Tag Archives: art

Behind the Sestina: Jade Sylvan on “Facebook Sestina”

Jade Sylvan has been published in PANK, Bayou, Basalt, BuzzFeed, The Sun, Word Riot, and others. Jade was the winner of the 2011 Bayou Editor’s Poetry Prize and was a finalist in the 2012 Basalt Bunchgrass Poetry Prize. Jade has published a book of poetry, The Spark Singer (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2009), and a nonfiction novel, Kissing Oscar Wilde (Write Bloody Press, 2013). Jade has collaborated with some of the most groundbreaking artists in the Boston arts community in the role of creator, writer, and/or performer, in such wide-ranging genres as film (including co-writing and starring in the feature film, TEN), indie folk music, hip-hop, improv/sketch comedy, vaudeville, drag, visual art, playing anime theme songs on a harmonium, legitimate theatre, and rock & roll. Jade is originally from the Midwest, but now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts among a rotating cast of geniuses, fairies, magicians, and kings.

We went Behind the Sestina to talk to Sylvan about her “Facebook Sestina,” featured in The Incredible Sestina Anthology.

We’re curious about your sestina-writing life. You’ve written quite a number of them– what keeps you coming back (or are you “sestina retired,” as one poet once said)
Repetition, meter, and form in poetry has always been soothing to me. I specifically love the way re-contextualizing the same words can completely change their meaning, and how sometimes that changed meaning can make you go back and look at the word as it appears earlier in the poem differently.

Even in my free verse and prose, I tend to repeat words, images and themes throughout in different contexts. Once a writer friend described one of my prose poems as an “exploded sestina.”I liked that. I write a lot of exploded sestinas.

Can you walk us through the composition of “Facebook Sestina”? Is it inspired by real life events, place, narrative? I like the idea of a campfire as a metaphor for the popular social networking site? Am I barking up the right tree there?
I was at a human evolution exhibit in the Natural History Museum in DC a couple years ago, and they had one of those “Evolution of Humans” timelines. You know the type: long line with little illustrations of Cro-Magnons with evolutionary turning-points marked at things like “Developing Language” and “Burying the Dead.” This one had marked “Gathering at the Hearth,” as one of these turning-points. I’ve always been interested in evolution, and I’ve seen a ton of these timelines, but I’d never seen “Gathering at the Hearth” listed alongside “Fashioning Tools” as a major event in human evolution. I realized that this was the earliest form of networking, and that the reason the scientists suddenly considered networking to be an intrinsic part of being human was probably things like Facebook. The sestina form fit perfectly. I decided to use half Facebook words (“like,” “friends,” “share”) and half half-Facebook words (“light,” “alone,” “build”) as the repeated words. Then it was just a puzzle.

Finally, the first sestinas were always dedicated to someone—to whom would your sestina be dedicated?
Since I refuse to dedicate anything to Mark Zuckerberg, I guess I’ll dedicate this to the Borg Queen. Resistence is futile.

Behind the Sestina: Chris Stroffolino on “In Memory of My Rock Band: Sestina”

Chris Stroffolino has published seven books of poetry, including Stealer’s Wheel (Hard Press, 1999) and Light as a Fetter (The Argotist UK, 2007). His critical study (with David Rosenthal) of Shakespeare’s Twelth Night (IDG books) was published in 2001; more recent writing on contemporary media studies and ethnomusicology have appeared online at Radio Survivor and The Newark Review. A recipient of grants from NYFA and The Fund For Poetry, Stroffolino was Distinguished Poet-in-Residence at Saint Mary’s College from 2001-06, and has since taught at SFAI and Laney College. As a session musician, Stroffolino worked with Silver Jews, King Khan & Gris Gris, and many others. He organized a tribute to Anne Sexton’s rock band for The Poetry 322
Society of America, and joined Greg Ashley to perform the entire Death Of A Ladies’ Man album for Sylvie Simmons’s Leonard Cohen biography in 2012. His most recent musical project (a collaboration with filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig) is pianovan.com.

We went Behind the Sestina with Stroffolino to discuss his sestina, “In Memory of My Rock Band: Sestina,” featured in The Incredible Sestina Anthology.

When did you first discover the sestina? Do you remember the first sestina you ever read? Could you tell us about that?
I think I knew some Auden ones, but got turned onto the form through John Yau. I think there was at least one his book Corpse & Mirror, but I forget its name, and lost all my books, and he also turned me onto Ashbery’s use of the form, which I’ve also loved, especially the “double sestina” in Flow Chart.

