On Saturday, February 23, 2013, Leslie Monsour wrote me, “I wonder what to call the form of the poem…below or if I even ‘invented’ it. It's not really an invention, because, although I've published three poems in this ‘form,’ it hasn't caught on, and nobody else has used it. Also, I don't know that other poets before me haven't already thought of it. It's sort of a "terzamonorima" with the monorhyme coming at the end of each stanza. The example below appeared in Poetry and in my first book [Earth’s Beauty, Desire, & Loss, R.L. Barth 1998], as do the other two I've written in the form. It's awfully close to terza rima:
NIMIS COMPOS MENTIS
The paper table cloth was tastefully bleak,
The misty morning light shone on his cheek,
And made him look alone and masculine.
He talked of Seneca and bad translations,
Of modern critics’ lightweight observations;
A bread crumb rested sweetly on his chin.
Behind him, through the glass, the ocean’s heave
Uncurled against the sand, beside his sleeve,
As Eros aimed his toxic javelin.
I ducked out of the way to no avail;
It glanced my flesh, injecting quite a cocktail
That blurred my sight and gave my head a spin --
Never mind the coffee we were drinking,
Whatever I said was not what I was thinking:
I wanted to become his mandolin,
And lie across his lap, a dainty lute,
And sing to him and feed him ripened fruit,
While light upon the sea turned opaline.
Instead, this conversation about art
And formal education -- God, he’s smart!
Such rationality should be a sin.
The hour was up, he had to run, of course;
A handshake and a peck of shy remorse --
Outside, the sea was gray and dull as tin;
It ruled the shore with tedious discipline.
-- Leslie Monsour
I replied by sending Leslie this:
POETS: OUR SHELVES
A monsourelle, a form invented by Leslie Monsour
We put our minds to pen to pass the time,
And then, perhaps, we add a bit of rime
And meter here and there to complicate
Our effort and to add some ornament.
At first it was in no way our intent
For this sweet dallying to be our fate,
But pastimes do cause moments to elapse
Even if pursued between our naps
And daily duties of our normal state.
We come to find our eggs lie in one basket,
And it may look a lot like someone's casket
Where readers of the works that we create
Come to mourn them lying in their covers.
It may be true that we deserve these lovers,
But, alas! they all have come too late,
And they must see our efforts come a-caper
Upon these wads of tearful, smeary paper.
We wish them well, but we are out-of-date --
We have discovered time and rime won't wait.
-- Wesli Court
Leslie responded, “Wow, Lew! You just came up with this? It's very good. ‘We come to find our eggs lie in one basket, / And it may look a lot like someone's casket.’ What grim, fun sense you make. And how quick you are...but I already knew that. Does this mean the terzamonorima is now an official form? I'm speechless. (Also tired. We just got back from a night out with friends. And what an excellent message to find waiting!)”
Dear Leslie [I wrote back],
I think it should be called "the monsourelle" and kept to 19 lines [like the villanelle and the terzanelle]. Last night there was nothing on teevee, so my wife read while I wrote the first draft of "Poets: Our Shelves," on my iPad, and when I was finished I handed it to Jean who read it and she seemed to like it okay. When she handed it back I got ready to copy it and send it to you, but I pushed the wrong button and lost the whole thing! I cursed for a while, then decided to write it again. This time I saved it before I showed it to Jean. She said the new version isn't as funny as the first but it moves along okay. I think I liked the first better, but of course I can't be sure.
Then I went to bed and woke up in the small hours because I had a horrific, murderous nightmare (someone was trying to murder me). So I lay in the dark trying not to go back to sleep and continue the dream. Instead, the first few lines of another monsourelle began to build, and finally I had to get up and write them down so I wouldn't forget them. When I finish it I'll send it to you. It's 6:38 a.m. now, and I didn't have a good night, so I may take a nap after breakfast before I go back to my monsourelle about the schwa.
This is the finished poem:
DISCHWASHING: A MONSOURELLE
Though indeterminate, I like the schwa
Much better than refrains like "tra-la-la";
Its sign's an "e" that's standing on its həd;
Its sound's the first "e" found in "diffərent,"
Which many may think sounds indiffərent --
And they'd be right: it has the feel of ləd,
Excepting in the alphabet. Not thəre
At all, although it is quite often səd
And hərd in people's ordinary speech,
And you will find that too few pundits teach
But you'd be wrong. The schwa's ubiquitəs,
Its English lifetime is unlimitəd.
