Naked Form: A Poet Comes Unpleated

Image by Esmie Fisher
Image by Esmie Fisher

Naked Form: A Poet Comes Unpleated

By Doug Jackson

The villanelle form dates back no further than the Victorian era though the poet Edmund Gosse attempted to pedigree it clean back to the Renaissance. Poems called “Villanelles” appear in the Renaissance, but they do not obey the requisite two-rhymes-with-two-alternating-refrains-that-resolve-into-a-final-couplet rule. Instead, Amanda L. French of George Mason University contends that the word simply referred to an Italian country song, and that calling a poem a “Villanelle” was like labeling a poem, “Blues” or “Chantey.” (Or perhaps calling a Psalm a “maskil” or “according to lillies.”) Some “serious poets” deride it. Yusef Komunyakaa’s 2001 poem “When Men Can’t Trust Hands with Wood” scoffs that “Under villanelles of pleated dresses / women forget flesh.” So, for Komunyakaa at least, the complex flounces and folds of this form tell surface lies about the naughty bits of our souls that lie beneath. But I would like to think of the villanelle – along with the sonnet and other fixed forms – as something that reveals rather than conceals by refusing to let me skive off from my next thought.

This effort was inspired by the accompanying photo, taken by my friend Esmie Fisher. I’d like to dedicate it to my friend and fellow-muse Andrew Lazo, who may be the only one who knows what I’m talking about – although what he knows probably isn’t the same thing that I know, and I’m not sure which of us is right.

The Hauser Holds!
A Villanelle for St. Brendan the Navigator

Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil – Hebrews 6.19

In every high and stormy gale/My anchor holds within the veil. – Edward Mote

The hawser holds! The ship rides safe at home!
The cleat hitch clenches fast yet line runs free.
Firm anchorage gives pilgrims room to roam.

Though bold prow breasts the crests of maiden’s foam
And turns its stern toward mine own countree,
The hawser holds! The ship rides safe at home!

It may be I must stray ‘neath Heaven’s dome,
Fumble with error ’till truth is plain to see.
Firm anchorage gives pilgrims room to roam.

Grasped in his nurse’s clasp the child walks bold.
Deep roots secure the soaring of the tree.
The hawser holds! The ship rides safe at home.

An unseen hook and line unspool my road
World-wide across the whale-road-frothing sea.
Firm anchorage gives pilgrims room to roam.

A twitch upon the thread at dawn or gloam
Or midday puts the proud craft helm-alee.
The hawser holds! The ship rides safe at home.
Firm anchorage gives pilgrims room to roam.

*****

Doug Jackson is a preacher/professor/poet who after a quarter-century in the pastorate now teaches spiritual formation, pastoral ministry, and Greek for the Logsdon Seminary program at the South Texas School of Christian Studies in Corpus Christi. His collection of poetry, Nothing There is Not More, is available from Finishing Line Press.

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