Wednesday, 31 October 2018


Freed from the burden of the light and shadows series I completed in my last post, I have written some poetry. I have also been overcome by two new obsessions.

I have become obsessed with the villanelle, a six-stanza poem of five tercets (three lines) with a final quatrain (four lines). The villanelle has only two end-rhyme sounds, which alternate through the entire poem in an A-B-A pattern. The first tercet's first and third lines reappear, alternating, as the last lines of the tercets that follow it. The quatrain's last two lines are the two repeating lines (that is, the first and third lines of the first tercet).

The most famous English villanelle is Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night."  I use this poem to help me remember the villanelle form.

"Villanelle" is a French word, and the form originated as a French-language form on the subject of country life. English writers have since taken the form up. I decided to write a villanelle about a hamlet northwest of my hometown. Villeneuve is a farming community settled by M├ętis and French Canadians in the late 1890s. That is, I am writing a Villeneuve villanelle.

While doing internet research, I found a villanelle generator. Below is the villanelle I/it generated:

Pere Lacombe's Torment - The Villanelle Of The Farm

A Villanelle by Anonymous

Pere Lacombe couldn't stop thinking about the farm
It was just so furrowed and flat
Never had he known anything so underarm

That morning, Pere Lacombe was shocked by the alarm
He had to calm himself with a rat
Pere Lacombe couldn't stop thinking about the farm

Later, Pere Lacombe was spooked by a charm
He tried to focus on a hat
Never had he known anything so underarm

Madame Boulanger tried to distract him with a smarm
Said it was time to start thinking about a chat
Pere Lacombe couldn't stop thinking about the farm

Pere Lacombe took action like an arm
The farm was like a toxic format
Never had he known anything so underarm

Pere Lacombe nosedived like a harvested disarm
His mind turned into a tat
Pere Lacombe couldn't stop thinking about the farm
Never had he known anything so underarm

(Note that "underarm" and "rat" were supplied by the generator. I supplied "Pere Lacombe," "Madame Boulanger," "farm," "flat," "harvested," and "furrowed."

The poem is quite terrible; yet it has a terrible beauty. So now I am also obsessed by generators.

Generators are computer programs that produce documents (a sentence, a paragraph, a poem, even an entire scholarly essay) using terminology and format rules from a genre of writing. Generators are a low-level form of artificial intelligence in that they are supposed to mimic documents that humans create.

The generators tend to be sarcastic. They operate on the assumption that some kinds of writing are not creative or can easily be mimicked by non-writers.

However—and the however is something that I wrote about in my dissertation—people need rules to understand things. Knowledge is based on previous knowledge. Along with this knowledge are patterns of construction, or rules.

One can think of these "rules" not as a limitation but as a context, a shared body of knowledge. Without a shared body of knowledge, people would not be able to understand each other. For example, a non-quilter would not be able to follow a conversation among a group of quilters. With a shared body of knowledge, including vocabulary, quilters can discuss complex quilt concepts without having to define their terms all the time.

If a genre has a simple formula, a computer programmer can easily create a generator; but as the above example of the generated villanelle shows, generators can do only so much. Some are better than others, of course.

Here are some of my favourite generators:
  • Plot Generator (avoid "naughty" words: the short story generator considered "drug" a naughty word)

    Example: "A teacher from Jacksonville is delighted when she gets the chance to take part in the final of Bake Off. However, her chances are scuppered when she finds out her arch rival is also going to compete. Unexpectedly, the teacher is bitten by a zombie and therefore is disqualified from competing."
Generators are fairly easy to write in Javascript. Inspired by the CanLit Premise Generator, I wrote my own generator for a class I took on web programming:

PS: Here is my own villanelle (not auto-generated and still in progress):


What honour do the living owe?
I walk Villeneuve’s roads in autumn light.
Crops and leaves fall and soon will the snow.

Farmers last century heaved earth so
a new town could bring day to wild night.
What honour do the living owe?

French and Metis ploughed field and dug row;
St. Peter’s Church loomed in black and white.
Crops and leaves fall and soon will the snow.

This time’s rural ebb and urban flow
swells city suburbs into its sight.
What honour do the living owe?

Circled by highways that blare and glow,
Five streets, rec hall, senior’s home sit tight.
Crops and leaves fall and soon will the snow.

I am foreign to this place, yet know
its dead’s made strange by the town’s fresh fight.
What honour do the living owe?
Crops and leaves fall and soon will the snow.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Shadows and Light Series Finale: Comedy to Tragedy

My final challenge is to recasting a short play so that the heroes become villains though with the same dialogue. My goal is to change a comedy into a tragedy.

