The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Sestina(s)

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I always consider it a good day when I get completely blind-sided by a poem, when I unexpectedly find one so awesome that all I can think is, “Holy Shit…!”  That happened Wednesday afternoon this past week when I flipped through the November 29 issue of The New Yorker.  I saw in the table of contents that there was a poem on p. 54 called “Sestina,” by Ciara Shuttleworth.  I’m passingly familiar with the form, having experimented with it a few years back.  I didn’t expect much, mostly because the title of the poem referred to its form (something Ted Kooser advises against in The Poetry Home Repair Manual).  I was equally as surprised to see The New Yorker running a form poem.  Once I read it, though, all I could say was “Holy Shit…!”

I intended to hyperlink to “Sestina,” but it’s only available for subscribers on the website.  Nonetheless, I was stunned with what the poet did with only six words and a helluva lot of punctuation.  If nothing else, it reminded me of how important it is to break free of classic forms and explore, even when you are trying to work within a classic form.

The sestina is a classic form, and it’s not an easy one.  It’s traditionally written in iambic verse (usually pentameter), though that is not a hard and fast rule.  What cannot be changed, though, is that you’re going to write six sestets (a six-line stanza) and wrap up with a tercet (a three-line stanza).  All told, you’re going to write 39 lines.  But wait…  there’s more.  There is going to be a set of six words that will help focus the poem.  Each line ends with one of those six words, and those six words come in a different order in each sestet.  The tercet also uses all six words in pre-determined order.

Confused?  So was I a few years ago when I mucked around with a sestina.  I made sure to write about one of my favorite things so at least I would have fun while I was at it.  My example is below, as crappy it may be (what I’m really saying is that I’m either hard-up for blog content or am fearless about showing you how crappy of a writer I can be…  it’s a little bit of both!).  My “word bank” was pitch, strike, field, ball, bat, base.

 My Girlfriend Explains Baseball by Jeff Burd

The action starts with a pitch.

It may be a ball or a strike,

depending on the ump’s field

of vision.  If it’s called a ball,

then the batter didn’t swing the bat

as he plotted to get on base.

     The batter will try to get on base

     but still make the pitcher pitch

     a lot of balls during the at-bat.

     He might get fooled by a strike

     or thumped by the ball,

     or put it in play in the infield

on a short hit, or the outfield

on a long one.  He will take at least one base

and pay attention to what the ball

does on the following pitches.

If he has the chance, he may strike

out on his own during the next at-bat,

     flying into the next base like a bat.

     If the ball leaves the playing field,

     it may be considered a strike

     if it flies outside of the base

     lines.  The batter waits for the next pitch,

     again trying to hit the ball.

If he keeps swinging and missing the ball,

he makes an out and loses his turn at bat.

When that happens, the ump calls the last pitch

a strike and the batter must leave the field

without advancing ninety feet to first base.

The stat keeper will mark it as a strike

     out.  The next time up, the batter will try to strike

     the ball with the bat, hoping to launch the ball

     over the outfield fence.  He’ll touch each base,

     and pitchers will learn to fear his bat;

     he’ll be known as one of the best in his field,

     able at his whimsy to kill any pitch.

It’s all a matter of strikes during each at-bat.

If the batters don’t hit the ball and put it in the field,

they’ll never get on base.  They’ll be frustrated by each pitch.

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Written by seeker70

November 27, 2010 at 12:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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