Poem 35 Editing

The Sestina, a Three Headed Dog.

There’s this great sestina about not getting into college, which I think is pretty much the only sestina that I ever remember reading. I was introduced to them as a sophomore in college after attending just a few classes in poetry. I felt that I could master them if only I followed the form, but then realized that the form itself was the issue.

Like all form poems, one needs to either be 100% on board or they need to make calculated changes that allow for the a greater understanding of the piece. Like anything else, your half assed efforts are just going to look like mistakes. In a world where there are rules to be broken, break them with finesse.

In this first version, the use of enjambment was far too overreaching to ever yield a compelling image. Where the lines begin bleeding together, and you find that the stanzas have no strong continuity and digression from eachother, it’s time to stap back and look at the whole picture.

Also, something as highly personal and rooted in lowercase t truth is unworthy for a sestina. Think of your use of the form as a privelage not a right… I needed to really look at what I was trying to say rather than writing a short story in poem form.

So, for this case, I looked at the capital T truth as a critique of sex via a stage. In literature sex is always a symbol for something else, so I found that evoking that sense via imagery was a stronger poem than just talking about one person and one event. Think of your work as a megaphone for your life: as you write it, the moment becomes bigger than itself… bigger than you… use that to your advantage.

With a sestina, remember that there are 6 words to be chosen, so at least 4 should be tangible and visual… and all of them need to be versitable enough to appear in the poem as different versions of themselves… no one wants to read the same line over and over…. though the villenelle is a good form too, more on that later.

Finally, remember that the form is an extention of your piece and not a cage. In this case, the form adds to the piece by allowing the repetition to play along side the singular moments… don’t choose the wrong for for your poem, it could divert the reader from your point.


The sestina, a complex poem form, will be something I work on for the rest of my writing career. There are many ways to change the forms to fit your purpose, but knowing the point of using one is the best weapon you have against a bad form poem. Even if done perfectly, a misfit poem will look foolish all wrapped up in a form. Conversely, a poemt that could easily be molded to fit a compelling and long loved form is wasted if never adapted.

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