Saturday, April 16, 2011

Nathan D and the Sestina Family


A couple of years ago, you may remember, I blogged about the sestina, an intricate medieval poetic form, in a post on my poem "Vietnam Era Vet." Well, it probably won't surprise you that I assign my poetry-writing students at the University of Northern Iowa to write sestinas. And for the most part (at least so I always thought) the students are okay with the form. This semester, in my Beginning Poetry Writing course, it didn't work out quite that way. Several people had quite a tough battle with the sestina. Here's a poem by my student Nathan that deals with that issue in simply hilarious ways.

  My Love of the Sestina

                by Nathan Dahlhauser

  Over-structuring is the heart of the sestina.
  I suppose to say that I hate sestinas
  may be a tad harsh, but the thing with a sestina
  is that, for one, they are so damned repetitive. Sestinas
  may be seen as "classical," to some, but let's be honest. A sestina
  is just a sestina. I say, "Fuck the sestina!"

  You may ask of me, "Sir, why are you so angry? Sestinas
  are just another form of poetry. What did the sestina
  ever do to you?" First off, sestinas
  use the same words over and over again. I'm using the word "sestina"
  to illustrate how annoying this can be. Here comes another. SESTINA.
  Would you like me to use a different word? Nope, I'm now bound to use "sestina."

  Second, there is very little room to convey emotion or meaning in a sestina
  because it is the same words being used. Even in the times where sestinas
  do get a message across, the word choices feel so forced. Sestina.
  See, I had to end that line with the word "sestina"
  because I set myself up for it in the first stanza. All the sestina
  does is constrict a poem's motion, much like a tiny room sestina

  that resembles a sub-stair broom closet. Sure, I'm being childish and sestina
  poking fun at the fat kid in second grade, but I'm not the only one, sestina
  NO ONE LIKES HIM! He’s a big FAT fart face! That is the sestina
  for you, in a nutshell. Are you as tired of this sestina
  as I am? Jesus! Buddha! Allah! By the beard of Zeus! Sestinas
  make me curse their maker and their maker's maker by sestina

  association. Thank my lucky stars I'm nearly finished with this damned poem!
  Shit, did I just slip there and use "damned poem" rather than "sestina"?
  Fuck it, it works regardless. "Damned poem," "stupid form of poetry,"
  they are both synonyms for that single word. Sestina.
  I'm just about done. This here is the last stanza of the ONLY sestina
  I will write in my lifetime. What? One MORE stanza!? Fucking poem!

  That'll work as well, I suppose. Forgive me if I make this sestina
  even more cynical. I've had about enough of the aforementioned word.
  Much like Jan speaking of Marcia, I just want to scream to anyone saying sestina,
"Sestina,
  Sestina,
  Sestina!"

  I hate Sestina’s family. I hate its sister, Sestina. I hate its brother, also named Sestina.
  I hate its parents. Who names three children ALL Sestina?
  Fuck you, Sestina! I hope you go to hell and burn with Satan’s sister, Sestina.

Brilliant, don't you think? And you might quite easily feel the same as Nathan if you had looked up sestina in Wikipedia, say, and learned what the word-cycling pattern is called: retrogradatio cruciata. Doesn't that remind you of the Cruciatus Curse in Harry Potter, which "inflicts unbearable pain on the recipient of the curse" (Wikipedia)? Unbearable pain, indeed!

Nathan's genius touch here is in his repetons (the technical name of the repeated words . . . sorry). Instead of choosing six words, he uses only one. Wow. And how he uses them, that's brilliant too. I was asking all the wrong questions: Was he punning on the word "stanza" (Italian for room) at the end of the third stanza? In the second line of the fourth stanza, was "sestina" standing in for the word "because"? Nope, Nathan said. Just throwing in the word "sestina." 'Cause he had to. Comic genius.

Okay, that's it for today. Hope you learned some schtuff about poetic craft. Like the rich consonance at the end of Nathan's poem: the instances of s, t, and n sounds in "Satan's sister, Sestina." Meh. I hope, even better, you had a good laugh. Word.

No. Sestina.


6 comments:

RME said...

I am now absolutely thankful you did not include sestinas at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival last year ;)

RME said...

Well heck, I can't seem to post a link in a comment on Facebook - how dorky is that? Anyway here's the background on the eagle's nest http://news.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474979207131
guess you will have to copy and paste in a browser to get there! Also, fyi, that little Migration poem we talked about was submitted to the Austin Intl Poetry Festival which is a fun event up the road and it was selected for the anthology and ended up with an honorable mention! I'm still not happy with the ending and have since pared out some adjectives but I was stunned by the recognition so thank you, thank you very much for your guidance!

vstefani said...

I don't remember if you had us write sestinas at HSU (I think you did) but I have played with them a few times - thoroughly enjoyed Nathan's! You're right-it is brilliant! and yes, when I saw "retrogradatio cruciata," I did indeed think of the "cruciatus" curse! (It's not fair that you can italicize in your post but I can't in my comment.)

Vince Gotera said...

Rose Marie and Vicki, thanks for your comments. Go forth now and write a sestina for National Poetry Month.

And Vicki, you can do italics in the comments ... see, I just did it. Use HTML tags to do it. Type ["less than" character] [letter i] ["greater than" character] [text to be italicized] ["less than" character] [slash] [letter i] ["greater than" character].

RME said...

ARRRRRRRRRGHHGHGHGHGHGHHG

Vince Gotera said...

RME: Sorry, I just noticed your comment. Thanks! I think this is precisely how Nathan felt. :-)

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