Sestina party handout here.

April is National Poetry Month and if it isn’t April now, it’s going to be April someday, so you better get ready.

I’m working on a sestina.

For sestina, say six.

A sestina is a puzzle of a poem built around six words that repeat 6 times in blocks of six lines according to a six-way pattern.  Then it’s capped off with the six words trundled tightly into 3 lines. Here are the regs and rules.

I used a psycho-random technique to select my six words, jotting down the first interesting word I spotted in each of the six previous days of my journal:

gobble – season  – pulse – planet – nucleus – answer

I copied them out six times, according to the rules of the pattern and doggedly herded syllables, images, and short speeches into the empty places, thinking, write something terrible and you’ll have plenty to tinker with.

It was so terrible I quit in the middle of the third stanza.  Maybe I should have had more of an idea to start with.  Maybe I needed better words:  like fence instead of planet.  Maybe I should check out some examples.

In an oft-cited sestina entitled “Sestina”, Elizabeth Bishop uses the words:

house – grandmother – child – stove – almanac – tears

The resulting sestina is astonishingly beautiful.  Here are some lines from the middle to give you an idea:

…The iron kettle sings on the stove.

She cuts some bread and says to the child

It’s time for tea now; but the child

is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears

dance like mad on the hot black stove

the way the rain must dance on the house.

Tidying up, the grandmother

hangs up the clever almanac

on its string.  Birdlike, the almanac

hovers half open above the child

hovers above the old grandmother

and her cup full of dark brown tears…

A couple weeks later I tinkered with my sestina some more.  Now it’s got

…pulsing gullets of gobblelty

geese, orange beaks reaching to gobble

falling hail…

I could give my sestina

…rich gobbled

minerals, water, atmosphere, a split nucleus

and the dark denied march of the penultimate season

My sestina might even get

…an idea, a planet

whose whirl and what matter a nucleus

binds to a grammar called answers.


I think sestinas call for sestina parties.  Divvy up the work, multiply the imagination.  People did stuff like that before they had Netflix, and you can try it at home, too.  The sestina party handout explains the pattern and gives directions for organizing 6 to 36 people to write a sestina over the course of an evening.

Send in an your original sestina by writing a comment to this post.