What’s your favorite sestina?
I have different favorite sestinas at different times, many by less famous writers. I know there was at least one Anne Waldman one that really impressed me.

We’re curious about your sestina-writing life. You’ve written quite a number of them, or at least three– what keeps you coming back (or are you “sestina retired,” as one poet once said)?
I love the way it allows writers to be more conversational; it’s one of the few traditional forms that can unlock, rather than block, content—at times even too much! It can also allow for really lazy writing! I had dabbled with the form, but never felt any were worthy of publication.

In 2004/05, however, after suffering a life changing accident, and being bedridden and not able to walk, I began focusing most of my writing energies on a prose memoir. At the time, I was very much “in demand” as a poet, much more than a prose writer, and publishers wanted poems. That’s when I wrote most of the ones you saw. In retrospect, one could say publishing, and even writing the poems, was a transitional phase, between “poetry” and “prose.” I wouldn’t call myself “sestina retired,” because I may return to that form in the future. And I hope to write more Septinas as well; an accidental form I discovered while working on sestinas.

Can you walk us through the composition or inspiration of of “In Memory Of My Rock Band”? Is it inspired by real-life events or band?
Starting with a “formal problem” and taking relatively randomly chosen words that balance more “general” or “universal” words (friends, rest, and waiting) with more specific words (rehearsal, guitarist and band) seemed like a good recipe for creation of sestina, especially since the word “rest” is commonly used in at least two different ways. I had no idea when I began it what I was going to say, but I knew it that would focus on the social relationships of bands; how many bands, whether good or not, whether famous or not, become dysfunctional families.

Once the form is established in a sestina, the task is to see if those “ending words” (Is there a technical word; I forget?) can actually create some kind of narrative. If it manages to “say something” that can reach the prose intelligence (for instance, McSweeney’s), I always considered that “gravy.” The piece definitely has many of the multiple-lined (Ashberian or Proustian) sentences that were one of my “poetic trademarks” (or habits) at the time—the kind of sentences I liked to read very fast at performances, to break up the tempo and give my poetry readings a musical feel, but a relatively clear narrative ends up emerging, and the persona of lyrical complaint. And out of that narrative and persona came the title, which is both a literary reference and more confessional and autobiographical than I could admit to myself during the time of writing it. Some “rock critic” talk emerges alongside the confession (Replacements, Beatles), but I was just primarily happy that I sustained the form, with some humor and “music,” regardless of what I saying! I remember performing it with a “noise band” backing me up while opening for Damon & Naomi in SF. I wish I had a recording of that.

Obviously, working on a very self-pitying memoir at the time informed the sensibility, but I know other musicians in other bands who have seen enough of their reflections in, especially the “men’s room” that so many bands become, alas. On the ethical level of content, I’m most happy that this sestina at least points towards some of the things I did later (I did find that studio work with Greg Ashley, and I did get to work with better rhythm sections with a more groove based band, for instance).

Finally, the first sestinas were always dedicated to someone—to whom would your sestina be dedicated?
In retrospect, I’d dedicate it to bassists Caitlin-Oliver Gans, and later Rachel Thoele, two of the best bassists I’ve worked with who taught me about how to achieve the kind of band that is much more enjoyable to be a part of (and, frankly, better sounding and more grooving), or I’d dedicate it to Greg Ashley, who I didn’t know at the time, but in whose “cheap analogue studio” I had the pleasure and privilege of working as a session musician for over 6 years. I would also dedicate it to Miriam Jacobson. “With her, rehearsals are not waiting rooms.”

ICYMI: largehearted boy Publishes The Incredible Sestina Anthology Book Notes, Playlist

In a lot of ways, The Incredible Sestina Anthology is just one giant mix tape of sestina-awesomeness. What better way to showcase this than our very own Book Notes?

Daniel Nester’s TISA playlist includes everything from opera to the Lone Ranger theme song. For the full list, published this past Friday, click here.

lhb

Behind the Sestina: Casey Camp on “A Poem on the Severe Awesomeness of John Zorn”

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Casey Camp is an artist, writer, and all-around fine gentleman. He loves to work at the intersection of poetry and visual art, typically within the bounds of sequential narrative art. Some people would just call this “comics.” When not crafting art, he can typically be found getting his fix in any matter of competition that he can find nearby. No contest is too big or too small. He lives near Atlanta, Georgia with his wonderful wife, Emily, and daughter, Lennon.

We went Behind the Sestina with Camp to talk about his poem, “A Poem on the Severe Awesomeness of John Zorn,” featured in The Incredible Sestina Anthology.

