The form continues to fascinate me (I have done a book of villanelles, Brimstone, that stretch back to the early 1990s though they are mainly of the last decade), as it has since first reading William Empson’s ‘Missing Dates’ in my late teens and memorising it. I have my problems with Empson these days for a variety of political reasons (mainly to do with his ‘monarchist’ tendencies, which seem so at odds with his anti-imperialist socialist attitudes), but as with Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, the rhythms of his ‘Missing Dates’ (much more than ‘Villanelle’) are residual for me. But even when a faint echo of Empson's ‘remains’ occurs in one of my villanelles (as in ‘space remains’ in the villanelle entry a couple of postings below), it can only exist as a critique of the/his figurative, of the abstraction, because of the real-time necessities of poetic protest and activism. Poetry always needs to ‘do work’ for me, even at its most subtextual and ‘implying’. The new villanelle included here is of an interstice of physical harm — to forest, and literally to myself. The pastoral as literary stylism devolves into acts of presence and responsibility, with rhythm always slightly disrupted (or ‘ruptured’) and repetitions making a declarative as well as ‘haunting’ iteration.
Villanelle of Pastoral Vertigo: growing block universe?
after seeing yet more forest turned to individual house plots down in The Hills
I am recovering from injuries
accrued while working now on the block (replant/de-‘block’) —
next year, for me, its labouring and saving trees.
But tree-deaths have outrun theories,
tree-deaths have outrun plantings and root-stock,
and I am recovering from injuries.
In a half-baked etiological spotlight that frees
developers to carve up and insert domestic
roots — contrarily, next year its labouring and saving trees.
It’s as if a house was and will be always,
but only last week it was forest full of its offspring — last week —
and here I indulge myself recovering from injuries.
This vertigo that comes on fast lays
a course through mixed-use zones that leak
into next year as we labour to save trees.
The urban pastoral visionaries reach deep into varieties
of rural demesnery — see bush and grow dizzy! — tall tree = haystack —
I am recovering from injuries,
next year its labouring to save trees.