Just make a left

Do you ever just wish you could stop following all the rules?

I know I do. I see other people doing it. In the carpool lane when it’s obvious there’s a faster way than the long line of cars leading to the proper exit. Just make a left instead of a right. You’ll get out a lot faster.

Forget the rules.

Who’s gonna care?

Ah, but I’m a rule follower. It’s about honesty in my opinion. There are no shortcuts. No legal ones, anyway. No honest ones.

It’s like that in my writing as well. If I’m writing a haiku, it’s going to have the proper number of syllables in each line. I know even haiku master Matsuo Basho said if it’s better with the wrong number of syllables, it’s better to write it that way, but I’d rather write and rewrite and rethink and restructure until I’m happy with it. Because I have to follow the rules.

I was considering entering a poetry contest with some of my villanelles. (I’m that pleased with how they’re coming out.) This contest had a section for traditional rhyming poetry, something few editors have an appreciation for. I was encouraged, so I looked up some of their past winners. One of them was a “villanelle”. I pulled it up and read it.

It broke all the rules.

There were no rhymes where there were supposed to be rhymes.

There were no repeated lines or even words.

It was written in paragraph form.

What’s the fun of that? It’s like writing a short story and calling it a haiku. There’s no challenge. I remember my father saying something that has stuck with me for most of my life, “You can call it whatever you want, it doesn’t make it that.”

Hey judges, it’s not a villanelle if it doesn’t follow the rules.

I’m going to keep plugging along writing my haiku and villanelles and following rules. I have no idea why. I could break the rules and write a paragraph and call it a villanelle. I could write a novel and call it a haiku. I might even win some contests that way. But I won’t.

It’s just that I’m a rule follower.

Villanelle #21

Just make a left instead of right!
It'll get you there much faster,
and your schedule's really tight.

Nobody's gonna care if you take flight
and look for a greener pasture.
Just make a left instead of a right.

I don't mean to make light;
I'm certainly not your master,
and your schedule's really tight

No one can really know your plight.
It can't possibly lead to disaster
if you make a left instead of a right

Rules are not always right.
They're not molded in plaster,
and your schedule's really tight.

Perhaps you'll never feel Karma's bite
graze rear skin of alabaster.
Just make a left instead of a right—
after all, your schedule's really tight.

—Michelle Garren-Flye
Fall is around the corner. Photo by Michelle Garren-Flye

Update on Villanelle (with a sample possible page)

Wow, villanelle has taken me on a tour of my emotions, I have to say. I’m truly amazed how this form has elicited some of the themes it has. This collection runs a serious gamut.

It’s eclectic, to say the least.

I’m still writing this new form, but I’m beginning to think about what my book will look like. I designed a mockup page for one of them and thought I’d share to see what you think. This is not necessarily what the book will be, but I think it will be something like this.

I really hope someday I’ll write a book devoted only to hope. And maybe this book will lean that way…because while this poem is about fear, it’s also about overcoming it. Or at least bearing it. And what’s more hopeful than that?

Still enjoying villanelle: #16

I just finished judging a poetry contest. It was fun. Nerve-wracking because I’ve been on the other end of the judging too often. I know how it feels to have so much faith in your little work of art, to send it out to be judged…and then to find out it failed.

I will say this about this contest. I was blown away by the entries. Mine would have been left in the dust by these, and I say that knowing full well I would have entered if I hadn’t been judging.

With that said, I think this one is pretty good. If you think I’m talking to you, I’m probably not.

Villanelle #16

By Michelle Garren-Flye

Whisper it to me when we are alone,

this (truth) secret you can’t seem to hold.

After it’s out we can decide to atone.

I can tell it eats you down to the bone,

aging you long before you are old.

Whisper it to me when we are alone.

I can’t believe this thing can’t be known

or that others will judge you or scold.

After it’s out we can decide to atone.

Just words, set them free to be blown

away by the wind, let the Truth be told!

Whisper it to me when we are alone.

Better to choose than to chance moan

a sentence you can’t take back—too bold!

After it’s out we can decide to atone.

Come, then, escape the chaperone

who’s kept you in a stranglehold.

Whisper Truth to me when we are alone—

after it’s out we can decide to atone.

