Day 14: Sestina

Yesterday we did an exercise where you write fourteen lines, each line is a question. So a question sonnet, we then shared our questions and tried to come up with answers. For example:

When did the stars decide to start shining?

Answer: Last Tuesday.

And such like.

I’ve stolen one of Michael Wilson’s questions to come up with a poem as an answer, and I’ve used a sestina form. I’ve never been able to do a sestina when I’ve tried before, so I just decided to write as much nonsense as possible. I choose six words to start which I randomly picked from American Gods by Neil Gaiman, the words are:

one; spider; afraid; line; kidney; saints

So here are six stanzas which end in alternating order with the same six words, and then an ending tercet which includes all six words. If you want to see a proper sestina, here is Seamus Heaney’s

And here is my nonsense sestina:

Which was the first reflection, sky or sea?

 The sky has been haunting the sea since day one

Planting itself on a cloud and taking photos, casting a line

Into the depths like a fisherman always praying to saints

The patron St Andrew, kept on fishing for fish like small kidneys

Playing in the reflection fanciful as flies belonging to the sea’s spider

If only there were an answer but there’s not, I’m afraid.

I’ve met mermaids who know what being afraid

truly means, their hair all salt covered and especially one

who’s gone far enough to think she can fly like a spider

creating a web spun of wings that balances on the line

of the sky’s tightrope, clouds drenched as a diabetic’s kidneys

are in failure, their water medicine as holy as saints

falling down into the position of church statues of saints

all nailed to the wall and fixed with expressions suggesting they are afraid

their heads about the size of a fist, the size of a kidney

plunging their stony bodies into the sea or the sky, either one

will do for absolution, which brings us back to the first line

which was the first reflection? Only tell if you are wise as a spider

Seaweed thick as cobwebs spun by a Titan’s giant crab spider

It clicks and mutters like a grandmother sorting out her saints

into the right order, she dust a shelf and sets them in a line

their china sparkly and the milkmaids the next row down, slightly afraid

of the saint’s judgement on their flounces, I thought he was the one

 They whisper together, pregnant as a body with too many kidneys.

The water filters rubbish seacomers pour into it, like one large kidney

waste disperses across the sea without a centre where a spider

might sit chewing up the cans and crisps, just the one

vast expanse all filthy and oil driven I think the saints

are all turning in their graves, my neck is cold as if I’m afraid

I think that means the dead are speaking about me, reading their lines

like playactors with different techniques to memorise their character’s lines

the sky is at fault, it is always forgetting to mirror exactely what happens, a kidney

 that’s been dissected and is transulent beneath a microscobe, scientists are afraid

of looking too close into what they might find, so turn the million eyes of the spider

towards the sky, and think that’s where God dwells and all his saints

so why be worried about the fact we’ve ony got a sky and sea, two yet one

 I draw the line under being afraid of the answer

There isn’t just the one, like kidneys there might be two,

or the amount of legs on a spider, or the number of saints owned by the grandmother.


The Stirred quad is formed of Rebecca Audra Smith, Anna Percy, Jasmine Chatfield and Lenni Sanders.

Posted in NAPOWRIMO Becca, Poetry Scrawls, Sara's Photos
2 comments on “Day 14: Sestina
  1. Cathy Bryant says:

    I love this – so much rich imagery, especially the grandmother sorting her saints :)
    I keep writing sestinas – I just struggle to write a *good* one. Well done.
    Wish I could get to Stirred, but Mondays are really difficult – I keep telling people how great it is, though. Best wishes.

  2. Trio says:

    Aw thanks Cathy, I think it is similar to the swimmer poem I wrote a while back. I have tried sestinas before but found it really hard, so this is the first messy attempt. I’m sure yours are more fluent! Stirred is going well, we have a Chorlton Arts Festival one on the 21st May (a Saturday) which is an extra special one, if you can make that that’d be great! x

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The Stirred team at Reclaim the Night Manchester 2015
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