The first time I wrote a sestina, it was a matter of pride. I was a poet, but I didn’t particularly like writing in form.
One day my twelve-year-old daughter sneaked my Norton Anthology, The Making of a Poem. Within a few days, she had experimented with writing sonnets, villanelles, pantoums, and… sestinas. Of course I was proud. But not just about her poem. I admit, I felt challenged. Was I going to let my twelve-year-old write sestinas without trying them myself?
I figured if I was going to try the form out, I might as well start in Pittsburgh. The city certainly offered a lot of sights on a Saturday morning. It seemed perfect for the rolling form of this 39-line poem (6 stanzas of 6 lines each, followed by a wrap-up 3-line stanza; the end words of the first stanza repeat throughout the entire poem, according to a set pattern).
The sestina, like a song, helps us say what we want to say without really saying it; because it’s almost impossible to tell a story in a sestina, we tell our deep impressions and emotions instead. These emotions build and build through the repetitions of the end words, and we’re left holding something that feels like it might not be words at all, but perhaps just the whispering wind or a double rainbow.
Starting in July, at Every Day Poems, we’ll be exploring sestinas. And we’re really excited about some of the upcoming featured poets, including David Lehman of The Best American Poetry and James Cummins, Curator of the Elliston Poetry Collection. We also hope that you’ll try a sestina on for size. Even if you do it just as a matter of pride.
Here’s the basic pattern. The first 6 stanzas are each 6 lines. End words repeat according to the letter order below:
7. last stanza, 3 lines (first repetition can go around the middle of the line, last at the end):
Post by L.L. Barkat. Visit L.L. at Seedlings in Stone, for more on writing, poetry, art and life.
Further Resources, for Teachers or Writer’s Groups: