Reading and Writing and the Occasional Rondeau

Ellen Steinbaum, one of Ricky’s many students (and an excellent poet, now with two beautiful books under her belt) has a blog called Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe. All this week she has been posting assignments-from-Ricky for other poets to try their hands at. Not sure what response she has had so far, but she certainly encouraged me to reach back into my own mind!

The assignment Ellen picked for Wednesday (November 18, 2009) was to write a rondeau about the sound of waves crashing, and she provided some explanation from Ricky about the structure of the rondeau form, for poets who were not familiar with it. That got me thinking about one of the assignments we included in Unlocking the Poem, to write a rondeau based on the origin of the word “tuxedo.” My own poem from that assignment did not make it into Unlocking the Poem (we chose a sensual and evocative poem from the poet Carol Siemering instead) but was published in Concrete Wolf.

When I did some research into the roots of “tuxedo,” I found that the word came from an Algonquin Indian word, “P’tuksit,” literally “he whose feet are round,” and referring to the wolf, the tribe’s totem. My poem, which follows, went straight back to the wolves . . .


Footfalls shimmering on orange blaze of air,

their delicate clip-a-clop—the blare

of maple leaves barricades their sound,

guarding—for now—against the pound

of oncoming snows.  Even the hare

picks up his pace, shimmies into lairs

of winter’s keeping.  Fox dares

his scent outward, mocking hounds . . .

footfalls, shimmering.

Three lean wolves, their silky throats bared,

cradle the moon in song.  The glare

of harvest curls the hills’ black mounds

to saffron.  He-whose-feet-are-round

keens stridulant notes—until snared—

footfalls, shivering.

Many thanks to Ellen Steinbaum for reminding me of this poem–I hope others like it!


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Praise for the Book

“Unlocking the Poem brings both the creative writing teacher and the aspiring writer a trustworthy guidebook and a generous resource. . . . authors Riccio and Siegel have put together a book that deserves a place on every poet’s shelf. Its copies will become well-worn and dog-eared from future service.”
–X. J. Kennedy

“Riccio and Siegel deserve the gratitude of poets
and writing workshop leaders everywhere for their no-holds-barred approach to stimulating the imagination and unlocking the poems in all of us.”
–Sue Ellen Thompson

“For those who can’t get to [Ottone Riccio's] workshops this remarkable teacher, together with Ellen Beth Siegel, has compiled a book of inspiring lessons to help writers on their way to good poems.”
–Diana Der-Hovanessian

November 2009


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