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Writing

What Is a Paradelle Poem? How to Write Paradelle Poetry

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Feb 5, 2020 • 3 min read

Who said all poetry has to be serious? While poetic forms like pastoral, sonnet, elegy, and haiku all occupy rarified space in the poetic canon, there is also room for humor in poetry. When most people think of funny poems, their minds often go to limericks—five-line poems that consist of a single stanza, an AABBA rhyme scheme, and a short, pithy tale or description. In a slightly more cerebral direction, a paradelle is a poetry form that functions as a parody of the highbrow villanelle form.

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Billy Collins Teaches Reading and Writing PoetryBilly Collins Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry

In his first-ever online class, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins teaches you how to find joy, humor, and humanity in reading and writing poetry.

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What Is a Paradelle Poem?

A paradelle is a parody version of a villanelle, invented by Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States.

To understand what a paradelle is, you first have to understand what a villanelle is: The villanelle is a specific poetic form that uses repeated lines and a strict rhyming pattern throughout its 19 lines, which are grouped into six separate stanzas. Villanelles have a lyrical quality to them, creating a song-like poem with their structured lines.

Billy Collins invented the paradelle as a joke, claiming that the paradelle originated in eleventh-century France, and many journalists believed him. In reality, a paradelle is not French at all: It is a modern fixed-verse based on the structure of a villanelle.

How to Write a Paradelle Poem

As part of its subtle parody, a paradelle mimics the strict forms of centuries-old villanelle poetry. Billy Collins invented the form in response to the rigid and difficult form of the villanelle. Ironically, in designing a parody of the villanelle, he created a form consisting of equally rigid rules. They are as follows:

  • A paradelle must be four stanzas long.
  • Each of these stanzas must contain six lines.
  • In the first, second, and third stanzas, lines 1 and 2 must be the same, lines 3 and 4 must be the same, lines 5 and 6 must exclusively contain every word from the first and third lines (and nothing else), and those words should be rearranged to form new lines.
  • In the fourth stanza (the final stanza), the poet must repeat every word from the fifth and sixth lines of the first three stanzas (and nothing else), and those words should be rearranged to form new lines.

If it sounds thorny and difficult, that’s because it’s supposed to be. Six-line stanzas are hardly unusual in formal poetry, and it’s far from unprecedented for a poem to place special emphasis on second lines, fourth lines, or sixth lines—but the other requirements are deliberately ridiculous.

The deeper you get into a paradelle, the more dependent each line is on the preceding lines and preceding stanzas. By the time you’re composing new lines for the last stanza, you may feel ready to quit poetry altogether. On the other hand, you may find that writing a paradelle is a fun poetry exercise—a game, almost. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys crossword puzzles and who enjoys a laugh at the expense of formal poetry, then you may have a lot of fun composing your own paradelles.

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Want to Learn More About Poetry?

Whether you’re just starting to put pen to paper or dream of being published, writing poetry demands time, effort, and meticulous attention to detail. No one knows this better than former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. In Billy Collins’s MasterClass on the art of poetry writing, the beloved contemporary poet shares his approach to exploring different subjects, incorporating humor, and finding a voice.

Want to become a better writer? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons on plot, character development, creating suspense, and more, all taught by literary masters, including Billy Collins, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Dan Brown, Judy Blume, David Baldacci, and more.

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