Category Archives: Sestina Watch

MassPo Challenge Sestina by Kolleen Carney!


Back at our Massachusetts Poetry Festival reading, the six readers–Ravi Shankar, Michael Costello, Jade Sylvan, Peter Jay Shippy, Lewis Turco, and Victor D. Infante–each contributed an end-word for a “sestina challenge.” Could anyone write a sestina using the words radiate, code, tentacles, multiple, Salem, and word?

We waited. And then this gem from Kolleen Carney, who emailed it to us a couple weeks later.

“This was hard,” she wrote.

Well, we think it’s pretty genius. Her incredible sestina appears below.


All these years I’ve languished here in Salem
haven’t meant anything; I couldn’t find the words
for all the pain I’ve been feeling, there’s been no secret code
for all these hidden vices, addictions, multiple
diagnoses; I’ve juggled all of them at once, their tentacles
strangling me slowly, their hellish heat radiating.

And when I sleep now you tell me I radiate
heat like a furnace, hot dreams like Jerusalem’s
desert stretched out, sun beams like golden tentacles
burning the skin of my back. In the morning I have no words,
I can’t keep track of things, I check multiple
calendars, alarms, mark reminders on my arms like code.

If you examined my skin you could read, in code,
a map of my life, this sort of sequence that radiates
across my bruised body, a main line,  a train line with multiple
stops along the way: Boston, LA, ending in Salem,
and all these markings (since, what good are words?),
these razor wire scars around my thighs like tentacles

and lyrics to songs, and numbers. No octopus tentacles
or phoenixes or koi fish, each scale a color code,
their dead eyes unseeing and mouths gaping silent words,
all these marks in permanent ink radiating
my life story onto my body. Like the stone markers in Salem,
each a name, a hanging body, a chest caved in by boulders (multiple).

And how many times have I told you—multiple?—
that your love is creeping up my spine like tentacles
of some horrible thing, that the chill of Salem
has frozen all that was good in me? I tried to arrange the snow in code
but you couldn’t hold onto it, the heat radiated
from your palms, and you melted all my words.

So listen: All I have left are these words.
Burn me in a fire and you’ll see, you can arrange the multiple
letters that will fall from my skin, my mouth, burnt radiation
black—my soul. Reaching out, long tentacles
of smoke that stain your skin and spell out code.
Hang me from the highest branch in Salem

and I will join the multiple ghosts of Salem
and all my ever- words will be your code;
at night, my soul will radiate, my hair will choke your throat like tentacles.

Guess Which Prize-Winning, Established Poet Sent This Sestina to McSweeney’s, circa 2003!

Sestina to the Editors of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Vice Versa

Your lamentable policy of publishing no poems but sestinas
insults your readers even as it patronizes contemporary American poetry.
To avoid depicting McSweeney’ss as a snake-nest of crypto-fascists
and avert the use of foul or unflattering language
on my part, I have taken the unusual and perhaps sadly uncool
decision to donate to the editors of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

the remainder of this poem, to grant the editors of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
a chance to speak in their own defense. “Yo, what’s wrong with sestinas!
We think sestinas are totally, totally cool!
In Brooklyn and the Mission sestinas are easily the coolest form of poetry
out there today. Especially we love the way the language
cascades obsessively from stanza to stanza, a kind of crypto-Ashberian

waterfall of language, actually, or hey, crypto-formalists
can wing it too, we can handle that, the editors of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
dig that Elizabeth Bishop thing, dog. L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E
Poetry, now that’s another kettle of polliwogs— not that sestinas
could ever be considered as Language Poetry,
could they? Or, would that maybe be wildly inventive and cool?

