I don't call it a poem).   I discovered shortly after I started that I'd begun to rhyme the key words instead of actually re-using them; hence the variations.  However I think the scheme is intact, and by the time I got to the envoi the words were back where they belonged again.   The metre isn't consistent because it's not easy to concentrate on getting the metre right as well as all the other juggling of words, but since this is only a practice run, I'm not fussing about that too much.   

I've written out the key words at the beginning, with their alphabetical symbol beside them.  I haven't thoroughly checked but I think they're intact, at least in terms of rhyming with the original.   The group of six letters are only at the side to give you an idea of where the key words/rhymes have gone to.   I was originally going to use a bunch of words that I came across in relation to trailer hitches, but they proved a bit of an obstacle in the way of getting the Sestina off the ground.  And anyway the 'poem' found its own way home.

A.     Hitch, B.  state, C. more, D.  this, E. sans, F. did

To start a poem with a trailer hitch               ABCDEF
Seems likely to put me in a state
Of dislocation, and furthermore
I haven’t a clue where I’m going with this
Which makes it a drive in the night sans
Headlights, which my brother-in-law did.

Well, now I’ve the problem that this grid      FAEBDC
Called Sestina needs to work one stitch
At a time, like a number of hands
All pulling, as if pulling their weight,
But in fact, pulling that way and this,
Between table and chair, window and door.

And now I’ve made it a chore                         CFDABE,
Since I should stick to the grid
And not rhyme; how did I miss
That instruction?  Surely some hitch
In my reading.  So I’m now in a state
And reverting to form as a man’s

Wont to do if he just lets his glands             ECBFAD
Rule him and acts like a boar
In a china shop throwing his weight
Everywhere, breaking this lid
And this plate, sending every which
Way and that crockery, with a hiss

And a roar, and unlikely to miss                    DEACFB
Any item he can lay his pig hands
On, or, with a whiskery twitch,
Like his cousin, the Minotaur,
(distant, I know) known to be hid-
den in his labyrinthic state

And rashly inclined to lie in wait                    BDFECA
For Heroes arriving in a bliss-
ful state of ignorance, fidd-
ling with their sword in their hands,
Relishing a fight and the gore
That would follow without hitch.

I’m sorry to state the heroes sans
Brains lose on this, and furthermore,
Only Theseus did the deed without hitch.

[This post got picked up for the weekly highlights on the Frankfurt Book Fair 2012 - An Aotearoa Affair site.  There are some interesting comments on the post there, including a note about Denise Duhamel's excellent Sestina: Delta Flight 659.  Note how she plays with the form....]

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Still playing with the Villanelle

More playing with the Villanelle form - I'm looking at the Sestina and maybe the Ballade next...(blame Stephen Fry)

While all the world around me hoons
And guzzles caffeinated drinks,
I take a nap most afternoons. 

The radio croons its ‘Junes and moons;’
My mind it gently sinks and sinks,
While all the world around me hoons.

Siestas are, for Spaniards, boons,
(Accompanied by long, sticky drinks) -
They take a nap most afternoons. 

But as a Kiwi, Culture’s tunes
Deflect away from forty winks
While all the world around me hoons.

Far healthier than taking prunes
Or dealing with love handle kinks
Is my quiet nap most afternoons. 

Busyness eventually wounds
And proves to be a faithless minx;
While all the world around me hoons
I take a nap most afternoons.  

The shape below is a graphical view of the Sestina....looks more complicated than it is!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Villanelle again

Still working on the Villanelle form; it's difficult but not impossible.  Difficult mostly because it's easy (as the following poem demonstrates) to keep to short thoughts without any great ongoing flow.  Anyway, this one is probably still a work in progress.   See the notes at the bottom for some explanations.

All Governments suck up to the rich
With tax loopholes by the score;
The fat aren’t found dead in a ditch.

Every two years a major bank glitch
With the underpaid caught in the maw;
All Governments suck up to the rich.

Spends with extravagant hiss and roar:
The fat aren’t found dead in a ditch.

Politicians make a strong pitch
For tobacco exemptions in law
All Governments suck up to the rich.

Here’s a somewhat unpleasant hitch:
Pepper spray in the Occupy war;
The fat aren’t found dead in a ditch.

I’m struggling to maintain my pitch:
The affluent versus the constant poor.
Governments suck up to the rich -
The fat aren’t found dead in a ditch. 

The pepper spray incident at UC Davis was caught on camera by dozens of people using mobile phones, iPhones and more.  The link is to a ten-minute video of the whole event in which riot policeman Lt John Pike stood over a seated row of protesting students and purposely pepper-sprayed them.  Though it's not clear on the videos, it was done by other police as well, some of whom forced open students' mouths and sprayed down their throats. 

Friday, November 18, 2011


Reading Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled at the moment, and in particular the chapter on Villanelles. 

The Villanelle is a bit akin to a Sudoku, or a Cryptic Crossword: everything has to fit or it falls apart.  It's a form, and a quite specific one at that.  There are five stanzas of three lines each, and the sixth stanza has an extra line. 

The first and third lines of the first stanza get repeated alternately at the end of the subsequent stanzas and then both appear in the last stanza.  They have to rhyme.  The end word of the middle line in each stanza rhymes (with a different rhyme sound).   In the last stanza the first line rhymes with the very first line of the poem, the second line rhymes with the second line of the poem, and then we have the two repeated lines.   It sounds more complicated than it is.   Dylan Thomas' Do not go gentle into that good night is a well-known poem than many people don't realise is a fine example of a Villanelle. 

This wonderful poem by Elizabeth Bishop is also a Villanelle, though by running over the second line in some cases she takes slight liberties with the form.    The poem becomes increasingly moving as it goes on; the last line is exceptionally so.

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

-- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster.

From Bishop’s last book of poems, Geography III 

I've just had a play with the form, and produced the following bit of nonsense....which I'm sure can be improved.   It's a start, however!  I also play a little with the second repeat line; using rhymes that are similar in sound may not be the wisest move, although it was interesting to do.

Perhaps it’s not the prime of every poet’s dream,
Though I myself am fairly keen
To aspire to a villanellic scheme.

So I won’t wait for the Muse’s beam
But try somehow the rhymes to glean;
Perhaps it’s not the prime of every poet’s dream.

I thought at first that I might seem
To be a Villanelle machine;
As I aspired to a villanelley scheme.

I’d vie with the Cream of the Poetic Team,
Sharpen my tools to the finest sheen;
Perhaps it’s not the prime of every poet’s dream.

Of Villanelles I’d write a ream,
Of Villanelles become the Dean -
Still aspiring to a villanelleful scheme.

While fame and fortune wildly gleam
Villanellistically I’m still green;
Perhaps it’s not the prime of every poet’s dream,
Aspiring to a villanellistic scheme. 

Mike Crowl Nov 2011