Reclaiming ‘Roses are Red’

Siobhan Dale Co-Editor-in-Chief 

Since Ezra Pound’s modernist injunction to “Make it New” in the early 20th century, poets have been experimenting with new forms, stylistic innovations, and bolder content. The modernist imperative seems to suggest that contemporary writers should always look forward at what is new, or predict what is coming and write with that in mind. But what if we as writers also choose to look back? Would it be possible to rewrite traditional forms and reclaim them as our own? To answer this question, I’ve decided to rewrite one of the simplest and most familiar poems in English, one that most people learn in primary school: “Roses are red/violets are blue.”

GERTRUDE

Roser through red

Violented are blue

If you make mine

Your parts split two

Fold

 

LAVINIA

Erosion with red

Vibrate by blue

A single tight hand

A cork and a screw

Hold

 

LADY MACBETH

Rewinded red

Oblided blue

I took out blood spot

Replace with –

Whisper – you.

 

OPHELIA

Deranging red

Ranged the flowers blue

Forty tiny looms, and I –

Paused to rage all you.

 

JULIET

Master red

Bated blue

Divided words until

Julie, Julie, divides

As bodied two.

 

THREE WITCHES

Triple rise red

Bodified blue

Chant, a triple body

Three times, we chant

Undo  

 

TITANIA

Perversely red

Bestill blue

Fornifoured, I mean

Down two by two,

I fornicate, hoof-man  

Pulse me through.

 

REGAN

Remove – out – red

Round boundage blue

BDSM says, sadistcism

Practices with sisters two.

Tear.

 

GONERIL

Remove out red

Bondage round blue

BDSM says, incestism

Insists sisters two –

Share.

 

ANTIOCHUS’ DAUGHTER

Unnamed a thing red

Cradled a thing blue

Perverse fractures a gentle

Thing daddy names as you

Daddy whispers I choose you,

 
I’ve coupled this familiar poetic form with some familiar characters by having a series of Shakespeare’s female characters as my narrators. This pairing of character and form allows us to see how literary tradition is forged not just by looking forward, but by looking back and transforming old forms into our own new forms. Indeed, as Michael North explains in an article in Guernica, Pound himself found “Make it New” in an old text, or rather, two old texts: “the Da Xue (Ta Hio), first of the four books of Confucian moral philosophy, and the T’ung-Chien Kang-Mu, a classic digest and revision of an even older Chinese history.” Pound appropriated the phrase, and it became the watchword of the modernist movement. But as North shows, “making it new” also means “reworking the old.”


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