Cool cool cool cool cool cool cool cool cool cool.
It might look like that on the page, kind of crypto-Dadaist,
but should it be punctuated? Is there some kind of Language Poetry
Manual of Style the editors of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
might employ to ensure these killer new language poetry sestinas
are abiding by the rules? Whatever. I mean, language

is not bound by laws, right, there is no legal language
language itself cannot delegitimize? Which is, like, beyond cool.
What really matters is form, that funky, prismatic, six-fold way sestinas
have of origamying into shape on the page, their crypto-Buddhist
vibe. We flat-out love form. The editors of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
have created a very hip magazine, even if it is virtual, and poetry

is part of that, and frankly you should be thankful we publish any poetry
because, mostly, the stuff sucks. Dude, what’s it all about, language?
Doh! Like, hello, what isn’t? The editors of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
know what’s cool— we are, basically, the arbiters of cool—
and we really don’t need a bunch of wonkified, cry-baby crypto-elitists
preaching to us about the perceived demerits or what-all of sestinas.”

The Editors of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency regret that your poetry
is not cool enough for them at this time. They felt the language
fell flat, unfortunately. Next time try a crypto-sestina.



Got a guess? Leave a comment below or email us at!

SestinaWatch Vol. 5: John Green, Rabbi, Hecht and Fairchild



Sestina spotted in John Green’s Paper Towns. Somebody write a sestina with these end-words already!

Did you hear the one about the rabbi who wrote a sestina after she gave birth? (Sorry, couldn’t resist the joke set-up. It’s a nice column.)

Anthony Hecht’s “Sidney and the Sestina.”

This image (NSFW) elicited giggles at Sestina Headquarters.

“I’ve written two sestina’s in my life,” poet B.H. Faichild tells a college newspaper. “The one I wrote in one day. I’ve been working on ‘The Left-Fielder’s Sestina’ on and off for almost six years.”

Jeffrey Barg sings Shane Allison’s sestina “Mother Worries” at last Wednesday’s The Incredible Sestina Anthology

Jeffrey Barg sings Shane Allison’s sestina “Mother Worries” from The Incredible Sestina Anthology (Write Bloody Publishing), as part of the book’s launch reading in Philadelphia on January 15, 2014, upstairs at Fergie’s Camera work and insufferable giggling by the anthology’s editor, Daniel Nester.

Jeffrey Barg’s bio is as follows: Jeffrey Barg is a writer, actor, musician and urban planner from Philadelphia. He composed the music and lyrics for Wars & Whores: The Henry IV Musical (now known as The Ballad of King Henry), a Shakespearean folk musical, in the 2011 Philly Fringe. He can be seen this spring in Private Lives at the Spotlight Theatre in Swarthmore.

SestinaWatch Vol. 4: Polar Vortex, or, Some Shivery Sestinas

The polar vortex (the coldest of cyclones) is something like a sestina– a sestina of pure coldness– you know with it’s spirally nature and the repetition of single-digit temperatures day after day. So, I hope you all got or bought copies of The Incredible Sestina Anthology to curl up with during this blistery winter even after this vortex has passed through. I have two copies, which is good because I may need to burn one copy for heat because the radiator still hasn’t turned on in my room. [Update: Whoops! Forgot to turn a knob on the radiator. Still cold though.]

The rest of you should keep your copy (or copies) intact, because there are a lot of incredible Incredible Sestina Readings coming up soon and you may want your book signed. We’ll be in Philly on Wednesday. In February, March and April, we’ll be in New Yawk, Cambridge, Chi-town and Worchestah. Of course, we’ll also be on site for AWP 2014 in Seattle. And by we, I mean Dan and the nearest (local) contributors.

In the meantime, I found some great sestinas from all over the internet. As well as something else. See what I mean after the jump.

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SestinaWatch Vol. 3: Halloween Edition: We’ve Got Vampires


The Incredible Sestina Anthology alongside two fellow upcoming Write Bloody Books. Cristin and Jade both have sestinas in the anthology!

