The Man in White: Evolution of a Poem through Three Forms

Trigger warning.

This poem started out in answer to a prompt at Daily Writing Practice as a quick little poem.

Lurking in the corners of your mind
He was never there until the day you weren’t
Now he won’t leave you alone
In a moment of inattention
He springs and brings the memories flooding back.

Not bad, but it felt unfinished and rough. One of the other writers over at Daily Writing Practice commented that he especially liked the second line. So I set out to finish the poem, keeping the second line. I thought perhaps it would work well as a pantoum.

Lurking in the corners of your mind
He was never there until the day you weren’t
Now he won’t leave you alone
He springs and brings the nightmares flooding back.

He was never there until the day you weren’t
Just when you think you’ve forgotten
He springs and brings the nightmares flooding back
Of explosions and pain and a small girl dying in your arms

Just when you think you’ve forgotten
There he is in the shadows, bearing memories
Of explosions and pain and a small girl dying in your arms
Will you ever truly forget?

Now he won’t leave you alone
Lurking in the corners of your mind
There he is in the shadows, bearing memories
Will you ever truly forget?

I felt it was much improved, but the pantoum form was too repetitious and too pat, especially towards the end. I made it much more explicitly about war and PTSD, moving farther away from my own experience.

I thought perhaps a cascade or villanelle would do well, keeping some of the repetition but making it much less pat. First, I tried it as a cascade.

Lurking in the corners of your mind
He was never there until the day you weren’t
Now he won’t leave you alone

Just when you think you’ve forgotten
He springs and the nightmares come flooding back
Lurking in the corners of your mind

There he is in the shadows, bearing memories
Of explosions and pain, a small girl dying in your arms
He was never there until the day you weren’t

Can you forget?
Will you ever forget?
Now he won’t leave you alone.

I felt it was much, much better, but still in need of work. It still seemed too pat at the end, and to not have enough repetition, and it wasn’t flowing quite right. Plus it was still farther away from my own experience than I like. I thought I would try a villanelle. I won’t bore you with the initial versions, but here is the final villanelle I wrote. As I wrote it, I found the parts that were not from my experience fell away, and I reached for words and phrases much closer to my experiences.

He was never there until the day you weren’t
Lurking in the corners of your mind
Now he won’t leave you alone
He won’t go away and you find

You cannot forget
He was never there until the day you weren’t
Hasn’t he done enough?
How can you forget?

Now he won’t leave you alone
Just when you think you’ve forgotten
He springs and the nightmares come flooding back
He was never there until the day you weren’t

You never expected this,
Perhaps you were in the wrong place at the wrong time
Now he won’t leave you alone

Everywhere you turn, there he is
Even when he’s not.
He was never there until the day you weren’t
Now he won’t leave you alone.

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