“Her heartbeat is a metaphor”: Anthony Lawrence’s “My Darling Turns to Poetry at Night”

Anthony Lawrence_My Darling Turns to Poetry at NightI happen to love formal poetry—and by that I mean poetry that adheres to a particular structure or set of rules, not poetry in top hat in tails. I happily read free verse, but there’s just something about a poet mastering a form (or sometimes breaking from it in a meaningful way) that tends to make my verse-loving heart go all aflutter.

As regular readers know, I do write poetry myself, but I have never written a satisfactory villanelle. When I read a masterful one like Anthony Lawrence’s “My Darling Turns to Poetry at Night” (out in this month’s issue of Poetry, dedicated to Australian poets), I almost want to stop trying.

Almost.

At first I thought the poem would be about the speaker’s beloved reading poetry (as in the way we might say “She turned back to her book”), but instead the speaker imagines her as poetry. It’s simply gorgeous.

Probably most famous example of the villanelle—at least in English, at least; French speakers, do weigh in—is Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night” (used to great effect in Interstellar, now that I think about it), but I’ve always been partial to Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” 

What’s your favorite villanelle?

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8 thoughts on ““Her heartbeat is a metaphor”: Anthony Lawrence’s “My Darling Turns to Poetry at Night”

  1. I had no idea that particular form was even called a villanelle until now (thank you!). But, I do like it. I liked all three (and, of course, I know the Dylan Thomas poem, but didn’t know what the form was called).
    I agree with you – I really like the effect of formal poetry (whatever they be called). I feel like it would take more skill to fit what you’re trying to say into a form, but I could be wrong about that, because I don’t know very much about it.
    Don’t give up!! 🙂

    • I think both kinds of poetry are difficult in their own ways; it’s tough to meet the form, so to speak, but it also gives a poem a backbone to start with.

  2. That’s about the only Bishop poem I know — ironic given that I’m reading an 800-page book of her correspondence! — but I love it. It seems like not that many people are writing in traditional forms nowadays (one exception I think of is Don Paterson’s 40 Sonnets). I remember writing a sestina as an assignment for the high school literary magazine and quite enjoying the challenge.

  3. Imagining poetry in top hat and tails was pretty amusing 🙂 I can’t say that I have a favorite villanelle though I do like Bishop’s One Art very much so I will just agree with you on that one for now 🙂

  4. Dear Carolyn

    Just want to say how I much I appreciate you posting these thoughts about my poem.
    It means a lot to me.
    All good things, from Australia
    Anthony Lawrence

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