Hello poets. At the beginning of this month I warned you that the fourth prompt for September would involve writing a sestina. As I began to write this prompt, I was tempted to change course because, well, sestinas are hard to write and I hadn’t written mine yet. But I managed to get one written, though it probably needs some polishing I don’t have time for right now. Think of it as a first draft. As you write yours, if you choose to take up the challenge, remember that there is nothing wrong with a first draft that still needs polishing.
The definition of sestina in the poetry dictionary takes up two full pages and is followed by five pages of examples. I am not going to type all of that into this post. So I’m sharing the relevant parts of the definition, and also offer this Wiki How article about how to write a sestina. The best part of the article is that it tells you exactly how to rearrange the six end words for each stanza. I have a Word doc that I use that has the structure laid out for me. It makes writing one so much easier.
SESTINA (ses-tee’-nuh; Italian, “sixth”) A fixed form, developed in Provençal by the Troubadours, in which six end-words are repeated in an interwoven order through six stanzas and in a final three-line envoi (also called tornada), which contains all six of those words.
After the first stanza establishes a sestina’s six end-words, each of the following stanzas rearranges the previous stanza’s end-words according to a prescribed numerological order: 6, 1, 5, 2, 4, 3. This arrangement can be remembered easily as a weaving pattern that moves from bottom to top and from outside to inside. [Frankly, that last sentence is not helpful to me, but it was in the dictionary so I included it here.]
In the envoi, three of the end words appear at the ends of lines, while the other three are embedded, one per line. The poet is free to arrange the end-words as needed. Since the envoi often sounds like a postscript anyway, some poets choose to omit it altogether.
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Although many poets write their sestinas in iambic pentameter, Arnaut’s original uses a syllabic pattern of 8-11-11-11-11-11 in each of the six-line stanzas. Free-verse sestinas [have also been written].the poetry dictionary, pg 278-79.
Your challenge is to write a sestina using at least two of the seven paint chip words and phrases I will provide. You can stick to iambic pentameter, try some free-verse, or have a hand at Arnaut’s syllabic pattern. Feel free to label your sestina as a “rough draft” if you think you may polish it a bit at another time.
I was surprised that the first five paint chips I pulled were clearly fall colors in increasingly darker shades. I almost stopped there, but then decided to stick with my usual seven paint chips. The paint chip words and phrases you have to work with, in the order in which I pulled them randomly from the deck, are antique lace, sawdust, field of poppies, gold medal, safety orange, pinot noir, and the blues. Some of these might actually work well as end-words for your sestina. I managed to use one as such.
This poem is my first draft with a few modifications as I typed it from the handwritten draft.
September Sestina Sometimes in late-September I'm enveloped by the blues Days grow short, darkness falls early Pine pollen like sawdust covers Everything, makes my eyes sting and water Truly summer, my favorite season, is at an end Yet before the month reaches its end I find great joy in September A field of poppies we need not water Even when the sky reveals deepest blue And each leaf like a sparkling gold medal covers The trees that don't shed early I recall my beautiful wedding day early In this month some call fall, an end To summer, but for me the sun covers Over all the worry that September Brings us one month closer to blues Of winter too cold to sit beside lake's water Seasons in their turn will turn water From warm to cold to frozen, early In far northern climates where blues Like glaciers slowly come to an end, But farther south, where I love, September Can be brisk with deep cloud covers Soon when a bed of leaves covers The ground, and the sunset reflects in water As a safety-orange sky, then September Will be all but gone, and early Fall will be upon us, celebrations end And I'm drawn to listening to the blues This is when I most love the blues Because, oddly, they remind me hope covers Over all the hardships of life to the end Of our days, and the beginning of water Rushing over spring waterfalls will come early, Barely half a year from the 30th of September Even the blues are washed away as water Flows deep and covers all that comes early Until the end and return of September
Now it’s your turn. Try your hand at a sestina. It’s a challenging form, but I believe you are all up to the challenge. You can post your poem in the comments, although a sestina might be a little long for a comment. You could also post the first stanza in the comments, and then link to the whole sestina on your own blog or website. Be sure to check out the poems shared by other poets and offer some encouragement.