In fact it's very likely to outlast əs,
And if it doesn't that might be disastrəs,
But that is something we need hardly drəd
-- Wesli Court
Suggested writing exercise:
Write a monsourelle or two.
That there is a form called the "monsourelle" in the world makes my heart glad.
-- Kim Bridgford, Director, W. C. U. Poetry Conference
Dear Leslie and Lew,
Hahahahaha!!! Delightful! Oh, that's going to be the best panel ever [at the West Chester University Poetry Conference this summer], and the monsourelle needs to be spread far and wide! I have a hunch its English lifetime is unlimited. I think this exchange between you two indicates that your West Chester panel is already bearing fruit, months before it even takes place! I heartily approve "monsourelle" as the name of the form, and absolutely love both examples! I knew yours, of course, Leslie, with that wicked lute image, and Lew's new one is a worthy response.
If this is what you get from sleepless nights, Lew, Jean should be in charge of keeping you awake, for the sake of American poetry! All I get from insomnia is grouchy.
-- Rhina Espaillat
I'll try it. I'm ready for a new thing. Hey, your "Fog" play, at the "Poetics and Ruminations" site, is truly fine. It is kindred to my Job experiment in the Greek meters, but is more compact and therefore more effective. Good Theatre of the Absurd work ... as are we all, I suppose ...
Ruth F. Harrison
Go, Leslie! (Oui, Monsour!)
-- Jack Foley
Thanks, Lew. Your insomnia remedy is more fun than the one my mother urged on me. She said if I couldn't sleep I should get up and wash my kitchen floor whether or not it needed to be washed. (I wasn't living with my parents when she said that.)
Miriam Kotzin, Editor, Per Contra
Lew, I can't believe the fertility of the seed of Leslie's then-nameless form. I am struck dumb with admiration of both Leslie's and your monsourelles. I am going to drive up to West Chester the morning of June 5. Your gentle nagging did the trick.
Clarinda Harriss, Editor, BrickHouse Books
I started out to write a monsourelle and ended up nearly completing a ttrochaic pentameter sonnet with a rhyme scheme of ababcccc dedfff. It pretty much sucks. But it does illustrate--for anybody who wants to write a whole trochaic poem which isn't 'Hiawatha'-- that anybody who thinks a trochaic line is just an iambic line with the first unstressed syllable omitted is C R A Z Y.
The terzanelle you attached to your last mail wouldn't open on my computer -- I guess it only deals with WORD and Adobe, etc.
The Monsourelle will be trumped when I write my first Mademoiselle! And can my RheinMosel be far behind (a slowly flowing form)?
Well, Lew –
I'm speechless again! A tribute to the schwa...who woulda thunk it? Who but you! And to have the newly named "monsourelle" posted on your blog is like discovering a new species of butterfly or a new asteroid floating around in space and having it named after me. Oh, but there's a slight correction: when I said my poem appears in my first book, I meant my first full-length book, The Alarming Beauty of the Sky, published in 2005 by Red Hen Press, and still in print, apparently. (The title you quoted was that of my first chap-book, which Bob Barth published in 1998, as you noted).
Rhina, it'll be such fun to see you at West C. And, I must say, I agree with you about sleeplessness: it only makes me grouchy. Would that I could dash off monsourelles in the wee hours the way Mssr. Turco has done!
Cheers to all,
I've very much enjoyed spending time with you as I read this marvelous depiction of your life and of the friends and family around you as you've lived it. When I read my own name, I almost felt as if I were still there with you, and that was a good feeling.
Joys to all your worlds, my friend.
Thank you, Lewis,
For this ... and for news of your participation in the West Chester University Poetry Conference. I wish we lived a bit nearer! I see we weren't too far from the area when we were in Philadelphia (January 2012). I conducted an interview there with Professor Don Riggs of Drexel for an international literary magazine from Romania.
I enjoyed your correspondence and commentary on the Monsourelle, and look forward to experimenting in due course.
With best wishes,
Caroline Gill U. K.