The F Words: The Rondelet

The rondelet is a French form of poetry. It contains a refrain, a strict rhyme scheme and a distinct meter pattern. Before I get into that distinct meter pattern, I want to explain that the rondelet derives from the rondel, which is  a poetic form that originated in France during the 1300s. 

The rondel, which originated in French lyrical poetry of the 14th century, made its way from France into other languages, such as English and Romanian. Its structure is a complex pattern of quatrains followed by quintets, a series of refrains, and, usually, eight syllables per line.

The rondelet derived from the rondel, but it is a much shorter verse form. Forget the quatrains followed by the quintets. The rondelet is seven lines long. That’s it. Seven lines. 

But: those seven lines require a lot of thought because they follow a very strict pattern. Lines 1, 3, and 7 are refrains. Each of these identical lines is four syllables long. Lines 2, 4, 5, and 6 are not refrains. Each of these lines is eight syllables long. 

That’s the easy part.

Now comes the rhyme scheme: AbAabbA

For those of you unversed (ha!) in poetic notation, what this denotes is as follows: (1) the capital A’s indicate the refrain which, obviously, rhymes with itself. (2) the lower-case b’s indicate that these lines rhyme with each other. (3) The lower-case a indicates that this line rhymes with the capital-A lines. But, unlike them, it is not a refrain. It is a new line. And it’s eight syllables long, not four.

Got that?

Something you can infer from what I’ve just said is that there are only two rhyming sounds in a rondelet. The A and the b. That’s it.

Not only that, but the rondelet has never been a popular form in English poetry. As far as I know, I never encountered one during all my years of college, nor during my years of reading poetry afterwards. In fact, I’m not sure how I encountered the poem at all. But I did, and something about it stuck with me.

It stuck with me so much that when, in Chapter 25, Mr. Nachman encourages Cole to visit web sites to learn about poetic forms, the rondelet was one of the forms that occurred to me, along with the sonnet, the ballad, the villanelle, the limerick, and the triolet. It occurred to me, but I made no decision about it or any of the other forms.

The decision was for Cole Renner, the main character of The F Words, to make. And I have to say, I was surprised when I found Cole (and myself) writing a rondelet. It showed me that Cole isn’t afraid of a challenge. In poetry, he is not afraid of rhyme, he is not afraid of meter, he is not afraid of syllable counts. He doesn’t consciously think about being afraid of any of these, but many a beginning poet would be. 

In The F Words, Cole ends up writing not one, but two rondelets. Sort of.  So I have to assume the form appeals to him. Remember: this is not a popular form in English poetry.

The first is one he writes to Treva. Obviously she is very important to him, and his poem choice shows this: he doesn’t pick anything easy. He picks a challenge.

Flying

I’ll be flying
When I pass the place where you stand
I’ll be flying
Even though my strength is dying
Aid this runner across the land
Add shouting voice and waving hand
I’ll be flying

It’s interesting to me now, in hindsight, that although Cole is writing to Treva, what he’s saying can be applied not only to running, not only to love, but also to political struggle. I have to admit that I was totally unaware of that as Cole and I were writing the poem.

The second rondelet that Cole writes appears at the end of the book. I won’t repeat it here, because that would be a spoiler. And it isn’t really and truly a rondelet. It’s a rondelet that Cole has changed to suit his needs — just like he believes society must be changed to meet the needs of the people. 

But I hope you think the modified rondelet is a fitting end to The F Words.

_____________

The F Words is available wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.

The F Words: Poetry and the Middle

In my previous blog I mentioned that in writing The F Words based on the advice in Write Your Novel from the Middle, by James Scott Bell, I reaped not only the benefit of writing a book more easily and more quickly, but also the benefit of improving one of my thematic elements precisely because I was writing the novel toward its middle.

That thematic element was Cole’s writing of poetry. Specifically, only poetry about words that began with the letter f. As I mentioned in a previous blog, The F Words: Poetry, I felt good about the two poems Cole wrote in Chapter 1. They reflected Cole’s experience and his deepest concerns.

And so, off to a good start, both Cole and I were quite happy to have him continue writing such poems. Whenever he was struck by an f word (and he was struck by a lot of them) he decided whether or not to write a poem about it.

He wrote one about his best friend, Felipe. And about the Ferris Wheel he and his parents used to ride when he was younger. He wrote about force. Then he learned a new word and wrote about a fusillade. And so forth.

As I approached the middle of the book in my writing, something began to nag at me, and that was that Cole’s poems all had a recipient: Mr. Nachman, his English teacher, who had made the writing of them a condition of his not telling the principal that Cole had spray-painted the high school wall. Having had wonderful English teachers in high school and college, having been an English teacher myself, I realized that Mr. Nachman was not a passive recipient of these poems. He assigned them for a reason, and he would comment on them for a reason.

As soon as that realization hit me, I understood that Mr. Nachman would help Cole understand more about language and structure. And thought and action. I also understood that what Mr. Nachman has to offer Cole should logically follow Cole’s midpoint self-assessment. So, a couple of chapters after Cole’s midpoint decision, Mr. Nachman talks to him about trying some poetic forms (which include syllable-count poetry). He explains to Cole that writing poems that fit a certain form challenges poets in a way that free verse doesn’t. What Cole has been writing up to this point are free verse poems.

Mr. Nachman gives Cole the URLs to a couple of web sites which explain poetic form. At home Cole visits these sites and dismisses many of the forms as waaaaaay too difficult. But the syllable-count cinquain appeals to him. Curious about what form will do to a poem, he rewrites one of his free verse poems, “Force,” as a cinquain. Thus the poem “Force” appears twice in the book. Cole’s gut feeling is that the more “disciplined” form poem is more more interesting. In fact, he likes the way the form poem explodes with power.

Force

Force us
into corners
where we can barely breathe,
force us back so far we explode
on you.

For the remainder of the book Cole writes both free verse poems and form poems. His last poem is a strong form poem . . . indicating both that Cole understands the need for people to fight back against oppression, and that he has internalized that the methods of fighting back must be shaped and organized.

Would these scenes and this theme (through poetry) have occurred to me if I had been writing the novel from beginning to end without thinking about what happens in the middle? The answer is, I don’t know. I like to think that they would have, but I can’t say that for certain. What I do know is that they happened because I was thinking specifically about what should happen in the middle of the novel. That was when I realized that something should happen not only to Cole, but to the poetry he writes. In so many different ways, I am so glad I took the time to read and think about Write Your Novel from the Middle.

_________________________

The F Words is available for Pre-Order wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.