The Sestina Project: Part One

The Sestina is a bit complicated, as it has 39 lines in six stanzas of six lines each, it is then followed by a final stanza of three lines.

I have no idea how a person writes a poem. I do know it can start with an idea, an inspiration, a vision, a dream… but if you want to move beyond the initial contact, what then? I don’t know. When the egg of an idea first hatches, sometimes, that is as good as it gets or it conveys the idea, the message, so perfectly, touches the reader just so, that there is no need to push beyond the shell. But, what if you want too? This has always been my stopping point. Maybe I’m too lazy to explore the possibilities or too impatient to experience the process, but regardless, some dreams need and want to grow and fly.

The practice of form has its restrictions, and that is exactly why I am practicing in this manner. I have always been free to write hurley burly across a page, but to have form is to have discipline. Is discipline better than free writing? Of course not, but it is good to try new experiences in art, form, and expression. There is no order to how to do this, this is just how I am doing it: The first thing I did was to pull out six words that I thought would be the most flexible in creating the rotation of sound, and also would allow the poem to speak. I know this sounds clinical and not very artistic, but go with me here:

  • love
  • heartbreak
  • literi
  • friendship
  • writing
  • poetry

I had picked other words such as ivory tower and demographics, but I felt it would be difficult to continue repeating those words without having the poem sound contrived. At this stage the poem does sound contrived because I am attempting to shove a down blanket into a clutch purse. To visualize the form, I numbered five of the six stanzas, and placed the end words how they would rotate:


  1. Friend
  2. writing
  3. poetry
  4. love
  5. heartbreak
  6. literati


  1. literati
  2. friend
  3. writing
  4. poetry
  5. love
  6. heartbreak


  1. heartbreak
  2. literati
  3. friend
  4. writing
  5. poetry
  6. love

And so on for the following two stanzas. Once I completed this I began plugging in the sentences. This is where I really began to get antsy. One thing my brain begins to fixate on is how I will lose the meaning and power I had originally felt when I first wrote the words down. It is true that I have a personal connection to the words, and even my body memory reacts to such thoughts and emotions by literally feeling sadness or anger or joy, whatever it is that I am originally pulling from returns to the surface, and for me, there is a power in that energy. Unfortunately, (only speaking for myself) this power is often lost in my clunky language and introspective dialogue. I get all the hidden meanings because I lived them, but how does the reader? It’s like I’m telling an inside joke, but only I am on the inside. I haven’t followed through with many of my writings, meaning re-wrote, and re-wrote, but in my small experience, I found that, although, when dissected the work would lose some of its steam, but, once put back together, it never lost its birth power, and in fact, it was stronger, richer, and accessible to outside readers, plus, it began a life all on its own that had nothing to do with my personal connections, and was the reader’s secret. This is a fascinating thing about art and writing.

Where the poem is now is in a vivisected state, splayed and unattractive, and my internal voice is complaining for me to stop because it is a mess, but “for posterity’s sake”, I’ve decided to keep working:

Do you ever think of me friend?
When you look from your ivory tower of writing,
West beyond the purple badlands, the sequoia’s quiet poetry
The redwoods? The Rockies? The Cascades. Old love,
Do you ever think of me? Does your heartbreak
In memory when you walk the marble steps of the literati?

Do you drink tea in a lounge and sip whiskey with the literati,
purging words of devotion and criticism over the classics; our friends,
Dissecting the flesh, peeling the skin from the limbs of Dante’s writing?
Do you think of me in your company? Oh, but I was never much of a poet.
A low vocabulary, I lack syntax, my language is an ignorant love.
Word placements are post-humorous and butchered: It was heartbreaking.

I neglected Dante and Ulysses, I was slow, my heart, my mind broke
Mrs. Dalloway was not enough to appease the group the literati.
I tore your inscription in a rage and cried that you were not a friend.
Sometimes, I imagine you, rarely, but enough, writing,
with your wife, your son, Septimus, the scene is poetic
candles light the room. The scent; jasmine and myrrh, and literary love…

To be continued…

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