When did you first discover the sestina?
I first discovered it while doing some research.  I was working on translating some longer-form poems to comic form and I wanted to do something where I wrote the poem instead of finding one.  I wanted it to be interesting on a structural level to see how it translated to sequential panels.  After looking around online I found sestinas and that was that.  It was too interesting of a format to say no to.

Have you written sestinas before this one or since?
I wrote a few before this one just to get a feel for how it works. They weren’t anything great, but I made plenty of mistakes and eventually figured some things out.  Since then I’ve done some bigger comic sestinas that were set into an installation-type art piece.  They were kind of meta-sestinas, if there is such a thing.  Bigger pieces with shelves that held sestinas on them which, overall, created a larger pseudo-sestina.  Once I get into a form, it’s hard to let go.  They started showing up almost inadvertently in my art, even things that weren’t supposed to be poems.

“A Poem on the Severe Awesomeness of John Zorn” is a comics sestina. Can you tell us a bit about putting this graphic poem together? 
Usually, these sort of things would start out with the poem first, or even me coming up with a few lines of a poem, then going from there.  This one, however, happened to start with a doodle before anything else.  I had been playing around with putting a graphic poem together using visual cues as the last word of the lines (meaning it would have no words) and wanted to use a little figure.  Well, after a little drawing this figure wound up with a clarinet.  The words just kind of naturally came out after I’d figured out the big picture.

Putting it together was different just because on some pages I’d have an idea for a few panels, but the wording structure is so specific that on a very local level while working on a page the words are already set, so sometimes the challenge was to arrange the panels in a way that progressed the story how it was moving while still maintaining the flow and structure of the poem.  It sounds like a challenge, but it’s the most fun kind you can imagine.

Can you describe writing this sestina? Did the subject matter of the sestina have an impact on the form used, or did the form have an impact on what you were writing about?
Like I’d said earlier, I was really enamored with the form.  It has a lot of repetition, so I feel like once you have a general idea the next logical place to go would be to figure out what words you will be repeating since they’re such an important part of the piece.  In this case you can definitely say that the form impacted what I was going to do – I specifically wanted to write a sestina and specifically one about John Zorn.

casey camp

In terms of the specifics of writing this I was already listening to Naked City, one of Zorn’s bands.  For the entire duration of it’s creation I listened to different Zorn albums (specifically his solo work Chimeras, Cobra by Cobra, and several different Masada albums) and I’m not entirely sure what kind of influence they had on the final piece  In terms of creation, after the initial idea, the poem was written with the words and art being made one page at a time.  Basically I would do the words and a sketch for each panel, then finish the page before moving to the next.  I’d be willing to bet that as the piece progresses I was listening to heavier and noisier music of his which is what gives his figure this transformation from a timid kind of fellow to some sort of evil world conqueror.

Where did you first hear of Zorn? Why do you think he’s awesome?
I had a space in an art studio and there was a communal CD player that everyone just had stacks of CDs sitting next to.  A friend of mine at the studio brought in the Naked City album and got me to listen to it, saying it was some crazy experimental super group and it had the Batman theme song.  I had listened to Bill Frisell a good bit during college, so that’s how he convinced me to give it a whirl.

It blew my mind.

From then on I was hooked and started checking out a lot of the different people in the band to see what kind of music they made.  Once I started the John Zorn rabbit hole, nothing was ever the same.

The first sestinas were always dedicated to someone—who would you dedicate your sestina to? Would it be Zorn?
I feel like it would be in bad taste to dedicate it to anyone else!  I do not know Mr. Zorn, but I guess it’s okay to dedicate a poem to someone you’ve never met.  Especially when it’s someone so … awesome?!  I mean, those people bowing down at him in the end … that’s not exaggeration.  I just want to be on his good side so that when he takes over the world maybe I can be like 123rd in command or something.

–Interview conducted by Jessica Furiani

Behind the Sestina: Scott Edward Anderson on “Second Skin”

Scott Edward Anderson‘s his first, full-length collection of poems, Fallow Field, published this Fall by Aldrich Press. If you’re in New York City, catch his reading tonight at Poet’s House.

Scott has been a Concordia Fellow at the Millay Colony for the Arts, and received both the Nebraska Review Award and the Aldrich Emerging Poets Award. His work has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Anon, Blueline, The Cortland Review, Cross Connect, Earth’s Daughters, Isotope, La Petite Zine, Many Mountains Moving, Nebraska Review, Poetica, River Oak Review, Slant and Terrain. He was a founding editor of Ducky Magazine and writes at TheGreenSkeptic.com and seapoetry.wordpress.com.

