Poetic transformation

June 2nd, 2008

I wrote this poem about a year ago, in the Poetry Thursday days (I was writing on a different blog then) and have been trying to turn it into a villanelle (there’s a good discussion of  the form here). I almost always write in free verse; when I write to a form it seems to me that it’s pretty obvious that I’m not comfortable with the structure. My sonnets feel like diddys, my villanelles come out sing-songy. It takes a truly light hand to use forms to enhance the content rather than allow the content become slave to the form. I don’t think I have that touch.

With that in mind, this weeks’ ReadWritePoem prompt – to rewrite a formal poem in another form – was a perfect time to return to work on my villanelle; I’d set it aside a long time ago. Technically, I’m not quite responding to the prompt; we’re supposed to take a formal poem and transform it to another form and I’m taking free verse (but with a structure) and turning it into a formal poem. Still, it does demonstrate how changing the form transforms the poem.

Here’s the orignal free verse poem:

Fresh water fugue

My father was a fisherman.
The rivers he fished echo through the summers of my childhood like a fugue.
Their names are smooth and round in my mouth
like the river rocks I rolled in my hands as a child:
the Yellowstone and the Firehole,
the Snake and the Missouri,
the Big Lost and the Big Wood.
The Madison.

My father was a fisherman.
I grew up bathed in the light of his long love affair
with the waters of the American west.
Trained by an angling eye, I learned to worship
the Yellowstone and the Firehole,
the Snake and the Missouri,
the Big Lost and the Big Wood.
The Madison.

My father was a fisherman.
He lived many miles from the headwaters of his heart
but summer after summer he fished those rivers
and summer after summer those rivers restored him:
the Yellowstone and the Firehole,
the Snake and the Missouri,
the Big Lost and the Big Wood.
The Madison.

My father was a fisherman.
From him I learned the rhythms of happiness,
rhythms of happiness that flow at the pace of trout streams.
Like a cygnet I imprinted on the river valleys of
the Yellowstone and the Firehole,
the Snake and the Missouri,
the Big Lost and the Big Wood.
The Madison.

My father was a fisherman.
He gave me gifts that glistened like the scales of a brook trout,
gifts I used hard and fierce without thought to value
the way children use gifts, their measure taken only years later:
the Yellowstone and the Firehole,
the Snake and the Missouri,
the Big Lost and the Big Wood.
The Madison.

My father was a fisherman.
Though I have watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon
and seen it set on the Swiss Alps
at night when I dream my heart dreams of
the Yellowstone and the Firehole,
the Snake and the Missouri,
the Big Lost and the Big Wood.
The Madison.

For my father was fisherman.
And perhaps there is river water in my blood
or some gene my father handed down.
Or perhaps it is simply that we love best those things that we loved first:
the Yellowstone and the Firehole,
the Snake and the Missouri,
the Big Lost and the Big Wood.
The Madison.

#

Now here’s the villanelle:

Fresh water fugue

My father was a fisherman.
His heart began to beat
in autumn when the brook trout ran

churning river rocks and sand.
At the headwaters of his heart
my father was a fisherman.

His river home, the Madison
and river water in his blood
in autumn when the brook trout ran

pulled my father off the land.
At the headwaters of his heart
my father was a fisherman

all the years I knew the man.
He hatched his most honest self
in autumn when the brook trout ran.

It’s the single truth I know.
If but one memory holds:
my father was a fisherman
in autumn when the brook trout ran.

#

The orignal free verse poem is actually a cannibalized essay. I like that I’ve gone from 3000 words to 56 lines to 19 lines. I think by the time I get it right, by the time I say the one true thing about my father I’ve been trying to say since he died almost 20 years ago, it will be a haiku. It would satisfy the fly-fisherman in him for me to tell the greatest truth with the fewest words. He knew the pleasures of landing a big trout with a light touch. 

You can read more transformations here.

 

Fresh

June 2nd, 2008

A storm is blowing in. A is at the Tagesmütter (babysitter) and C is napping upstairs. I’ve got the windows open downstairs, a hard breeze clearing out yesterday’s thick humid air and stirring the sheer orange curtains, wildly spinning  the rainbow pinwheel in the garden. An occasional bang and rattle outside, open windows in the apartments across the street, the neighbors too filling their home with this fresh air coming down off the mountains.

When the wind blows just right, blows over the Alps and down into the city I can taste the snow in it, taste the last melting snowpacks.

C is awake. Storms seem to unsettle him as they unsettled his older brother. They are our barometers, our weathervanes these little boys.

Off I go to shelter my boy from the winds.