Villanelles

A nineteen-line poetic form consisting of five three-line stanzas (tercets) followed by a final, four-line stanza (quatrain). The first and third lines of the first stanza rhyme with each other and are repeated throughout the poem (although they can be varied a little): the first line of the first stanza is the last line of the second and fourth stanzas, and the third line of the first stanza is the last line of the third and fifth stanzas. The two lines then form the last couplet of the final stanza. The first and last lines of all the stanza rhyme with each other, and the second lines of all stanzas also rhyme with each other. However hard anyone tries to make it sound simple, it is always a lot clearer to understand what a villanelle is by looking at one rather than looking at a description of what one is!

21 October 1966

villanelle about the Aberfan coal mining disaster, in which 144 people, including 116 school children, died when a coal mining waste tip collapsed. There was a lot of anger at the National Coal Board for its neglect of safety, and at the inquest, one father insisted, "I want it recorded – "Buried alive by the National Coal Board." That is what I want to see on the record. That is the feeling of those present. Those are the words we want to go on the certificate."

The miner insisted the coroner record
The Pantglas School building a homicide scene
They were buried alive by the National Coal Board

We Are Not Heroes

We are not heroes, not the valiant sort
We let them take us, fell in to survive
The heroes are the ones who stood and fought

Our bodies packed together frail support
The nudging of her foot kept me alive
But we're not heroes, not the valiant sort

Our best fought underground, our martyrs caught
Resistance from the shadows, fire and strive
The heroes are the ones who stayed and fought

Thirty-Five

The life expectancy of a Black trans woman in the USA is just 35. This is a villanelle about that shocking statistic.

Black boys grown women fighting to survive
In freedom's land are some folks not allowed
To live beyond the age of thirty-five?

Dysphoria and prejudice connive
From gender manacles to funeral shroud
Black boys grown women fighting to survive

Villanelle to the Villanelle

For those with powerful poignant tale to tell
Outsiders seeking structure so sublime
A strong expressive form is villanelle

Its lines repeat like sounding of a bell
Each tercet ends with alternating chime
For those with powerful poignant tale to tell

It saves us from unstructured rhymeless hell
So modernists disdain its fixed-form crime
So villainous a form is villanelle

Villanelle: Terminal 420

When I visited the Port of Antwerp in October 2014 with the ETF Women's Committee, we were due to go to a particular terminal - but it was closed, after a seafarer was killed while a ship was being loaded the previous day. The port is staffed only by registered dockers, under rules similar to the UK's National Dock Labour Scheme, abolished by the Tories in the 1980s.

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