Hey all! This is Alex Tunney, another member (and another Alex) of Team Sestina. Would that be the Ses-team-a? You may have seen one of my Behind the Sestina interviews already, and there a few more to come. Since I can see into the future (or at least in the shared Dropbox folder), I can see the planning going on behind the scenes for total sestina world domination. The Incredible Sestina Anthology will be coming to your town or least the nearest metropolitan area!

While I’m excited for the future of the anthology, I’m going to indulge myself and take you readers on brief trip down memory lane. A long time ago (2007, flip phones were still a thing), this sestina anthology was still in its infancy and I volunteered to help Nester out. I believe Dan and I called it a “job-ternship.” When I was a college student, it seemed so daunting emailing these people; these were capital ‘P’ poets. Over the years, I’ve been able to meet some of these great talents in person. You’ll see in the anthology and the Behind the Sestina interviews how the poets reference similar topics as well as citing other poets and sestinas as influences. It just goes to show you how connected we are in this crazy world.

I also remember suggesting Spiralling into Madness as a title. This was referencing both the spiral pattern that is associated with the sestina and also the obsessive nature of sestina– I mean, you are repeating the same 6 words (or 1 word in some cases) over and over again. There was also the fact I was an occasionally mopey teenager in college. I’m really glad my teenage angst was not immortalized via book. Besides, The Incredible Sestina Anthology has a lot more pizzaz, don’t you think?

Speaking of scary things (and teenage angst is scary, although, for different reasons depending on your age) and the upcoming Halloween holiday, this third SestinaWatch is full of monsters. We’ve got vampires! People like vampires, right? Or have we moved on to dystopias and mermaids? Anyways, sestina stuff under the cut! Continue reading

SestinaWatch Vol. 2: Japanese Restaurant Reviews, The Paris Review and Sestinas Worth Reblogging

Bound galleys, about to be sent to various very important persons.

Bound galleys, about to be sent to various very important persons.

Awesome things are happening with The Incredible Sestina Anthology here at Sestina HQ (galleys, tweeting, and emails… oh my!), but this blog isn’t just about the anthology. This blog is all about celebrating all things sestina. To celebrate our bound galleys, we decided it was time for another SestinaWatch.

We scoured the internet and turned up a whole bunch of really cool stuff for you to look at. We want to make this blog the go to source for all things sestina and for that, we’re going to need your input. Please, send comment below with sestinas or sestina news that we need to share. The goal is sestina world domination, remember? We’re going to need your help for that!

This second SestinaWatch is just as chock full of sestina goodness as our first. We’ve got everything from restaurant reviews to The Paris Review and a little shameless self-promotion thrown in for good measure. Continue reading

SestinaWatch Vol. 1: Algebra, Tumblr, Heresies, and Judith Barrington

Sestina HQ (also known as Daniel Nester's Office)

Sestina HQ (also known as Daniel Nester’s Office)Hi Sestina-istas! Alex the Intern here, bringing you the latest happenings in the world of sestinas.

Greetings, Sestina-istas! Alex the Intern here, bringing you the latest happenings in the world of sestinas.

Here at Sestina HQ, we  are obsessed with all things sestina. In addition to bringing you behind-the-scenes access to The Incredible Sestina Anthology, we feel it is our job to make your sestina-senses tingle. We promise to scour the web and bring you all things sestina. I’m talking sestinas about everything and anything. Sestina lovers will be united and we will all be one step closer to sestina world domination.

Whether you’re a newbie to the world of sestina or a seasoned sestina veteran, we’re happy to have you in our Incredible Sestinas universe. We’re always looking for new material and suggestions. If you’re a published poet, an aspiring blogger, or simply just a sestina-phile, we’d love your suggestions. Comment below with a blog, a poem, or a video that you think should be featured on the Incredible Sestinas website, or email us at incrediblesestinas[at] And please give us a follow so you can stay up-to-date on our sestina-licious world!

In this first SestinaWatch after the jump: we have a book for lovers of algebra and of sestinas, original poetry, a revolutionary idea going down in Georgia, and much more!

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