Saturday, September 15, 2018

Prompt #323 - Not the Villanelle!

About ten years ago, in response to a workshop group’s request, I came up with a pared-down version of the villanelle. After presenting a session on villanelle writing, the consensus of option was that the form, while interesting and challenging, was a bit too confusing for starters, and my workshop group requested something related but better suited to “getting their feet wet.” What I came up with worked well for the group, and they named the invented form the “Adeleanelle.”

I posted a blog prompt using this form a number of years ago, and thought it would be fun to revisit the form this summer. I admit, with a slightly red face, that in the ten years followed creating the form, I still haven’t written a single villanelle, though I still enjoy reading them, especially Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” I’ve excused myself with the thought that formula poems are almost mathematical (and math was never my strong suit). I think my feeling has been similar to the workshop group members’.

Developed in France and introduced into English literature during the late 1800s, a villanelle has 19 lines, with two repeating lines throughout the poem. Here’s the canonical format:

Refrain 1 (A1)
Line 2 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)

Line 4 (a)
Line 5 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)

Line 7 (a)
Line 8 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)

Line 10 (a)
Line 11 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)

Line 13 (a)
Line 14 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)

Line 16 (a)
Line 17 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)
Refrain 2 (A2)

(Are you confused yet?) The first five stanzas contain three lines (triplets), and the last stanza contains four lines (a quatrain). The 1st (A1) and 3rd (A2) lines of the first stanza are alternately repeated, with the 1st line becoming the last line of the second and the fourth stanzas, and the 3rd line becoming the last line of the third and fifth stanzas. Lines 1 and 3 are repeated again to  become the last two lines of the final stanza. (Feeling compulsive?) There is no prescribed meter or line length; however, iambic (ta-DUM) and four or five feet per line are good bets. (Do you have an idea now why I’ve never tried to write one?) Of course, modern attempts stray from the rules and allow for some flexibility, and enjambments can be used to help the course of the poem. Note: Poems have two basic types of line breaks: end-stopped and enjambed (in an enjambed line, the break occurs in the middle of a sentence or phrase; end-stopped lines end with punctuation).

Recently, I introduced the villanelle again in a private coaching session and, although it was happily received, the student thought the form was too strict and too rigid for any reasonable attempt. She asked if I know of a slightly simpler format loosely based on the villanelle but “easier.” Once again, I brought out the “Adeleanelle,” and hope you’ll find it fun to work with.


1. Write a twelve-line poem divided into three four-line stanzas.
2. There is no rhyme and no prescribed meter.
3. Begin each stanza with the same word. (That’s each stanza, not each line.)
4. Line 1 is repeated as line 5.
5. Line 4 is repeated as line 12.
6. The poem takes its title from the fourth line of the first stanza.


1. Begin with a free write and then get your ideas organized.

2. Take your time. Keep a copy of the guidelines close as you write and refer to it as needed.


Here’s an unedited example from the group (thanks, Jayne R. for permission to post this poem again).

Another Time, Another Life (the title is line 4)

Line 1                                                 And now in the retelling,
Line 2                                                 I wish and wish again that
Line 3                                                 the dream had been a dream—
Line 4                                                 another time, another life …

Line 5  (repeat line 1)                        And now in the retelling,
Line 6                                                 I wish you here, my love,
Line 7                                                 your still eyes wide (alive),
Line 8                                                 nothing in the shadows—

Line 9                                                 And only light and light—
Line10                                                where loss forgets its place,
Line 11                                               your hand still warm in mine,
Line 12 (repeat line 4)                        another time, another life …

If the Adeleanelle doesn’t strike your fancy and you want to go for a “real thing” challenge, there’s a great how-to here

Note: Keep in mind that whatever you choose, meaning should never be subordinate to form!

Villanelle Example:

“Villanelle” by W. H. Auden


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