Friday, August 03, 2018

Writing Sestinas with the Poetry Sisters

This month the challenge we undertook was to write a sestina. It's been 3 years, so it seemed like time. Yeah, not so much!

A sestina is composed of 33 lines in five stanzas of six lines each, with a envoi of three lines for the final stanza. The form is created by the repetition of the six end-words of the first stanza. The final tercet is called the envoi and contains all of the end-words. Here is what the form looks like.

Stanza 1: ABCDEF
Stanza 2: FAEBDC
Stanza 3: FDABE
Stanza 4: ECBFAD
Stanza 5: DEACFB
Stanza 6: BDFECA
Envoi: BE / DC / FA

Each of us offered up two words to create a list of words to choose from. Those words were: face, down, mirror, ground, prism, prison, block, bend, wishes, beam, string, and blade.
I found the word pool hard to work with. The six words I chose were face, mirror, blade, down, prison, and wishes. After several false starts, I decided telling a story might help me make this form work. Here's what I came up with.

Madwoman in the Attic
She cannot see her own face
but remembers its reflection in the mirror
too dangerous, they say, shards too like a blade
he believes he can keep her down
locked inside this third floor prison
she won’t be honoring his wishes

She longs for freedom and she wishes
to confront him face-to-face
he’s the one deserving prison
yet he smiles at himself in the mirror
one day his world will tumble down
he’ll feel it as the sharpest blade

She’d like to wander in the grass, relish every blade
run to the well that’s made for wishes
toss a coin and follow it down
imagine the shock upon his face
her’s will be his mirror
guilt soon will be his prison

but the attic’s not her prison
it’s her mind that is the blade
she’s chopped up in the mirror
sharp edges, blurry lines, and wishes
all wrapped inside a fractured face
she’s keeping up appearances, but it will all come crashing down

Her nursemaid says, “Calm down.
Thornfield is not your prison.”
But the lie shows on her face
Grace has cut her like a blade
no one answers to her wishes
so untruth is what she’ll mirror

“Who’s the fairest, magic mirror?”
she asks while sitting down
she has nothing left but wishes
so she plots escape from prison
she stabbed one with a blade
burned another, marred his face

Amidst the flames she mirrors his pain while breaking from this prison.
She jumps and tumbles down, pain slicing deeper than a blade.
It’s insanity that wishes, one last look upon his face.

Poem ©Tricia Stohr-Hunt, 2018. All rights reserved.

I started a second poem, but after the third stanza I didn't know where to go with it. Instead of a story, I thought perhaps disconnected stanzas mights be easier to write. The six words I chose were ground, beam, face, down, string, and bend. Here's the rough draft I have so far. I hope to return to this one, perhaps as a tritina or some other form.

In the News (2018)
Young boys trapped underground
no light, no single beam
such fears they had to face
through water they dove down
the path to freedom marked by a string
they didn't break but had to bend

Staunch politicians will not bend
standing firm on 2nd amendment ground
we cannot pluck their heart strings
Undecideds walk the beam
"Can't let constituents down!"
but it's survivors (children) they must face

You can see acceptance on their faces
to Mother Nature they must bend
seems the world is falling down
cracking roads and shaking ground
lava burns houses to their beams
life holding to a string

Draft ©Tricia Stohr-Hunt, 2018. All rights reserved.

You can read the pieces written by my poetry sisters at the links below. Life has called some sisters away this month, but they'll be back.
I do hope you'll take some time to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected today by Mary Lee at A Year of Reading. Happy poetry Friday friends!


  1. Look at you, attempting two of these! I think your approach to the second will pay off...keep at it. And I like the first one, too---the story is clear, and yet--fractured through her perceptions, as it should be. I love how this line sums up her warped hope:
    "imagine the shock upon his face
    her’s will be his mirror."

  2. Your madwoman reminds me of another madwoman in (children's) literature--the one in THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON. She cut with paper, where yours cuts with shards of mirror, but the rage against her prison and the one who keeps her there is the same.

  3. Your work is amazing, and inspirational. I like your process of collaboration and starting with collected words. I also enjoyed how you worked with a story to create your sestinas. Thank you for sharing this!

  4. Telling the story, or stories, creates an urgency about them. Perhaps because of the repetition? These lines show such sadness: "It’s her mind that is the blade/she’s chopped up in the mirror" to me. I like your connections made in that second one, too, Tricia.

  5. Wow. "run to the well that’s made for wishes/ toss a coin and follow it down" Such a powerful image, Tricia. I haven't read Jane Eyre, but enjoyed your storytelling in your first one. And I like the approach of vignettes in the second, connected by theme, not narrative. Hope you keep with it!

  6. But the attic's not her prison
    It's her mind that is the blade...

    Far too true in any circumstance.
    These were so hard! And yet you came up with two!!! I agree with Sara, the Thai rescue story is a good, meaty topic and I'll wager you'll find it makes a good tritina.

  7. Wonderful take on Jane Eyre. Have you read the Wide Sargasso Sea? I very much enjoyed how you wove in the details, using the mirror as your anchor.

  8. I love the first one -- what a story powerfully told. I hope you continue working with the second one. Those first three stanzas are tantalizing.

  9. Ooooooh, I never really liked Jane Eyre, but I do love what you've done with it, giving voice to one of the arguably most fascinating and tragic characters.