A great villanelle

I love villanelles. And I enjoyed happening across this one, from Tomorrow’s Living Room, by Jason Whitmarsh, which won the 2009 May Swenson poetry prize from Utah State University Press.

Many of my dear readers will immediately recognize the poem which this poem refers to — a famous (THE famous??) villanelle. If you are not in The Poetry Club, here’s a link to the excellent villanelle Whitmarsh is referencing:


I’d love to hear from other folks about contemporary villanelles they think are super. (I have SO enjoyed Julie Kane’s work, for instance..)


At ten, I wanted to be a kung fu master
like Bruce Lee, bare-chested, sideways, intent
on hitting my way out of disaster.

In the unmade and unimagined fluster
of being young, I hadn’t yet spent
much time on how to be a kung fu master,

except to watch Lee get meaner, get faster.
He seemed genuinely pissed off, like he meant
to kill every actor, cause real disaster.

They attacked one by one (why?) and the last, or
next-to-last had knives and guns that went
nowhere. “You want some?” (Me, as kung fu master.)

That childhood is now both remote and vaster,
and Lee is a death and a continent
away. He’d already had his disaster

by the time I was watching every gesture —
he kicks, a flip, a scream. It’s evident
why I wanted to be a kung fu master,
as though desire alone could prevent disaster.

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