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November 12, 2007


What do I notice about the form of this mapping (Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop)? Well I'll admit, before writing this post I read the Cheat, but I did read the poem before I looked at the cheat, and what I noted down is that many of the words repeated. But I did not make the connection that they words that were repeating where the words that ended the sentences. Looking back on the poem, it makes perfect sense why I felt there was some sort of repeating tone (who couldn't pick this out? I hope it wasn't only me) throughout.

So is this good . . . bad?

At the same time, I both a major advantage and a major disadvantage (from my point of view) to writing a poem in this form. The major advantage being that the poem is focus around one thing, the story that can be told by your same selection of words, they resonate throughout the poem, but can be used in differing ways throughout, depending on your level of creativity. The major disadvantage is directly tired to this: the poem is based around that set of words that you chose. For someone like myself, for which writing poetry can be quite a challenge, any limits or rules for the form in which the poem can appear makes the task increasingly more difficult.

This mapping provides a repetitive platform for a story to be built around a few words. By specifically structuring the way that the words must fit into the poem, a map is created of whatever your desired topic is.


The one major difference for myself between the two poems is that the Fish using many different words to describe one thing, the fish. Whereas Sestina is using the rest of the words in the poem to describe those words that were chosen to repeat throughout. I feel that the mapping (form) of the Fish is a lot more free, and is able to fall together in a larger number of ways than the Sestina. The Sestina though, has the backbone of the poem that is set up before the rest of the poem has come together, providing direction for which the form will take. Both showcase a different way of mapping, using distinct styles.

Posted by ndjames at November 12, 2007 05:02 PM


I agree with you that "focus" is a major advantage of the form, and the creativity that the focus supports, the bounded infinities of creativity.

Certainly a form that does not have to depend upon (an ineffable) inspiration; any six words could be selected, and then connective tissue supplied so as to reveal (or force) a logic of the focus.

The sestina form provides conspicuous rules or limits, but it is likely that all making (given that makers are themselves limited in various ways on various scales simultaneously) is limited, some limits not necessarily perceptible but nevertheless active.

You seem correct in noticing how the sestina form seems to impose more (obvious) limits on options for reconfiguration since lines must end with the specified 6 words in a specified order --it would be interesting (useful --illuminating-- too, the usefulness indicated in the articulated rationale) to explore how to devlop alternate sestina configurations that don't disrupt the end-of-line word requirement.

Posted by: thyliasm at November 26, 2007 03:22 PM

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