Friday, March 5, 2010

Poetry Friday: Rondeau Redoublé

The Poetry Sisters are at it again. This time, we've been challenged to a Rondeau Redoublé. Poet and professor Kelly Fineman, as usual, has a brilliant explanation of this form, including some very funny reasons why we poets title these crazy attempts simply "Rondeau Redoublé" instead of some other more poetic moniker. (Hint: ego is involved.)

Speaking of ego, I'm setting mine aside, next to my sanity --- which I also abandoned when I agreed to twist my britches into this revolving door of a form. Because, I admit, even after I wrote a Rondeau Redoublé, I still don't completely understand it.

I have respect for this form, though. And newfound wisdom. (Please see Sara's How to Not Choke at the Rondeau Redoublé at the end of this post for my tips.)

Rondeau Redoublé

Paper becomes a swan thus:
creased, folded, feathers pleated,
neck extended, not like us,
in minutes near completed

or lines smudged, cross-hatched, deleted,
pen carves arch of whiteness minus
all not swan; hours lost, repeated;
paper becomes a swan---thus

night's ravines, spit with starry dust
are charted; constellations sail full-sheeted,
inky swan or leggy cross of Crane (Grus):
creased, folded, feathers pleated

as pages pop from children's tales, morals meted;
exclamation point of swan unfolds---ha!---from amorphous
Ugly Duckling---pudge of feathers, rudely treated,
neck extended; not like us

who caught in thorny thatch, anonymous,
our parchment paper hearts, chambers overheated,
burst; bloom briefly---Narcissus poeticus,
in minutes near completed.

Rather curl, from blazing light secreted
in darkness, pinch, preen, fuss
'til all of creased and folded poet is conceded;
naught but neck of poem emerges---hush!
Paper becomes.

---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Liz will have a roundup of all the Poetry Sisters' rondeaux here. Or you can follow these links, which I pinched from Kelly Fineman:

Tanita Davis
Kelly Fineman
Andromeda Jazmon
Laura Purdie Salas
Liz Garton Scanlon

Tricia Stohr-Hunt (not able to join us today, but Tanita wrote a gorgeous poem inspired by her strength)

*Bonus material:

Sara's How to Not Choke at the Rondeau Redoublé

1. Repeatedly google the name of this form to make sure you spell it correctly. (Be sure to learn how to make the French vowel at the end read "é" instead of plain "e." Don't worry---once you've done this, you can simply copy and paste the é every étouffé-ing time you need it.)

2. Rev your engines with some history and examples. Will you write with or against tradition? Forward Press calls it "a form for expressing devotion to secular objects such as springtime, love and romance ... It has been reported that only the English, who adopted the rondeau at the end of the 18th century, truly attempt serious verse with this form." Hmm. I usually like to buck the system with some humor. This time, serious was bucking it.

3. Resolve how the form (crazy as it is) will support your theme. (We all chose some form of the theme "new beginnings.") A rondeau goes round and round, just as years and other cyclical things do. Brilliant match-up, Liz! (our resident theme chooser)

4. Rhyme, then Write. Or Write, then Rhyme. By this I mean: you can come up with a malleable list of words that will stand you in good stead for six stanzas (recommended), or you can join me in the foolish habit of writing the first thing that comes into your head and then tracking down rhymes for it. For example, I wrote (thinking of origami)

"Paper becomes a swan thus
Creased, folded, feathers pleated
(something, something)
In minutes completed."

Then I went to Rhyme Zone to see where my game of Russian Roulette with end rhymes had landed me. Here is a mashup of my notes from that ongoing experience:

Thus: "us" words, Sus (pigs) and Grus (crane, a constellation)

more "us" words---"amorphus" (fetus) which let to amorphous. Theme of shape. Making something from nothing. Or a complicated thing from a square. A poem has "squared edges" in this form.

Charlotte Russe: ladyfingers! Gloomy Gus. (Ha, ha, ha!) or Anthony Banderas (now I'm out in left field)

The point is words, like poetic forms have histories, too, and connections. Have fun. See where the words lead you.

5) Refuse to quit.

6) Refer to number 5.

7) Really, I mean it. See number 5 (and 6.)

8) Radiate with maniacal happiness when by magic or mayhem, you have six stanzas. Then force yourself to analyze them. How will each advance the theme? Be organized? It's easy with the Rondeau Redoublé to be so happy that your rhymes work that you forget the poem must build to a story or conclusion. There must be a reason for the constant "re-turning" in this form.

9) Retreat from stanza level editing down to individual word choices: prune out the line-wasters. Look for specific places to use vivid words. Re-write and re-write.

10) Revise the line flow, down to the punctuation. Seriously. Seriously... Seriously! In this poem, I wanted the lines to flow from stanza to stanza, often using the last word of a stanza as the first word of the next to give an impatient feel to the poem until the last hushed moment.

11) Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!

Poetry Friday is hosted today at Teaching Books.


  1. Sara, yours if my favorite of all our rrs, and that's saying something! I think the writing you do ABOUT writing/poetry (I think of your poem about memorizing a poem often) is your best work.

    You rock!

  2. This form makes me a little dizzy! Nice work, Sara; I especially like the line "our parchment paper hearts, chambers overheated." And of course the notes afterwards!

  3. Oh my Lord in Heaven! Sara you have me laughing and shouting over your explanation/tips. I should have come to your school first of all. I totally missed the correct way to write the "e". Point #5 is the only way I got through writing mine for sure!! You have got the process down to a T and I am going to save this post forever!

    Of course I absolutely love your poem too. Origami is a perfect theme for this poem. The way your poem folds and becomes something new... delightful! My favorite lines:
    "who caught in thorny thatch, anonymous,
    our parchment paper hearts, chambers overheated,
    burst; bloom briefly-"

  4. Wonderful tips, Sara - numbers 5,6 & 7 being, perhaps, the most important key to taming this particular beast.

    Although I admit I've started to wonder whether it might not be better to pick a rhyme scheme, then write stanzas 2-4, then see whether it forms a half-decent stanza one. I cannot decide whether I'm willing to invest the sort of time required for that in order to see whether it makes sense or nonsense, however.

  5. Hee! Spit take on your tips!

    What an impressive poem, Sara. I love it when you bring us your own poetry and when you ladies take on these challenges.

  6. You are all maniacs (albeit happy ones) to even attempt this form.

    Love the tips. Now you'll forever love the é! ALT 0233!

  7. You really, REALLY crack me up. But honestly, the only way I got through this one was grunt-labor and toil. It ELUDED me for so long I thought I wasn't going to make it. And then, you spin one out and it's all gorgeous and I was, admittedly, an "eence" jealous.

    And, okay, it's hard to be when I know it was at least just as bad for you.

    My favorite, of your most beautiful lines --

    our parchment paper hearts, chambers overheated,
    burst; bloom briefly---Narcissus poeticus,
    in minutes near completed.

  8. Oh my gosh, Sara. Your bonus material is positively BRILLIANT. I love all the musing about rhymes and thus. Mercy, the troubles we walk ourselves into. And I love love love this little folded swan of a poem. Thank you...

  9. I hope you are doing a lot of #11 after this. I'm smiling a lot just from the reading. I love the paper-swan-words transforming, all the pleats and preening and parchment.

    Best lunch break ever. Thank you.

  10. Wow! (I seem to keep saying that when I comment on each of these "revolving door" poems!!)

    Love the bonus material!!

  11. Sara, if writing in poetic forms is a superpower, you have it.

    I struggle with form. It is challenging. I write mostly in free verse with some Japanese forms.

    But before I sound too self-depreciating. I have a superpower, too: I can read anything. Now, understanding what I read--that is a whole other ball game.

    I love your tips. When I read Rita Dove's poetry before she won the Pulitzer, I knew she was adept in forms. When she tried writing free verse after the Pulitizer, I found her competent, but the brilliance--that magnificent shiny something she had with forms--wasn't quite there with her free verse.

    I haven't read Dove in awhile, so maybe she has improved. Do you think she is equally adept in free verse as well as form? Part of the reason I think form came more "natural" to her is her foundational work in mathematics. Or do you think people are born "free verse" or "form" poets?

    Thanks for any insight!

  12. That's an interesting question, Laura---maybe worthy of a whole blog post answer!

    What's funny is that I wrote free verse for much of my life, and only came to form poetry through these challenges. I had no idea what fun I'd have with them or how much I would learn. It's as if each form I try has compacted within it the collected wisdom of all who've tried it before.

    I don't know if someone is born a "free verse" or a "form" poet; but it seems as if all poets are born to never be content with what they know. Thus, Rita Dove's changing poetic style.

    I welcome anyone else's thoughts on this.

  13. Your poem was great, but I think my favorite part of your post was the list of "how not to choke." You have almost inspired me to try this crazy form, just for challenge sake!

  14. Thanks, Sara, for commenting on my comment. I agree, poets are life long learners.

    Also, I think, sometimes, beneath free verse there is a type of structure. Free verse can be constructed using a scaffolding. When the scaffolding is removed, free verse appears totally free. But, in reality, it might be more of an abated structure.

    So depending on what you want to do with your free verse, and if you fall on the continuum closer to "structured" free verse, then moving to forms isn't such a big jump.

    I do like writing in Asian forms though-haiku, sijo, etc.


  15. "Repeatedly google the name of this form to make sure you spell it correctly."

    I know that feeling.

    I love the poem and the form, even though I don't totally understand it, either. It's a bit twisty.


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