A paradelle is a modern poetic form which was invented by United States Poet Laureate Billy Collins as a parody of the villanelle.

Billy Collins claimed in his book, Picnic, Lighting, that the paradelle was invented in eleventh century France.  His own paradelle, “Paradelle for Susan”, was intentionally terrible, completing the final stanza with the line “Darken the mountain, time and find was my into it was with to to”.

When Collins first published the paradelle, it was with this footnote:

“The paradelle is one of the more demanding French fixed forms, first appearing in the langue d’oc love poetry of the eleventh century. It is a poem of four six-line stanzas in which the first and second lines, as well as the third and fourth lines of the first three stanzas, must be identical. The fifth and sixth lines, which traditionally resolve these stanzas, must use all the words from the preceding lines and only those words. Similarly, the final stanza must use every word from all the preceding stanzas and only these words.”

The form took on a life of its own. Not all reviewers of Collins’ book recognized that the paradelle was a parody of formal poetry and of those poets who adhere to formalism at the expense of sense. Some reviews even criticized “Paradelle for Susan” as an amateurish attempt at a difficult form without ever understanding that this was, indeed, the point.

Some poets also missed the parody and took the form seriously, writing their own paradelles. Others, knowing of the hoax, nevertheless decided to see what they could do with the strict form.

Here’s my own serious attempt at the form. A paradelle that is a kind of elegy for someone I lost.

 

TWO YEARS

The heart softens with winter,
the heart softens with winter.
Time strengthens your thin body,
time strengthens your thin body.
Your thin body strengthens.
Winter time softens the heart.

Oak and sage edges the river,
oak and sage edges the river.
Rock breaks the water, its rings survive,
rock breaks the water, its rings survive.
Sage, oak and rock survive the breaks.
The river water rings its edges.

From a year without you beside me with the pain,
from a year without you beside me with the pain.
These selected moments surface,
these selected moments surface.
You beside me without the pain,
surface from a year with these selected moments.

The river rock softens its edges with time.
Oak at the heart strengthens as the rings thin.
Sage survives the winter pain.
Your body breaks the water surface beside me.
These moments selected from a year with
and without you.

Ken Ronkowitz

This poem was published in 2005 in an anthology, The Paradelle, from Red Hen Press.

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