“From the rust within their throats”

We’ve started poetry in Writing Class. Poetry is my jam, man. It’s my jam. This week, we’re to write a poem every day. They’re all to be different types of poem, like haiku and sonnet and vers libre. In particular we have to include a sestina, which was a new one on me. Happily, we were instructed on its intricacies in class.

I mean, if you just gave me this image…

By Phil wink - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19446455
By Phil winkOwn work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19446455

…I wouldn’t have the faintest fucking clue what I was doing. In practice I’m rather flailing around, putting one line in metre and one not, piecing things together as I go. My impression is that I will need to start repeating myself soon if I don’t mix things up. But there’s something pleasing about poetry like that, about balancing a line, about slotting words into place. It’s a similar satisfaction to a nicely balanced quadratic equation. (I always did enjoy algebra.) Sonnets are like that. You lay the words out until they make a tapestry.

I have iambs in my soul, I think. Or trochees. I fall into them. Metre and rhythm. They’re built into the universe like heartbeats. If you sit very still, sometimes you hear them: little moments of silence, chopping things into pieces. I used to do that as a child: stare out a window at night, until time slowed and people slipped into rhythms amongst beats of silence. I can’t manage it the same way any more.

Anyway. Sestinas.

The trouble is picking a line-ending you can use over and over. You’re supposed to move towards something – that is, you have six stanzas of six lines, so you are saying enough that a kind of story can develop. So you have to pick your words with care, in case you run into trouble in stanza five and need to start over or cheat.

I’m a bit grumpy, sometimes, that poetry isn’t so popular. I’m partly to blame for not being particularly interested in many modern poets, I freely admit. I love my metre so much, though, and much poetry that rises to the top now is spoken word or performance stuff. It has its place but I like to be wooed by a good poem. I like to get caught up in it, and metre makes that so much easier. Look at Poe’s “The Bells”:

Screenshot 2016-04-02 21.07.16

How fantastic is that shit? “Keeping time, time, time, in a sort of Runic rhyme”. And the word “tintinnabulation” is spectacular. “The Bells” is one of those poems that sweeps you up and carries you along with it. You’re fine with that at first, when all in the garden is sunny. Then panic descends with the “alarum bells”, tossing you into the air with the occasional line that has a pause where you didn’t expect one. You end up somewhere dark and gloomy, driven on and ever onwards in a way that becomes almost exhausting. One of my favourite Poe pieces. Great fun to read out loud.

So, metre in my sestina? I think I’ll leave it as it is, with the metre creeping in and dying back, at least until I’ve wrestled all six stanzas into submission. After that, we’ll see. It wouldn’t do to start off with two stanzas of iambs only to drop the idea entirely halfway through stanza three.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *