Notes on other poetic forms and writing exercises

The Paradelle

What I set out to do was write an intentionally bad formal poem. Auden said there was nothing funnier than bad poetry, and I thought a horribly mangled attempt at a formal poem might have humorous results. I considered using an already existing form, but I figured enough bad sonnets and bad sestinas are already being written these days without me adding to the pile. . . .The paradelle invites you in with its offer of nursery-rhyme repetition, then suddenly confronts you with an extreme verbal challenge. It lurches from the comfort of repetition to the crossword-puzzle anxiety of fitting a specific vocabulary into a tightly bounded space. While the level of difficulty in most verse forms remains fairly consistent throughout, the paradelle accelerates from kindergarten to college and back to kindergarten several times and ends in a think-tank called the Institute for Advanced Word Play. Thus the jumpy double nature of the paradelle, so unsteady, so schizo, so right for our times. . . .

Billy Collins

A paradelle is a modern poetic form which was invented by United States Poet Laureate Billy Collins as a parody of the villanelle.

Billy Collins originally said the paradelle was invented in eleventh century France, but he later admitted that he invented it himself to parody strict forms of poetry, particularly the villanelle. His sample paradelle, “Paradelle for Susan”
was seemingly intentionally terrible, completing the final stanza with the line “Darken the mountain, time and find was my into it was with to to”.

When Collins first published the paradelle, it was with the footnote “The paradelle is one of the more demanding French fixed forms, first appearing in the langue d’oc love poetry of the eleventh century. It is a poem of four six-line stanzas in which the first and second lines, as well as the third and fourth lines of the first three stanzas, must be identical. The fifth and sixth lines, which traditionally resolve these stanzas, must use all the words from the preceding lines and only those words. Similarly, the final stanza must use every word from all the preceding stanzas and only these words.”

Not all reviewers of Collins’s book recognized that the paradelle was a parody of formal poetry and of amateur poets who adhered to formalism at the expense of sense. Some reviews criticized “Paradelle for Susan” as an amateurish attempt at a difficult form without ever understanding that this was, indeed, the point.

Some poets also missed the parody and took the form seriously, writing their own paradelles. Others, knowing of the hoax, nevertheless decided to see what they could do with a form as strict as the paradelle’s. Thus, although invented as a hoax, the paradelle has taken on a life of its own.

The Drabble
A drabble is an extremely short work of fiction of exactly one hundred words in length, not necessarily including the title. The purpose of the drabble is brevity, testing the author’s ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

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