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Poetry Moment: Tim Seibles and 'Little Star Blues Villanelle'

Poet Tim Seibles
Poet Tim Seibles

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “Little Star Blues Villanelle” by Tim Seibles.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim Seibles is the award-winning author of several books of poetry, including FastAnimal, named a finalist for the National Book Award. Today’s poem is from Seibles’ recent collection, Voodoo Libretto: New & Selected Poems. Seibles will be back in Pennsylvania next week to read from his poetry at Penn State on April 7th.

For several years, Seibles has been writing poems in a form he calls the ‘blues villanelle.’ An African American musical form, the blues also became a poetic one in the early 20th century, thanks to Langston Hughes. The villanelle is a 16th century French poetic form, yet the name comes from the Italian meaning “rustic song.” With both blues poems and villanelles, music dominates as a result of the patterned repetition of phrases that serve as refrains. As with many poems that lean into repetition, Seibles’ blues villanelles are about the poet’s obsessions. “Little Star Blues Villanelle” invokes the well-known lullaby to poignantly refract Seibles’ recurring disquiet—with aging, witnessing a parent’s decline, and confronting one’s own mortality.


“Little Star Blues Villanelle”

Someday no one will wonder where you are
Your name won’t be on anyone’s mind
Remember “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”?

Count up the hours you scratched in your car
Where were you going most of the time?
Someday no one will wonder where you are—

Maybe you think I take things too far
I think it was mom who taught me to rhyme
She sang Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Some days die like big bugs in the tar
Who was that small boy at the start of your mind?
Someday your mother won’t know who you are

Woulda been nice to be crowned the czar
Tell everyone else what to do all the time:
You betta Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star!

Whatchu think makes people work so hard?
Like money’s some mountain we s’posed to climb
One day no one will wonder how you are

Mostly what kills me won’t leave any scar
I bet I know why most people go blind
They need “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”

Let’s sit in the shade by that tree in the yard
And chew on the hours with their lemony rind

Someday no one will wonder what you are
Remember “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”

That was “Little Star Blues Villanelle” by Tim Seibles.
Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with me today.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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