Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Elizabeth Bishop”

National Poetry Month: Elizabeth Bishop

Late Night: for Elizabeth Bishop

Teaching poetry to high school students often means becoming a student as I study to learn enough about the poem and the poet to actually teach it with clarity.

Most of our poems are pre-19th century, with a healthy scattering of 20th century. Among the modern poets I’ve come to appreciate is Elizabeth Bishop. My tribute to her:

Late at Night: for E. Bishop
2016 by C. Muse

The air lays warm
A sentry fan dutifully sways a rhythm 
Rising from bed to search for cool

Couch–second decision

Floor board creaks

Quick flick of kitchen light
Reveals nothing but mistaken thoughts

Drowsy wakefulness 
leads to
Scrolling searching somnolent advice

Suddenly a slice of darkness shades the window
Tension relaxes upon realization:

The local moose

Familiar with her fish and keys and even the Marvel of a stove
The moose ushers in sleep as it ambles across the road.

Check out Elizabeth Bishop and her poems here


Poetry Workshop: Sestina

I thought there has been enough recovery time since the last workshop, which focused on the villanelle.  So, let’s move on to the sestina.



The image above intimates that the sestina can be neatly labeled.  Hmm, perhaps not.  Below is a famous example by Elizabeth Bishop.  I do like her work, if I haven’t mentioned that before.  This offering is simply called, “Sestina.”

September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It’s time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house

Anything standout? Anything noticeable?  Yes, there are repeating words. Six of them. Nicely done. Sestina–six: yup, there is a definite connection.

A sestina according to the Bing dictionary:

  1. Definition of sestina (n)

    Bing Dictionary
    • ses·ti·na
    • [ se stéenə ]
    1. form of poem: a poem of six six-line stanzas and a three-line envoy or, with the last words of the first six lines repeated, in different order, at the ends of the other lines

Using Bishop’s model, let’s explore how that really works.

Oh, by the way–if you are one of those who groove on numbers more than poetry, you will really like sestinas, because it’s all about patterns.

Okay. Here we go:

The structure of a sestina, in this case, Bishop’s “Sestina,” is six stanzas of six lines with a three line envoy (the conclusion of the literary work). The pattern is: 123456; 615243; 364125; 532614; 451362; 246531 with the envoy as 531 or 135.  Return to the poem and decide which six words repeat throughout the poem.

If you really want to see how a sestina works without all the extra word wading go check out “Six Words” by Lloyd Schwartz. Very, very clever.


Well, that wraps up another National Poetry Month. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you learned a bit along the way, and appreciated new-to-you poets and their poetry.


Poetry Workshop: The Villanelle

The villanelle is one of those poem forms that when rendered well looks so effortless it’s surprising to learn how difficult they really are to write.


What is a villanelle?

This is a rather strenuous poem in that it contains nineteen lines, which amounts to five stanzas of three lines and one stanza of four lines containing four lines with two rhymes and two refrains.

Now if that isn’t complicated enough, keep this in mind: the first, and then the third lines alternate as the last lines of stanzas 2, 3, and 4, with stanza 5 ending in a couplet.  Oh, yes–the villanelle is usually written in a tetrameter, which is four feet or perhaps a pentameter, constituting of five feet

It’s best to see how a villanelle is wired together. If curious, or willing to try a villanelle with the example by Edward Arlington Robinson found at WikiHow

If you’re thinking, “Well, bosh and bother, I think I’ll pass on the villanelle,” I will leave you some well-known villanelles to contemplate.  Look for those repeating lines.  Like I mentioned earlier, a well-rendered villanelle won’t even appear to be trying so hard.  These poets make it seem rather effortless, don’t they?

Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”  is one of the most famous villanelles. To demonstrate how the villanelle works the repetition is boldface and italics. A deeper discussion can be found at this link

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night,

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night,

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Another villanelle example:

When I saw you last, Rose,
You were only so high;—
How fast the time goes!

Like a bud ere it blows,
You just peeped at the sky,
When I saw you last, Rose!

Now your petals unclose,
Now your May-time is nigh;—
How fast the time goes!

And a life,—how it grows!
You were scarcely so shy
When I saw you last, Rose!

In your bosom it shows
There’s a guest on the sly;
How fast the time goes!

Is it Cupid? Who knows!
Yet you used not to sigh,
When I saw you last, Rose;—
How fast the time goes!

                            –Austin Dobson

You probably found those repeating lines all on your own, didn’t you?

Here’s a more contemporary villanelle.  Do check out more of Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry. She’s amazing.

One Art
Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
 so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster

If you haven’t filled up on villanelles yet, I suggest clicking here and reading on a rather nice collection.

Thanks for stopping in for the workshop.  I do hope you will give the villanelle a try, and even if you don’t, I hope you’ve gain an appreciation for a fascinating poem form.



American Rhyme and Reason

Walt Whitman's use of free verse became apprec...

Walt Whitman’s use of free verse became appreciated by composers seeking a more fluid approach to setting text. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In researching  material for upcoming National Poetry Month posts I came across an article which got me thinking on a couple of different levels.

First of all, how is it possible to narrow the immense possibilities to ten?

Secondly, the article is written from a British standpoint–is that observation, compliment, or review?

After perusing the list I find myself nodding to a couple of the choices, being perplexed at a one or two, and adding the others to my “must read.”

What are your votes and opinions?  Would you name these as “The 10 best American poems”? (click on “article” and read the reason and rhyme of each mentioned)

1.  “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman

2.  “The Idea of Order at Key West” by Wallace Stevens

3.  “Because I could not stop for death” by Emily Dickinson

4. “Directive” by Robert Frost

5. “Middle Passage” by Robert Hayden

6. “The Dry Salvages” by T.S. Eliot

7. “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop

8. “To My Dear and Loving Husband” by Ann Bradstreet

9. “Memories of West Street and Lepke” by Robert Lowell

10.  “And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name” by John Ashberry

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