A plethora of poetry formats exist in the literary world. From the cyclical sestina to the rhythmic limerick, from the luxurious sonnet to the short-and-sweet haiku, these structures accomplish different tones and feelings for the writer and their audience. Experimenting with different structures will not only expand your literary horizons, but develop your writing capabilities and challenge your word play as well.
The villanelle not only sounds like an awesome alternative name for your antagonist, it’s a poetic structure. Inklings of the villanelle appeared during the Renaissance period, but the form did not become definitively fixed until the late 1800s by a French poet named Theodore de Banville. The name “villanelle” comes from the words villanella or villancico, Italian and Spanish names for dance-songs (poets.org).
A villanelle consists of six stanzas: five tercets and one quatrain, for a total of 19 lines. The poem’s rhyme scheme — ABA — carries throughout the entire poem and doesn’t reset. Every first and third line of a stanza will rhyme, and all the second lines rhyme with one another as well. In the final stanza, the last line rhymes with the first and third.
Implementing the stanza numbers into the scheme, the pattern looks like A1B1A1 / A2B2A2 / A3B3A3 / A4B4A4 / A5B5A5 / A6B6A6A6. One of the most famous examples of a villanelle is Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night.” In this poem, the first and third lines all rhyme with an “-ight” sound, while the second lines use an “-ay” sound.
It’s a format designed to train your rhyming muscle. Sure, you can repeat words, but for an extra challenge, try using a different one each line. In addition, slant rhymes are your friend and can help you reach those final meters. You can even go further and throw in a rhythmic structure, too — perhaps implementing iambic pentameter into each line.
Of course, once you get the format down, you can branch out and start breaking rules. That last line holds the potential for a killer final thought. If you’re feeling daring, you could leave the audience with an unrhymed meter, just to throw them for a loop.
Playing with structure can be quite fun. At first you might feel restricted, but the more you play around, the more you’ll stretch your imagination and open your mind to poetic possibilities.
is a writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Graduating in May 2020 with a degree in English Literature with a Writing Emphasis, Ian writes comics, poetry, and scripts. He is currently an intern for The Brain Health Magazine and aims to work in the comic publishing industry. In his spare time, Ian plays Dungeons & Dragons, board games, and bass guitar.
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