portion of the artwork for Miriam N. Kotzin's poetry
Miriam N. Kotzin’s Comments

“The Listener” is a narrative poem in seven parts, each of which is written in a form of poetry with repeating iambic lines or repeating phrases and having a set rhyme scheme. I chose, for the most part, a simple vocabulary to create the voice of the little girl. Some of the sections are from her point of view; others, from an observer’s. I used these repeating forms to suggest recurring, obsessive thoughts. “The Listener,” “Jelly Bread,” and “The Fall” are a series of triolets. “Boo Bear” and “Stars” are rondeaux; “Judgments” is a rondeau redoublé. “Quilt” is a villanelle.

The editors have asked me to explain the forms.

Lines are measured in syllables or in patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables, each single unit of which is a foot. In these poems the lines are iambic—that is, the foot is two syllables: an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Iambic tetrameter is a line of four iambs; iambic pentameter is a line of five iambs.

Rhyme is indicated by letters, the first rhyme represented by “a” and the second by “b,” etc. All “a” lines rhyme with one another. An uppercase letter represents a repeating line. An uppercase “A” rhymes with all lowercase “a” lines.

“R” represents a repeating phrase.

A triolet is a poem of eight lines of the same number of feet, same meter. “The Listener,” “Jelly Bread,” and “The Fall” are a series of triolets. Sometimes series of triolets in a single poem maintain the same rhymes throughout the poem. I chose different rhymes for each triolet. The lines in these triolets are iambic tetrameter. In each stanza, the rhyme scheme is: A B a A a b A B. That is, the first two lines appear as the last two, and the first line is also the fourth.

A rondeau (“Boo Bear” and “Stars”) has fifteen lines: three stanzas. The first stanza is five lines (quintet), the second stanza four lines (quatrain), and the last stanza six lines (sestet). The lines are the same length—in this case, iambic tetrameter—except for the lines in which the refrain appears alone. The refrain is composed of the first few words—often the first phrase—of the first line of the poem. The entire poem has two rhymes. The refrain usually does not rhyme with the rest of the poem.

(Ra) represents a line that begins with the refrain and ends with an “a” rhyme.

First stanza: (Ra) a b b a
Second stanza: a a b R
Third stanza: a a b b a R

A rondeau redoublé (“Judgments”) has twenty-five lines: six stanzas, five quatrains, and a final quintet. Each line of the first stanza appears as the last line of a following stanza. The lines are the same length—in this case, iambic tetrameter—except for the lines in which the refrain appears alone. The last stanza ends with the repeton, the first few words of the first stanza.

(RA1) represents a line that begins with the refrain, ends with an “a” rhyme, and is repeated. The 1 signifies that other lines with the same rhyme will also be repeated.

First stanza: (RA1), B1, A2, B2
Second stanza: b a b A1
Third stanza: a b a B1
Fourth stanza: b a b A2
Fifth stanza: a b a B2
Sixth stanza: b a b a R

A villanelle (“Quilt”) has nineteen lines: six stanzas, five three-line (triplet) stanzas and a concluding quatrain. It has two rhymes and the first and last lines of the first stanza alternately appear as the last lines of successive stanzas, and then as the concluding couplet of the last stanza—sometimes as A1 A2 and sometimes as A2 A1. Sometimes the lines are repeated with slight variations. All the lines of a villanelle are of the same length; in “Quilt” the lines are iambic pentameter.

First stanza: A1 b A2
Second stanza: a b A1
Third stanza: a b A2
Fourth stanza: a b A1
Fifth stanza: a b A2
Sixth stanza: a b A1 A2

For more about these and many other poetic forms, I recommend Lewis Putnam Turco’s The Book of Forms. The fourth edition, revised and expanded, The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, Including Odd and Invented Forms, will be published in the fall of 2011 by the University Press of New England.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 33 | Summer 2011