How to be a Rap God

Not really. But this is an introduction to a poetry form that will force you (just like the pantoum) to embrace repetition.

Story time.

When I was in eighth grade, I had a MySpace page. I’m not even sure if MySpace exists anymore, my page certainly doesn’t. I wasn’t a very good MySpace user. I created the page just so I could befriend, on MySpace, this guy I had a massive crush on. He had long curly hair, played bass, was shy, kind of strange, in a band—by middle school standards he was smoking.

I only had three or four MySpace friends total: my best friend (the only one of my actual friends who also had a MySpace), hot bass player, his best friend, and I think my brother (?).

All in all, it was the tamest possible MySpace experience (I should win some kind of medal for that), but then, something strange happened. Rappers started liking my text posts. Not like, Eminem, no one you would know. Local rappers, rappers from El Paso, people trying to make a name for themselves. I was confused. At the time, 80s rock/pop lover that I was, I didn’t actually even listen to rap.

But all of my text posts were poems, more specifically they were villanelles.

The villanelle began as a French ballad form. At this point, most villanelles are written in English and no longer used as song lyrics. But, on the page they can (especially when they are poorly written, for example by my fourteen-year-old self) still look like song lyrics, and because they’re so wordy (especially as written by my fourteen year old self) they can look like the lyrics to a rap.

So, if you are unfamiliar with the form, you might mistake a poorly written villanelle on a teenager’s MySpace page for a poorly written rap by a teenager who, like you, is an aspiring rapper, and might want to listen to/purchase your music.

Moral of the story: Write a villanelle, and maybe someone will mistake you for an amateur rapper, especially if you post it on your MySpace page.

The Breakdown

Villanelle’s are 19 lines long. They consist of 5 tercets (fancy word for 3-line stanza) followed by a quatrain (fancy word for 4-line stanza).

The first and third line of the poem alternate as the last line of each of the subsequent stanzas, until you reach the quatrain. The first and third line become the final two lines of the poem. Doesn’t sound too tricky right? But wait, there’s more. The first and third line of every stanza should rhyme, and the middle lines of all the stanzas should rhyme with one another.

Let me give you a breakdown using one of my truly terrible MySpace villanelles:

I miss him

Line 1: I miss him today (a)

Line 2: Everything I see makes me want to call (b)

Line 3: But there’s nothing left for me to say (a)

 

Line 4: I loved him in every way (a)

Line 5: We’d been through it all (b)

Line 1: I miss him today (a)

 

Line 6: I asked for forgiveness, but he’s gone anyway (a)

Line 7: To see the world and get in a brawl (b)

Line 3: But there’s nothing left for me to say (a)

 

Line 8: I begged him to stay (a)

Line 9: But he’s got his new “doll” (b)

Line 1: I miss him today (a)

 

Line 10: So I just wait here and lay (a)

Line 11: Watching my wall (b)

Line 3: But there’s nothing left for me to say (a)

 

Line 12: Grief burns in my heart as a pray (a)

Line 13: He’ll finally call (b)

Line 1: I miss him today (a)

Line 3: But there’s nothing left for him to say (a)

 

Now go read some good villanelles—Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night, Mad Girl’s Love Song by Sylvia Plath, or One Art by Elizabeth Bishop—and get inspired to write your own.

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