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Writing Sestinas (How To)

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Ses- what now?

To take in a cliche, the oxford dictionary describes a Sestina as "a poem with six stanzas of six lines and a final triplet, all stanzas having the same six words at the line-ends in six different sequences that follow a fixed pattern, and with all six words appearing in the closing three-line envoi."

This is... a lot of words, and if you're a visual learner, it might even feel impossible to understand.

The format

Sestina is a certain way to format last words of a line in a poem. Below, I've laid the format out with numbers representing the last line of a line.

1 2 3 4 5 6 6 1 5 2 4 3 3 6 4 1 2 5 5 3 2 6 1 4 4 5 1 3 6 2 2 4 6 5 3 1 2 5 4 3 6 1

But what about the rest of the words?

The rest of the lines aren't repeated, just the last word. These can be written in any type of cadence, or can be without any rhythm at all. It all depends on how you feel about it.


Here's an example of a sestina...

How horrible is to feel the need to hold
harsh and suffocating, it mocks you, like letters pressed in bold
and you can fly it around your finger like a flag but ultimately you'll fold
as marvelous as you feel, it'll eventually seap into you like mold
And you can deny it all you drill but what you hold is made to be told
rarely are you anything other than dice, prepped and prepared to be rolled
and to be held like that, to be rolled
is almost worst than being the one with the hold
like the wind bouncing off the cold winter sun fortold
every thing you see is now pinned on the board, almost too, hilariously, bold
on the nose, right as you look forward, like mold
you can fight yourself, force yourself to never fold.
but you'll fold
you're the source, you've been rolled
like a cigarette you never smoked, sat out in the way growing mold
all for that stupid fat chance of being on hold
like a popular book, but not as clever or rancid, or bold
maybe if you were lucky you'd worry about dropping her over being told
that this is all some rubber ducky-esque game, floating to be told
to a million other people in a story at a party to make others fold
and tell us the tales of their own bold
stories that are of course rolled
In order to let them keep, by force, that hold
like a social mold
but maybe it's not a bad mold
if you're the one being listened to, as you told
your very own story about how you hold
onto others, push them to fold
What's the problem? With how much you've rolled
I think you have a right to be bold
it's a word, one over used, infecting speech like a particularly nasty mold
one that makes you sit up, wonder what leech of a god would've let it exist on this earth, what it would've had to rolled
in order for a life like it to exist in this world. Remember what you told
a million others that made them fold
under the weight of what you hold
that world, bold, was never more told
than when you use it to mold the people you make fold
and who you have rolled into a ball for you to hold

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When writing a sestina you must be willing and able to handle the repetition, otherwise it can come off as boring or annoying to your audience. Rather than the repetition being something that is simply there, you should play around with it to stretch it to its fullest extent. Wordplay, rhyme, and rhythm can help liven up the format when in doubt.

Most of all, have fun, and keep writing!

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