It has been more than two decades since I encountered the paradelle. It is a modern poetic form which was invented by poet Billy Collins. I first heard about it when I spent a week with Billy in a writing workshop held on Long Island, NY.
Billy had invented it as a parody of the villanelle, which is a well-established and complicated form. He told me that he fully intended to get the form into very official The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.
He first published his own paradelle, “Paradelle for Susan”, in The American Scholar where it garnered some angry letters to the editor from readers who missed the parody aspect and just thought it was a terrible poem that never should have been published. His favorite letter was from a mother who included her young daughter’s own attempt at the form that she thought was better than Collins’ poem.
Billy Collins claimed in his book, Picnic, Lighting, that the paradelle was invented in eleventh century France.
“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.”
Collins’ attempt at the form resulted in “Paradelle for Susan. ” In trying to follow those difficult rules, Collins ended the poem with these two lines:
Quick, your nervous branch flew from love.
Darken the mountain, time and find was my into it was with to to.
Well, his invented form did take on a more serious life. Some poets, including myself, acknowledged the parody but took the form seriously, writing their own paradelles.
I also took the word as an imaginary place of escape and made it the home for my blog Weekends in Paradelle.
Billy wrote later about the form that he “considered using an already existing form, but I figured enough bad sonnets and bad sestinas are already being written these days without me adding to the pile… The paradelle invites you in with its offer of nursery-rhyme repetition, then suddenly confronts you with an extreme verbal challenge. It lurches from the comfort of repetition to the crossword-puzzle anxiety of fitting a specific vocabulary into a tightly bounded space. While the level of difficulty in most verse forms remains fairly consistent throughout, the paradelle accelerates from kindergarten to college and back to kindergarten several times and ends in a think-tank called the Institute for Advanced Word Play. Thus the jumpy double nature of the paradelle, so unsteady, so schizo, so right for our times.”
I wrote the paradelle below about the two years before and after I had lost someone close to me. It is included in an anthology of paradelles, The Paradelle, from Red Hen Press.