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Poetic Form: Sestina

I was going to focus on Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” as an example of a villanelle. But, since I have been working on a sestina, I decided to read Bishop’s “Sestina” for some encouragement.

A sestina is a challenging, yet worthwhile form. I have written and published one that is, interestingly, titled “Sestina.” I cannot recall how many sittings it took for me to draft my published sestina. But, the one I have been working on simmered for about two weeks before I dared to write a first line. I am not quite halfway in formulating my ideas and thoughts. Part of the issue is that the theme revolves around an issue. Perhaps it is one that is too current and raw for me to write well at the present time. Perhaps it is one that is not personal enough for me. Which is perhaps why I needed to read another sestina besides my own to continue with this new poem.

In reading Bishop’s contribution to the form, I settled into a kindred moment. I suddenly remembered tea with my own grandmother. Although my circumstances for having tea with my grandmother were happy Saturdays after Friday overnights, I felt a resonance with Bishop. Because I understood as an adult what it means to live with extended family, empathy filled me as read “the teakettle’s small hard tears,” “her teacup full of dark brown tears,” and “the child draws another inscrutable house.” Bishop’s poetry rarely reveals her personal life, but in her “Sestina” we receive a perceptive glimpse into her childhood. (“In the Waiting Room” is another personal poem is a free verse narrative. “At the Fishhouses” has a personal narrative tone as well. I would argue “One Art” leans toward a personal poem, but has a more subtle, generalized approach.) It is important to remember that Bishop only published 101 poems and that she is considered a perfectionist in her process. I suspect she spent a concerted effort on her sestina as is often required for such a poem to come into existence. So, I am encouraging myself and anyone else willing to take up the challenge. Let’s take our time. Let’s make every word and line worth the effort.

Here is my published “Sestina.”

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