Welcome to Limp Wrist's villanelle issue
co-edited by Beth Gylys & Dustin Brookshire.
A letter from co-editor Beth Gylys:
I want to begin by saying how much I have loved working with Dustin Brookshire on this project. His brilliance, his humor, his clear point of view and his generosity made him an ideal co-editor. (In truth, if Dustin called me up and asked, Do you want to work with me cleaning latrines for the next three months? I’d probably say yes and enjoy it!) Almost without fail, I agreed with him on the acceptances. We did have a few conversations about poems that weren’t easy calls, but almost to a one we concurred about those we wanted to include. He has a keen editorial eye, and he gives every poem (poet) the benefit of the doubt—often sending me a submission, writing, I’m initially a no, but I’m open to discussion. His positivity and catholic taste infuse the spirit of this special issue of Limp Wrist, an issue which I believe showcases the versatility and power of the villanelle at its best.
The villanelle, that most intricate and challenging form with its relentless circling back again and again to the same two lines that function like pistons in the poem, often works most effectively when its subject synchs naturally with obsessive repetition. The best villanelles also end up in a different place than where they began—despite that two of its first stanza’s three starting lines repeat at the end in exactly or nearly the same way. The best villanelles get beyond their repetitions. They are usually specific and use concrete details to help drive the narrative or lyric movement—to ground the poem and to propel it forward when the repetitions threaten to spin it out of control or sink it irrevocably into the muck.
Though I love “perfect” villanelles like “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, (we include a few perfect or nearly perfect villanelles—see Allison Joseph’s poignant “Live to Tell” or Douglas Currier’s shrewd poem, “Turn the Page” or Roberto Christiano’s “Telenovela’s are Hell”), I also love a villanelle that pushes against the fences of the form. One of my favorite poems in the issue “Vampirella” by Kelly McQuain upends the form delightfully and artfully, adding several stanzas and eschewing a four-line closing stanza. “Evaporating Villanelle for Algae Bloom,” by Jen Karetnick deftly strips away the repeating lines to hammer home the poem’s dire message about climate change and our diminishing/diminished planet. Another innovative adaptation, “Senior Quotes” by James Davis, uses collage to brilliantly convey the wry humor and pointed wit of graduating seniors in high school.
The poets/poems in this issue cover subject matter as diverse as aging (check out Denise Duhamel’s suite of three villanelles all on that subject), dieting (see Alison Pelegrine’s “Fat Ass Villanelle”) and Climate Change (take a peek at “scenes from the climate apocalypse” by Brendan Walsh). And they touch so many shades of mood and tone from the wistful (“The Sky is a Promise” to the exhausted (“Something Simple as a Sock Can Break You”) to the profane (“Alien Queen”), to the barbed/biting (see Jessica Melilli-Hand’s suite of disability/elevator poems).
I fell in love with the villanelle almost thirty years ago when I wrote many of the villanelles that appeared in my first book Bodies that Hum—I was in the middle of a divorce and a doomed affair, and the obsessive repetitions of the form seemed perfectly suited to the obsessive, manic self-recriminations and second guessing that plagued me during that time of my life. In some strange way those rhymes and repetitions helped to order the crazy. Since that time, my respect for the form has only grown. In the hands of the skilled practitioner, the villanelle’s repetitions can magically enter the psyche and pluck the deepest cords there. I hope that in the poems of this issue, you too will be convinced that despite the form’s restrictions—or perhaps because of them—the villanelle’s song is seductive, potent, and bewitching.