Behind the Sestina: Aaron Belz on “Pam”

Aaron Belz lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and teaches at Durham Technical Community College. He has published two books of poetry: The Bird Hoverer (BlazeVOX, 2007) and Lovely Raspberry (Persea, 2010). A third forthcoming, Glitter Bomb (Persea, 2014).

We go Behind the Sestina with Belz and talk about “Pam,” featured in The Incredible Sestina Anthology.

When did you first discover the sestina?
I discovered the sestina as a form when I was a senior at Stony Brook School. My English teacher, Mr. Church, forced us to write sestinas. Mine have always been terrible, because I’m proud and refuse to capitulate to the demand of form. Who does form think it is? I’m me. I’m bigger than that. Form can talk to the hand.

Have you written sestinas before this one or since?
I have, yes, but always as a factor of being pressured by other people. Sestinas are like horrible cages that keep me from truly being myself! Something masochistic about wanting to throw oneself, or one’s imagination, upon their spikes. Repeat, repeat, repeat. All “music,” no room for economy. Isn’t that a sad paradox? It’s one in which I refuse to revel. As Shakespeare’s Polonius says, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Can you describe writing this sestina? 
I wrote this sestina because I was angry. Like an emotionally abused husband, I let the form do all the work and acted like I was interested. But my heart was somewhere else. I let the story emerge from the form. Like, I’d see the next signpost and just turn my car accordingly—no effort to “master” it.

A parenting website lists sorbitol as an ingredient in toothpaste that acts as a laxative when taken in high enough doses.  Were you aware of this bit of knowledge while you were writing this poem?
I was not, but it seems like an appropriate thing to mention. But, come to think of it, isn’t any fluid or paste a laxative when taken in high enough doses?

The first sestinas were always dedicated to someone—who would you dedicate your sestina to?
Sadly I know no one named Pam. Let’s see. I’d dedicate this to someone who’d made me waste my time repeating myself over and over while struggling to make sense. How about Richard “Dick” Vernon, the assistant principal of Shermer High School? That’s a Breakfast Club reference. Dick can have “Pam.”

–Interview conducted by Jessica Furiani


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