I have recently read Anne-Marie MacDonald's Good Morning Desdemona (Good Night Juliet), which has a contemporary character dream her way into two Shakespeare plays such that she interacts with characters and plots of Othello and Romeo and Juliet. MacDonald wrote new lines for Shakespeare's characters and altered the personalities of Desdemona and Juliet so that they are not the sweet, gentle young ladies of the original.

I don't feel up to the task of pulling a MacDonald. Unveiling a multi-act play in a blog post doesn't seem practicable, either. I don't want to do elaborate alterations. I will stick with Shakespeare, though, since I know his work best, and his work is in the public domain and easily obtained. His plays aren't short, though. I will have to use one scene instead of one whole play. 

Yet how else can I turn a hero into a villain but through changes to dialogue? After all, the driver of a play is the dialogue. What a character says determines what kind of character it is.

I can, however, import dialogue from one play to another, such that the dialogue itself is unchanged, though the speaker and context are different.

A cheerful closing scene in a Shakespeare play is in The Tempest, whereby Prospero forgives everyone, and his daughter marries the King of Naples's noble son.

What, however, if Prospero were playing the long con like Iago and Richard III were? And he regrets some of what he has done (though it were done)? The epilogue delivered to the audience would have a different tone.

The Tempest, Act 5, SCENE I. Before PROSPERO'S cell.
Enter PROSPERO in his magic robes, and ARIEL
I have almost forgot the taste of fears;
The time has been, my senses would have cool'd
To hear a night-shriek; and my fell of hair
Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir
As life were in't: I have supp'd full with horrors;
Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts
Cannot once start me. (Macbeth 5.5.5-14)
Solemn music
Re-enter ARIEL before: then ALONSO, with a frantic gesture, attended by GONZALO; SEBASTIAN and ANTONIO in like manner, attended by ADRIAN and FRANCISCO they all enter the circle which PROSPERO had made, and there stand charmed; which PROSPERO observing, speaks:
Time, thou anticipatest my dread exploits:
The flighty purpose never is o'ertook
Unless the deed go with it; from this moment
The very firstlings of my heart shall be
The firstlings of my hand. (Macbeth 4.1.144-48)
I conjure you, by that which you profess,
Howe'er you come to know it, answer me:
Though you untie the winds and let them fight
Against the churches; though the yesty waves
Confound and swallow navigation up;
Though bladed corn be lodged and trees blown down;
Though castles topple on their warders' heads;
Though palaces and pyramids do slope
Their heads to their foundations; though the treasure
Of nature's germens tumble all together,
Even till destruction sicken; answer me
To what I ask you. (Macbeth 4.1.50-61)
When devils will the blackest sins put on,
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows,
As I do now (Iago, Othello 2.3.351-53)
Slave, I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die: (Richard III 5.4.9-10)
Here PROSPERO discovers FERDINAND and MIRANDA playing at chess
Re-enter ARIEL, with the Master and Boatswain amazedly following
Zounds, hold your peace! (Iago, Othello 5.2.216)
Aside to ARIEL
Re-enter ARIEL, driving in CALIBAN, STEPHANO and TRINCULO, in their stolen apparel
Pointing to Caliban
Gentlemen, all, I do suspect this trash
To be a party in this injury. (Iago, Othello 5.1.85-86)

But I am in
So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin:
Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye. (Richard III 4.2.63-65)
Come, stand not amazed at it, but go along with
me; I will show you such a necessity in his death
that you shall think yourself bound to put it on
him.(Iago, Othello 4.2.239-43)
But yet I'll make assurance double sure,
And take a bond of fate: thou shalt not live;
That I may tell pale-hearted fear it lies,
And sleep in spite of thunder. (Macbeth 4.1)
Aside to ARIEL
The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon!
Where got'st thou that goose look? (Macbeth 5.3.11-12)
No, he must die. (Iago, Othello 5.1.21)
Come, you are too severe a moraler: as the time,
the place, and the condition of this country
stands, I could heartily wish this had not befallen;
but, since it is as it is, mend it for your own good. (Iago, Othello 2.3.298-301)
I gin to be aweary of the sun,
And wish the estate o' the world were now undone. (Macbeth 5.3)
Demand me nothing: what you know, you know:
From this time forth I never will speak word. (Iago, Othello 5.2.299-300)
[Draws a sword, stabs self, and dies]