Following on from Ode To Hercule Poirot (whose episodes, alas, I’ve now in full exhausted) the impulse arose to offer something similar in honor of the incomparable Miss Fisher: feminist, fashionista, devotee of joie de vivre, embodiment of unabashed sexual freedom, caring sensitive matriarch, and of course … lady detective!
But “Ode to Miss Fisher” just doesn’t have the same ring as “Ode to Hercule Poirot.” So I wondered: what other poetic form might fit the lyric bill (so to speak) – and so allow me to offer this shout-out to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries?
What came to mind first were Renga and Renku — the Japanese collaborative linked-verse forms – which go far in capturing the spirit of interactions between Miss Fisher and her various friends and colleagues: the playfully combative and ever-flirtatious repartee with Detective Inspector Jack Robinson; the tender-fierce support and encouragement exchanged with her companion, Dot; the subtle and not-so-subtle erotic overtures with her various (potential and actual) lovers.
Even the “serious” gamesmanship between Miss Fisher and the villains comes off more often than not as something like a dance, or a poem: linked verse, one voice and then another, created spontaneously for the enjoyment of all.
Villanelle or Villainette?
But then I recalled the Villanelle – which sounds like it should (even if it actually doesn’t) mean “a female villain” — something like a “villainette” – which would have made it perfect for a tribute to Miss Fisher, whose escapades involve unveiling female as well as male villains; and sometimes require that she herself wear the mask of a villain.
So I was a bit disappointed to discover that the Villanelle is actually a highly structured poem whose rules of composition – five tercets followed by a quantrain, for a total of 19 lines – are downright rigid: hardly appropriate for the free-flowing ever-spontaneous tactics of our lady detective.
But all was not lost, in the realm of the Villanelle, for – digging a bit more deeply — I discovered also that earlier Renaissance versions of this poetic form – known respectively as the Villanella and Villancico – were Italian and Spanish dance-songs. And learned also that when French poets referred to their poems as Villanelle they meant something quite different from the current tightly ruled version: The French Villanelle had no specific formal structure; it was wholly free of rhyme or rhythm protocols. So perhaps the Renaissance Villanelle would be appropriate as a vehicle for offering praises to Miss Fisher?
But a cry from afar – from the darkly mysterious reaches of the Nocturne – proved a bit too seductive to ignore …. so I left (at least for now, with only a slightly heavy heart) the Villanelle behind.
The Night Scene
It would seem to be the glorious John Donne (see, for instance, this and this) who first used the term “Nocturne” to refer to a specific poetic form: namely, and simply, one that describes a night scene. Now one guesses that John Donne might have gotten along swimmingly with the joyfully irreverent Miss Fisher – but of course we’ll never know.
In any case: given the film noir visual aesthetic of certain Miss Fisher scenes (viz: swirling mist at midnight, in a dimly lit cobblestone alley) – along with the fact that both murder and love-making are quintessential night-time activities, the Nocturne would seem to fit — like a black-leather glove its feminine hand — the spirit of Miss Fisher.
Now in early Christian writings, the term nocturnes (Nocturni or Nocturna) referred to a “night prayer” or “night vigil.” In this usage, our friends at poets.org suggest:
One could make a good international anthology of the modern poetic nocturne, which is frequently a threshold poem that puts us in the presence of nothingness or God — it returns us to origins — and stirs poets toward song.
And here, once again, the fit with Miss Fisher is quite apropos – for again and again she is “stirred toward song” (and dance!) and thrives on the “threshold” of challenging social conventions. While calling Miss Fisher a “mystic” might be taking it a bit too far, certainly her infectious joie de vivre and spontaneous compassion place her in the general territory: at the gateway through which inspiration – the breath of spirit — generously flows.
So yes, a Nocturne could work quite well, as a means of saying: check out Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries!
In Short: Serious Play
With their playful-serious vibe, and in the mode of something akin to historical fiction, the episodes often engage – via the sleuthing of Miss Fisher — with various social-political-religious issues alive in post-WWI Melbourne, Australia: tensions between Catholics and Protestants; how both abortion and homosexuality were illegal; the presence of various immigrant populations; the flourishing of the spiritualist movement; and traumatic aftereffects of the war, to name just a few. And this adds a dimension beyond your typical “who-done-it?” murder mystery.
Yet somehow it never becomes heavy-handed – quite the opposite, in fact. The portrayal of our protagonist, and the world she creates around her, remains consistently uplifting: a testament to the possibility of both transcending and (with fluid lightness) celebrating all varieties of possibilities along the gender/sexuality spectrum.