I never really got into it. If I cared enough to place blame, part of it would lie with a high school English teacher who seemed to think that anything that wasn’t a metaphor or a simile wasn’t an ‘image’, and part of it with my insistence on writing in free verse. I had this rather immature attitude that if I wasn’t writing in free verse, I wasn’t truly exploring the artistic landscape within me. Or some such bullshit.
I was reading Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors yesterday; it’s so interesting thus far that I’ve barely made it out of the introductory materials. He has a piece in there called ‘Vampire Sestina’ which, in addition to being a lovely little read, introduced me to the poetic form of the sestina. I may have heard of them or seen them before, but if so I paid them very little attention. Almost all of this information is from The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms.
The rules of the sestina are insane: 39 lines. 6 stanzas of 6 lines each. One 3 line envoi at the end. So far, so good.
They are unrhymed. Originally they were all written in iambic pentameter, but modern poets seem to take that as they will (sestinas were also meant to be sung, so there you go.) Now it gets tricky.
The words that end the six lines of the first stanza are the words that are going to end every other line in the poem, but in a very specific order.
Standard poetry labeling, more or less: we’ll label the lines of the first stanza 1A through 6A. The second stanza will be 1B through 6B. NOW:
The last word of line 6A must also be the last word of line 1B. The last word of 1A will be the last word of 2B, and from there we continue through the six. Every stanza takes from the preceding stanza in that last line-first line arrangement, then proceeds down. This gets played with quite a bit these days as well.
This really appeals to me. It feels more musical than free verse, and it has a certain logic-puzzle appeal. Sudoku with tears and violins. So I wrote one.
I wrote this last night over maybe two hours. I think you can sort of see me learning the form over the first few stanzas, but I’m still pretty happy with it as a first effort.
I’d point out that it isn’t based on me, but everyone who knows me knows that my singleness is borne of ineptitude and fear. And now I live in my car, so, you know, wedding bells ain’t a-pealin’.
A Bachelor’s Sestina
I think to measure me by what I love
Or don’t unfair, but just this once I’ll play
Your game. To say that I can be alone
Is not to say I’m not often afraid
I’ll wait until there’s one final door free
And out the corner of my eye I’ll see it close.
Is it a crime to hold a woman close?
Does mimicry make mockery of love?
If I can’t help but hear sweet music play,
When she is near why must I hear alone?
Why does wedded bliss make men afraid?
A lion’s mind, once caged, is never free!
The hours of the single men are free;
Their friendships never fray, their bonds stay close.
As versed as any in the games of love,
They only lack a field on which to play.
And if they find they’re forced to play alone,
They gain the strength to play when Dick’s afraid.
Never again shall I live afraid
To wake to find my true love’s set me free!
You’ll never hear a shuttered heart slam closed.
You’ll quickly learn so many kinds of love.
Hold tight, my dear, and let the music play!
Those who dance this close don’t sleep alone!
It’s not my fault old women die alone.
Perhaps, a bit, that fathers sleep afraid.
Does virtue held by shackles make one free?
Are values learned in fear ever kept close?
Those who at home are taught the least of love
Are those who, once of age, most want to play….
The game’s afoot! Come, let the players play!
For though it may be true we die alone,
And always in our hearts, a part’s afraid,
Know living as we choose is living free!
And though we may not always be so close,
We’ll always have a memory of love.
Those who would live free must live alone,
And those who would seek love must live afraid,
So those who wish to play hold their hands close.