Fallen Orchid Blossom with Cat Hair. Photo by Michelle Garren-Flye

Let’s go swimming: Poem and thoughts about breathing

I’m thinking of changing the title of this blog. I named it “Breathe” way back. Years ago. When it felt like I didn’t have time to breathe. It was supposed to remind me and maybe others to take a moment. A moment to breathe is a precious thing.

Breathing took on a different meaning for me later on. Sometimes breathing isn’t easy. Sometimes this necessary thing hurts.

But maybe you still need the reminder.

I’m still on the villanelle ride. It’s not easy, either. I’m writing and rewriting and rhyming and re-rhyming (that’s a thing!). I’m up to eleven now. I thought I’d share one with you. Not the one with profanity, which is repeated multiple times because this is a villanelle lol.

This is one of my favorites, though.

Villanelle #6

I’m going swimming in a blue lake;

I want to do it once before I die.

Come with me when you wake.

This note will replace what I take.

I hope you’ll understand why

I’m going swimming in a blue lake.

I know you’re here for my sake;

our souls are bound by that tie,

so come with me when you wake.

There’s nothing between us that’s fake,

and there’s nothing sad about goodbye.

I’m just going swimming in a blue lake.

I can’t seem to heal this ache…

it just won’t seem to comply.

Come with me when you awake.

Don’t worry, your love I won’t forsake

though I know you hear me sigh.

I’m going swimming in a blue lake.

Come with me when you wake.

Summer Rose. Photo by Michelle Garren-Flye

Taking you along on the Villanelle ride: Poem

So I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered the villanelle form, but I have written three so far. Villanelles 2 and 3 are nowhere near ready for others to see, but number 1 is not too bad, and, thanks to some feedback from a writer friend (thanks, Brandon!), much better than it was.

I’m going to publish it here even though I started out the day with major imposter syndrome after reading Sylvia Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song“. You should definitely read it if you haven’t. It’s what I will strive for in my villanelles. I’m not there. Not anywhere near it. But what is life if you’re not trying to perfect something?

Villanelle #1

By Michelle Garren-Flye

Follow the direction of your heart.

It’s the best way to spend your time—

and the only real way to make a start.

There is no other way to map or chart

the treacherous mountains you must climb.

Just follow the direction of your heart.

Life may want to rip you apart,

but the map of the heart is sublime

and the only real way to make a start.

Reach for reason and long for art!

It will never be considered a crime

to follow the direction of your heart.

There’s no confusion when you depart.

Even if you can’t find the right rhyme,

you know it’s the way to make your start

The sting of winter may yet smart

even when you’re in your prime.

But follow the direction of your heart!

It’s the only real way to make a start.

Crepe myrtle. Photo by Michelle Garren-Flye

Challenge Accepted: Learning something new

I’ve been a bit directionless recently. No idea what to do with my creative energy, so I’ve been shoving it down and watching Netflix instead (I’m rewatching Longmire, and it’s better than I remember from the first time around). (Side note: I need a Lou Diamond Phillips in my life.)

Back to learning something new. I decided I needed a direction, so I posted on social media and Twitter (Twitter is not social media, imo), asking for suggestions for my next poetry challenge. I didn’t promise to write, illustrate and publish another poetry book in less than a month, but I did indicate I might try.

Well, the challenge I got and accepted after some thought was a bit more complex than I’d anticipated. I don’t think I’ll manage another book in 30 days. It’s a whole new form to me and I’m loving it, hating it, cursing it—and learning it.

A villanelle is a sort of song poem with a rigid rhyme scheme that utilizes repeating lines, unlike most poetry. The best known one is Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night.” I have always loved that poem. I love the rhythm of it. I love the passion in it. I love the way you can almost unconsciously sing it without even meaning to.

The one thing I never loved because I never even noticed it was the rhyme.

How is that possible?? In multiple places “night” literally rhymes with “night”, “light” with “light”. How the heck did Thomas make his rhyme so invisible? It’s awesome that he did, because a poem with too heavy a rhyme will be singsongy and irritating. It may sound contrived. How did Thomas manage a poem with such a rigid rhyme scheme and make it sound natural?

The answer, of course, is that so much of the rest of the poem is more important than the rhyme. The passion, the theme, the message, the rhythm. All the things I’ve noticed that I love.

So that’s my new challenge. Write villanelles that don’t sound like they have a rhyme scheme. Or at least write villanelles where the rigid rhyme scheme doesn’t interfere with the message and passion of the poem.

Random picture of a perfect mushroom. Photo by Michelle Garren-Flye