Monday, June 18, 2012

blues I

Blues poetry comes straight from the blues -- an American musical form with its roots in African music and the music of American slaves. Actually most American popular music (R&B, rock, rap, etc) is heavily influenced by the blues. it is also basically the most essential, visceral music there is, I THINK. Definitely my favourite musical genre, especially the old stuff.

According to the Handbook, blues poems may or may not follow the structure of traditional blues music. As you might expect, however, they always reflect "blue" content -- loss, hardship, hopelessness. Blues aren't depressing, though -- they acknowledge and accept the reality of the human condition, and i think say something about the endurance of the human spirit. They aren't songs about giving up. Occasionally, too, the blues have something to say about the humour to be found in bad places.

Before you try to write blues poetry, get a feel for the structure and tradition of blues music. I like to create stations on Pandora based on old performers like Bessie Smith, Howlin' Wolf, Lead Belly and the like.

Here are a couple of classics to get you started:

yup, totes put Led Zeppelin on there.

so yeah, have some fun with that stuff if you like. In a couple days i'll post some examples of blues poetry by peoples who knew what they were doing. Then i'll share a few of my amateurish attempts (^_^)

Friday, June 15, 2012


The ballade is a pretty ancient French form with a strict rhyme scheme. A traditional ballade includes three stanzas of eight lines each, in a rhyme pattern a, b, a, b, b, c, b, C. You use the same rhymes in each stanza, and C -- the final line, is a refrain which stays the same, or pretty much the same, every time. There is often also a short verse called the 'envoy' or 'envoi' at the end, addressed to a poetic patron, or a lady, or somebody like that.

Not very many people write ballades, because they are pretty freaking difficult, especially in English which doesn't have the same kind of verb endings as French. My favourite author ever, Geoffrey Chaucer, was actually the first guy to write ballades in English (he was influenced by a lot of French writers). He is basically the boss of poems, although to be fair, Middle English was a little more flexible about verb forms and spelling.

Chaucer's "To Rosemounde" is about as perfect a ballade as you can get. He also wrote some other (more tongue-in-cheek) ballades as well -- I'll post one or two in the notes. If you read the Middle English, you can really see the rhyme scheme. I've done a little "translation" afterwards in case you get thrown off by the (actually more sensible than modern English) spelling.

If you look further down the blog i've posted a couple of my pretty lame attempts at ballades. Hey, it was a fun exercise.


Madame, ye ben of al beaute shryne
As fer as cercled is the mapamounde,
For as the cristal glorious ye shyne,
And lyke ruby ben your chekes rounde.
Therwith ye ben so mery and so jocounde
That at a revel whan that I see you daunce
It is an oynement unto my wounde,
Thogh ye to me ne do no daliaunce.

For thogh I wepe of teres ful a tyne,
Yet may that wo myn herte nat confounde;
Your semy voys that ye so smal out twyne
Maketh my thoght in joy and blis habounde.
So curtaysly I go with love bounde
That to myself I sey in my penaunce,
"Suffyseth me to love you, Rosemounde,
Thogh ye to me ne do no daliaunce."

Nas never pyke walwed in galauntyne
As I in love am walwed and ywounde,
For which ful ofte I of myself devyne
That I am trewe Tristram the secounde.
My love may not refreyde nor affounde,
I brenne ay in an amorous plesaunce.
Do what you lyst, I wyle your thral be founde,
Thogh ye to me ne do no daliaunce.

Emily's translation:
Madame, you are the shrine of all beauty / As far as is circled by the map of the world,
For you shine as glorious as the crystal, / And your round cheeks are like rubies.
On top of that, you are so merry and jocund / That when I see you dance at a party
It is an ointment to my wound, / Though you show me no friendliness.

For though I weep a barrel full of tears / Still that woe does not overcome my heart;
Your high voice that you twist out so softly / Makes my thoughts abound in joy and bliss.
So courteously do I behave, bound by love, / That I say to myself in my private sorrow,
"It is enough for me to love you, Rosamond, / Though you show me no friendliness.

No pike was ever simmered in galantyne (a sort of pickly sauce) / As I am simmered and wound up in love,
For which I full often perceive of myself / That I am truly a second Tristram.
My love may not grow cold or numb, / I always burn in amorous pleasure.
Do what you desire, I will still be your slave, / Though you show me no friendliness.

Rosamounde (Ballade)

Your mother named you Rosemounde:
she studied Chaucer briefly (viz: read those handy notes of Cliff)
in college, which your Poppy paid for. This was of course before she found
her doctor-lawyer-heir, your to-be Daddy, Jeff.
She got her MRS, her B.A., and then she left
to be beautiful full-time. It was about four years
before you came along -- you and the second Jeff.
She raised you to be lovely, just like all the other lovelies here.

She raised you well, my lovely Rosamounde:
To wear the shades, the shoes, the weary stare.
You've the right clothes, the hundred-dollar-tousled hair
dyed six shades of pale blonde. Your skin is brown.
You've never weighed above a hundred pounds.
You wear white jeans and wedges, and you glare
hungry-eyed at your boyfriend's bread, and cheese, and beer,
and nibble at your dinner. Leave most of it there:
You must be lovely, just like all the other lovelies here.

You do hot yoga, and you shop downtown,
Buy organic chia seeds, and iPhones, and the ugly mocs
everyone's wearing this year. You sound
informed and passionate about the cause.
You can demolish mainstream-sellout bands. Your thoughts
and likes are fervent and sincere:
World hunger, local produce, candidates' talks --
Oh Rosemounde -- just like all the other lovelies here.

Fair Rosemounde, I can't see past the skin
of loveliness you've wrapped yourself in.
You have, I know, a single, starlike soul
that I could love -- you could be a friend.
God humble my heart. Make my eyes clear
To see, not another polished clone,
but the only Rosemounde of all the lovelies here.

Shall i compare thee? (Ballade)

Elaine, as lovely as a day in summer:
There is such truth in tired similes!
Elaine, walking, might leave a rainbow shimmer
Like a slug's melting path. Her knees
Are lovely as the wind through leafy trees:
She moves like breezes, and every little print
Heartprints, and gently bruises -- crushes -- pleases --
Such warmth will melt the coldest heart's defense!

Such warm and sleepy promises that shimmer
In the soft shadows of her blithe blue eyes --
So wide, so free the smiles that dart and skim her
Face like larks -- black shapes on blue, seized
With the joy of soaring, and the bold joy of being.
So does Elaine's self capture every sense
And hold it cupped and frantic, mothlike, beating
In adoration, despite all cold defense!

Nor does an icy perfectness encumber
Her summer loveliness: Elaine is free
And sweet as any bird. Her beauty glimmers
Dappled and freckled, like the sun through leaves
And shifts, and changes. As beautiful as bees
Dancing their honeypromises. Immense
And gentle, and intractable as heat:
Her loveliness has melted my defense!

Friday, June 1, 2012

On a morning run.

A little wren is chuckling. Listen --
God is laughing to himself, ready
to tell a joke -- oh, this one's funny!
The beech trees are rattling, chortling,
sniggering, whispering the punch line
from tree to tree. Their laughing leaves
cast silver shadows on the lawn of clover.
The air itself is sweeter, cool and merry.
Delicious mirth! Just wait! Soon you will hear it --
Darkling and jocund clouds roll over,
purpled with the pun of it. Listen!
God's laugh is loud. He's cracking jokes.
His world prepares, tickled and grinning,
for the rain.