I want do-overs!

Whether you call it a mulligan, a retraction, or a palinode, it’s human to err and even more human to want to correct that error. This month for our Poetry Slam at YeahWrite we’ll explore the palinode – the poet’s version of white-out – with a twist.

What’s a palinode?

At its most simplistic translation, “palinode” means “counterpoem.” Palinodes are as old as, well, odes: Stesichorus is said to have produced he first palinode to retract his character assassination of Helen of Troy after she, er, magically punished him with blindness. That part is probably urban legend, but the palinode remains.

There are, of course, other things to regret in poetry besides multi-millennium-spanning misogyny. Gelett Burgess apparently found his Purple Cow so lamentable that he later penned the following lines:

Ah yes, I wrote the purple cow!
I’m sorry now I wrote it!
But I can tell you anyhow,
I’ll kill you if you quote it!

The thing all these poems have in common is that they are formal retractions of previous statements. We’ll add a few items to the definition of palinode for this month’s challenge, though, to accommodate poets who haven’t yet learned to regret their early work, or who are just diving into poetry.

Palinodes the YeahWrite way

For this month’s slam, you have two requirements for your poem:

  1. It must be a direct counter to another piece of poetry (yours or someone else’s)
  2. It must bear a marked resemblance to the original in form, structure, and language

That means you’re free to pick any poem you like, from haiku to murder ballad, and write a counterpoem in the same style refuting the premise of the original, as Burgess did with Purple Cow. (Please link to or include the original poem so readers can compare!)

Let’s see what that might look like, using one of my favorite pieces of total misinformation:

Paul Revere’s Ride
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 – 1882

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”

Paul Revere’s Ride
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 – 1882

Listen my children, I’ll tell the tale
of a poet entirely full of fail
who couldn’t be bothered with history
He just liked to make up these rhymes you see
Too bad for Longfellow: a fact’s a fact
and it’s easy to look up which deeds and acts
were really the work of Paul Revere
I’m sorry for what you’re about to hear.

Revere was a silversmith with no horse
He borrowed a steed (from John Larkin, of course)
His friends rowed him over the Charleston to shore
If not for those friends you’d have heard no more
For Larkin and Devens and Conant and Dawes
and Hancock and Prescott (who was the real boss)
These men who Longfellow omitted from word
and whose stories deserve to be told and heard.

I quit after two stanzas, but you’re welcome to refute the entirety of this poem or any other poem that catches your fancy. To be a true palinode under the definition you ought to use your own work, but let’s face it: some poems (and some authors) are just begging for the palinode treatment. Join Team Petty or take this opportunity to show how you’ve changed your mind on the grids this July. See you there!

About the author:

Rowan submitted exactly one piece of microfiction to YeahWrite before being consumed by the editorial darkside. She spent some time working hard as our Submissions Editor before becoming YeahWrite’s Managing Editor in 2016. In real life she’s been at various times an attorney, aerialist, professional knitter, artist, graphic designer (yes, they’re different things), editor, secretary, tailor, and martial artist. It bothers her vaguely that the preceding list isn’t alphabetized, but the Oxford comma makes up for it. She lives in Portlandia with a menagerie which includes at least one other human. She blogs at textwall and CrossKnit.

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