We went Behind the Sestina with Anderson to discuss his sestina, “Second Skin,” featured in The Incredible Sestina Anthology.

When did you first discover the sestina?
Probably the first sestina I was aware of–although I didn’t know what a sestina was then–was Rudyard Kipling’s “Sestina of the Tramp-Royal,” which I remember my Aunt Gladys reciting when I was a kid. It opens,

Speakin’ in general, I ’ave tried ’em all—
The ’appy roads that take you o’er the world.
Speakin’ in general, I ’ave found them good
For such as cannot use one bed too long,
But must get ’ence, the same as I ’ave done,
An’ go observin’ matters till they die.

And then, much later, I discovered Ezra Pound’s “Sestina: Altaforte,” in the little New Directions Selected Poems I still own. I was struck by its amazing opening lines:”Damn it all! all this our South stinks peace./ You whoreson dog, Papiols, come! Let’s to music!/ I have no life save when the swords clash.” How could anyone write like that and not go mad?

Have you written other sestinas, either before this one or since?
No, this was my first and, thus far, my last.

Can you describe writing “Second Skin”? I have this idea that the sense of the poem, like the snake’s skin, slides in, then out of itself, that memory, or at least the kind of memory here, needs to live inside of another skin to come into being. That memory is like a snake’s shed skin. Or am I totally wrong?
Fascinating. Actually, it happened just as I describe it in the poem. I was cutting the lawn by my garden using one of those old rotary push mowers. It was hot and I was half day-dreaming in the heat and ran over the skin. I knew the snake, had seen him before, knew his habits a bit too. He kept rodents out of the garden pretty well. I saw him interacting with the old skin and tried to imagine what was going through his mind, if snakes have minds…Anyway, the end words came pretty easily as I was thinking about him and the idea of memories like old, shod skin we leave behind as we move through our lives.


You’re also an avid hiker and wrote a book of natural history of New York State. I’m wondering if these other hats you wear informed this sestina.
Definitely. At the time I was working for The Nature Conservancy, which I did for 15 years. My work helped encourage a deep engagement with nature at home and abroad. It also helped me pay attention to my surroundings in a way that allowed me to see the snake in the first place.

The first sestinas were always dedicated to someone—who would you dedicate your sestina to?
The snake, of course, he was a great inspiration, may he rest in peace.

–interview conducted by Jessica Furiani

The Joy of Six: Albany Times Union’s Sweet Article on Incredible Sestina Anthology

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In case you missed this awesomeness, Albany Times Union‘s Elizabeth Floyd Mair interviewed TISA editor Daniel Nester for a piece that ran in this past Sunday’s paper. Check the sweet title, The Joy of Six! Plus the first two stanzas of Laura Cronk’s “Sestina for a Sister in the sidebar.

The article is available online for your reading pleasure. The jump includes the sestina end-word scheme, pictured below.

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Behind the Sestina: Paula Bohince on “Allegory of the Leopard”

Paula Bohince is the author of two poetry collections, both from Sarabande: The Children (2012) and Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods (2008).

We go Behind the Sestina to talk to Bohince about her sestina “Allegory of the Leopard” included in The Incredible Sestina Anthology.

When did you first discover the sestina?
I read Elizabeth Bishop’s wonderful “Sestina” in college, and that was my introduction to the form.

Have you written sestinas before this one or since?
I have not.

Can you describe writing this sestina? 
I began this poem knowing that I wanted it to be a sestina, and I believe that I wrote the first stanza organically to see what end words would naturally arise. Those resulting words seemed “open” enough to allow the poem to move as athletically as sestinas must. Moving stanza to stanza was definitely a struggle, but a thrilling, pleasurable struggle. What I loved about writing this poem was that the pressure of the form forced me to wrestle with this subject for longer than I would have without the pattern, and I think that’s a useful lesson for writing any poem.


Leopards were companions to shamans in both western and eastern hemispheres, and are thought to be wise creatures. Is this why the animal spoke to you? Or perhaps to your primal instinct?
Because this poem has so much landscape imagery and abstractions (like spring, music, rebirth), I wanted a concrete creature—strange, fearsome, gorgeous—to stalk the stanzas. I like the leopard because it can both stand out and be camouflaged, in life and in a poem.

The first sestinas were always dedicated to someone—who would you dedicate your sestina to?
I’d dedicate it to Patrick Mullen.

–Interview conducted by Jessica Furiani

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

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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