In The Joy of Poetry, I write that as soon as I saw a clump of red poppies at mile 37 of 42 on the Red Poppy (bike) Ride, I knew I had to write a poem about them. But “Each attempt to write the experience failed, until I attempted to follow the form.” Why chose the rondeau form? Because there is a famous rondeau about the red poppies of World War I: “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. I decided to imitate the best.
In How to Write a Form Poem, Tania Runyan includes McCrae’s poem and mine as well (in the More Stops: Examples and Prompts to Inspire Your Journey section at the end).
At Mile 37
At mile 37 red poppies do abide
near fields of what we think will soon be corn,
past horses pale, their hearts held close inside
thin skin. Today is not a day to mourn
though if I say I am not sad I lied.
You’re gone. We rose and took it in our stride.
We pedaled hard and spied white poppies worn
from drought. Until we reached a red clump wide.
At mile 37.
Only then the red blooms promised for our ride,
sought at every pickup truck’s loud horn
that blared at us for forty-two May miles,
to the right, beneath a black mailbox beside
the road we found red poppies newly born.
At mile 37.
– Megan Willome
In chapter 7 Tania writes, “even without a melody, the rondeau sings.” That’s what the form is supposed to do, to sing. She then talks about her own journey with the rondeau, specifically, about one she wrote in college that her professor criticized. She later learned that a classmate “never forgot the poem’s refrain, and even today, more than a quarter century later, quotes it to me.” That’s the power of this song-like form.
We’re spending National Poetry Month celebrating Tania’s new book and my old one. To learn how to write a rondeau, what Tania’s rondeau journey has entailed, and what is the Scrabble-worthy plural form of rondeau, pick up a copy of How to Write a Form Poem.