Canzone

The canzone is an Italian form with strong similarities to the sestina. There are no rhymes; instead there are five keywords that determine the structure of the poem. Every line of the poem - and there are 65 lines altogether - ends with one of the keywords, which must appear in a prescribed order.

Here's one I made earlier: 

Bananas
As will be plain to people of good taste, 
The least sense of the five is that of smell,
An adjunct merely to ones sense of taste.
Bananas, say, you know best by their taste.
The skinís not that distinctive to the touch,
But no-one ever could mistake the taste!
That subtly tangy creamy fruity taste!
Now stick one in your ear. What do you hear?
Be honest Ė there is nothing there to hear.
The whole point of bananas is their taste.
And look at them Ė thereís not a lot to see.
A yellow boomerang Ė thatís all you see.

Although perhaps there is more you can see.
On second thoughts, perhaps sight rivals taste.
From looking at its colour, you can see
Whether itís ripe enough to eat, and see
If it is over-ripe and rank. Though smell
Can tell you that as well, that I can see.
The shape is something else that you can see.
You could of course detect the shape by touch,
But thatís an overrated sense, is touch.
My policyís believing what I see Ė
A pretty common one, from what I hear.
Though I donít credit everything I hear.

Youíre bats if you choose fruit by what you hear.
Thereís no excuse for that that I can see.
But with a radio you need to hear.
That is the whole point after all, to hear.
With radios there is no role for taste;
Itís all about the programmes you can hear.
Itís true that maybe now and then youíll hear
A programme on bananas and their smell;
Technology canít help you smell the smell;
The smell must be evoked by what you hear.
Thereís one potentially confusing touch
Called scratch-íní-sniff Ė smell comes from what you touch!

Which proves, perhaps, the primacy of touch,
Though here itís just augmenting what you hear.
In silent moments you can still use touch.
Bananas have some lovely bits to touch -
Thereís more that you can feel than you can see.
The curve; which end is which; all told by touch.
To peel one you must use your sense of touch.
You have to peel the thing before you tasteÖ
But thereís more to it than what you can taste.
If wiggled slightly, with a gentle touch,
It will trisect Ė releasing waves of smell.
The fifth sense, and the least, the sense of smell.

Still, few things are evocative as smell.
Though mankiness you can detect by touch,
Itís better for that to rely on smell.
You neednít wash your hands if you just smell.
You ought to smell bananas first, díyou hear?
If they are good itís quite a different smell,
A really very pleasant sort of smell,
And thatís why you should smell your fruit, you see.
It sometimes tells you things that you canít see.
Bananas with the true banana smell
Are fruit that it is safe for you to taste.
Thatís what itís all about, of course Ė the taste.

Sometimes a poem leaves an aftertaste,
Some slight suspicion of a musty smell,
The nagging fear the poetís lost his touch,
Acquired a wooden ear with with which to hearÖ
Such faults the bard himself can never see.

"Mankiness" may be a Britishism. "Manky" means "rotten, bad, nasty". It comes from either Scots, or English dialect, or Polari (homosexual slang), depending on which dictionary you believe. 

Anyway, as you see, there are five stanzas of twelve lines each, followed by a five-line envoi (which I am tempted to call a tornada, as for the sestina). The pattern of the keywords goes like this:

    stanza 1: ABAACAADDAEE
   
stanza 2: EAEEBEECCEDD
   
stanza 3: DEDDADDBBDCC
   
stanza 4: CDCCECCAACBB
   
stanza 5: BCBBDBBEEBAA
   
envoi:      ABCDE

No particular line length or metre is prescribed.

Variations

Other structures are possible, apparently, but I have never seen any of them. The one used here is supposed to be the most common (in so far as any kind of canzone could be described as common).

Prescription

Anyone addicted to writing sestinas should be encouraged to write canzones instead, as a kind of aversion therapy. The canzone goes on too long to be enjoyable for either writer or reader, in my opinion.

Stop Press: That was my opinion, but I have been forced to change my mind. For an example of what this form is capable of in the hands of a real poet, please see A Film in January on the website of George Szirtes. But hurry - currently (January 2008) this is the featured poem on his home page, but apparently he rotates his poems there fairly frequently.

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This page last updated 27/01/2008