Michaeline: Sestina Fever!

I like short projects, but I also have a creative tendency to complicate them and turn them into puzzles that sometimes can only be tied to the original project parameters by very tenuous links.

For example, I’m the October Birthday Tixie for my reading list, and the job is relatively simple: look at a spreadsheet, then send birthday greetings to list members who have signed up for it on or near the day they’ve indicated (we’re a world-wide group, so we can have real or fictional time lag problems that graciously forgiven).

Image via Wikimedia Commons

But, it’s a creative group, and there are such fun things done with the idea! My most memorable birthday greeting involved a trek through the wild roses of Barrayar, and I believe there was Ma Kosti cake involved. (If you don’t know Ma Kosti, all you need to know is that her “little chocolate thingies” have the density of plutonium, and grown-ass warriors have been known to divert their plans in order to experience a Ma Kosti luncheon. Chef and food business entrepreneur extraordinaire.) I have the Head Birthday Tixie to thank for that!

My method is to choose a theme (cakes, or treasures, or fictional animals that need scientific names), write down on cards about 14 or 15 possible ideas (I have 13 people on my list), and then choose a card at random to spice up the greetings, and tie it into the Authorial Canon that my reading list enjoys.

This month, I decided to do different forms of poetry, and boy . . . I face each birthday with a combination of terror and thrill. Will the muse pull through? She’s done a decent job so far, although the scansion may be off and the syllable-counting not quite as precise as one would like.

So, the first trick was finding 13 different poetry forms; I got nervous as the first hits on Google were “the five different poetry forms” – but as I scrolled down the page, I saw “10 Poetry Forms You Must Know” and finally found one with 22, I think it was. Good enough! I started my cards – haiku, limericks, tanka, sonnet, etc.

Then it was time to write the first poem for October 1, and to my dismay, I got sestina. My first try, I have only an hour or so, and I’ve got to come up with a sestina!

A sestina is a complicated form – six stanzas of six lines each, in theory, and you must re-use the ending lines in a complicated rotation. I’ll send you here for the abcdef version (tl;dr: faebdc being stanza two, and cfdabe ((I think)) being stanza three – oh, and these aren’t rhyming words, but whole words that are repeated), but it’ll be easier to see how it works in a real poem. I was so lucky to find a four-stanza sestina, so I used that as my model. Elizabeth Bishop, “A Miracle for Breakfast,” October 1972. 

I can’t believe how much I like this form! I like repetition anyway, and word puzzles make me happy. There’s a circular logic in using the words over and over again, and a sort of hypnotic groove can be achieved – not totally predictable because the logic of the scheme is a bit much for the normal resting brain, but the same words come back with a reassuring frequency that makes one believe there is a Plan in the Universe.

So, indulge me. For today’s post, I’m going to take six words from Elizabeth’s writing sprint yesterday, and try to mold them into a poem. I think it’s a really good exercise for prose writers who want to write shorter, more effectively, and create an atmosphere and a state of mind in their reader. I can easily see the line breaks being taken out, and a few stanzas of a sestina (looking like paragraphs) conveying an obsessive mindset of a character in trouble. Or perhaps in love!

OK, here we go! (Oh, this turned out a bit weirder than I thought it might. Still, reminds me of current politics, so I’m going to put it out there. I don’t want to discuss current politics, but I’d be happy to talk about feelings of empowerment or feelings of helplessness in today’s atmosphere.) Four stanzas, and while I’ve largely ignored scansion because I suck at it, I’ve followed an 8-8-8-8-8-10 syllable scheme (I think). *Trigger warning for baby poop and farts.

You know, you can ask a baby
About the certainty of freewill.
On their face will spread confusion.
If they feel strongly, aroma
Emits like a musky siren
From the leakproof diapers of the future.

Their pre-verbal face says, “Future?
“What is future? I’m a baby.
“I’m in the present, a siren
“Call of now. There is no free will
“For me.” The diaper’s aroma
Brooks no protestation of confusion.

Now you are cast in confusion.
“I’ve always thought that the future
“Was like a wafting aroma.
“Even the fart of a baby
“Could send it spiraling. Free will
“Guides the future like a warning siren.”

The baby wails like a siren.
There can be no confusion.
The adults use tools like free will,
But can’t be sure that the future
Will bend to their craft. Oh, Baby.
We wander blindly in the aroma.