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Thursday, October 8, 2009

My Sestina

My teacher said when you write a sestina, the
most important thing is to choose the six
ending words carefully. Not any ol’ words
will do. Don’t succumb to the temptation of
a casual series, such as any six words my
mother might randomly utter at lunch. Sestina

’s are serious stuff. To create a masterful sestina
you need to hunt down some protean words; the
y must be able to signify not just verbally, my
goodness, no, but nounally as well. Six times six
times you’ll have to play these words out. Of
tener than would work for form-challenged, mundane words.

Whether for the level or the type of trouble, Words
worth unlike Spencer never that I know of wrote a sestina.
But Auden did and Bishop, and Pound, and Ashbery, but one of
my favorites is the one done by Lloyd Schwarz, the
world’s shortest, the whole thing made of exactly Six
Words: Yes, no, maybe, sometimes always, never. My

own thought on the matter is to forget the attempt. My
sestina is unlikely to compete with such stuff; my words
are mashed potatoes next to the banquet of those six
minds’ astonishing products. And is the sestina
even viable anymore—quaint and ancient vestige of
an age of representational form? Now, when the

ory itself recedes. The
naïvete of any forms’ my
opic vision: wrung words of
uncommitted play: words
of the pretensive sestina
’s re-reign: six

of one half a dozen of the other. How can any six
words make a difference? Still, I cannot just abandon the
form. For one thing, there’s the teacher, and his ignorant sestina
worship. And then there’s the vestige of something in my
self that tells me if I can just find the right six words
and arrange them in the proper places, something of

compensatory beauty will emerge (or the horror of the six
sixty six, perhaps), yes: numbers and words, something of
force if I can just find them: the six words of my sestina.

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