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Blacktip Island Braces For Weekend Underwater Villanelle Fest

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Several Blacktip Island dive sites and multiple resort swimming pools will host this weekend’s ‘Mad Night’ Underwater Villanelle Festival, sponsored by the Blacktip Island Poetry Society. (photo courtesy of Reg Gurnard)

Blacktip Island’s poetry aficionados will gather at multiple venues this weekend for the third annual, two-day ‘Mad Night’ Underwater Villanelle Festival, organized by the Blacktip Island Poetry Society.

“Every yahoo and their cousin participates in the Easter Poetry Slam. It’s a drunken, free-for-all, anything-goes affair,” festival organizer Doris Blenny said. “We came up with the ‘Mad Night’ concept several years ago after people mistook ‘poetry’ for ‘poultry,’ and all hell broke loose.

“This is a separate event, limited to one poetic form, that really separates the wheat from the chaff talent-wise,” Blenny said. “A villanelle shows your chops, or lack of them. There’ll be no ‘cat sat on the mat’ dreck this weekend. Unless it fits the rhyme scheme and line repetition pattern.

“The name’s a hat tip to Sylvia Plath’s ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ and Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do Not Got Gentle Into That Good Night’ villanelles,” Blenny said. “Plus, it pretty well sums up the last two Fests.”

The two-day event will feature underwater readings of published villanelles as well as sessions for local poets to read their own work aloud.

“The underwater aspect helps with crowd control. And author control,” BIPS sergeant-at-arms Peachy Bottoms said. “There’re separate categories for full-face-mask readings and through-the-regulator readings – both beautiful in their own way. There’ll be interpretive swimmers on hand, too, to enhance the experience.

“We’ll have readings on multiple dive sites, in resort pools and in the Heritage House bathtub,” Bottoms said. “There’s also a kids’ session in the Eagle Ray Cove hot tub with snorkels.”

BIPS judges said the form restriction will be strictly enforced.

“If it’s not a villanelle, we’ll cut the mike. All our participants have been warned,” Reg Gurnard said. “We’ll make an exception for the occasional terzanelle, but sonnets are right out. And don’t get me started on sestinas. We’re still repairing the Heritage House after Antonio Fletcher’s x-rated open-mike debacle.”

Some island poets protested the festival’s limitations.

“It’s not fair, excluding people because we don’t use rhyme or a strict structure,” Lee Helm said. “The elitist judges are biased against us. I mean, what’s next, bloody Epic Greek Lyric Fest?

“My gran wrote villanelles. As a schoolgirl. And hated them,” Helm said. “This is the sort of hidebound, Structuralist mindset that’s holding back Blacktip’s poetry community. And creativity in general.”

Blenny defended the festival’s rules.

“We haven’t replaced the Poetry Slam, we’ve simply created a new, different event with a more refined focus,” she said. “If we hadn’t imposed this strict structure, we never would have heard Dermott Bottoms’ interlocking villanelle cycle about inebriation. His ‘Rumward by Booby Flight’ brought the house down. It truly did.”

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