Tag Archives: Chicago

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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Incredible Sestina Anthology goes on the road!

pointing finger

If you’ve been checking out the events page here, you might know this already, but we’ve added some tour dates for early next year! Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Seattle: you are in luck. Sestina luck!

Details below. Stay tuned here for launch readings and other incredible events!

Sunday, November 17, 2013
O.P.P.: Other People’s Poetry
featuring Daniel Nester reading from The Incredible Sestina Anthology
Social Justice Center
33 Central Ave
Albany, NY 12202
Sponsored by The Social Justice Center
Facebook event page

Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Drexel/Painted Bride Quarterly
Philadelphia, PA

Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Upstairs at Fergie’s Pub
Ernest Hilbert and others read from The Incredible Sestina Anthology!
Philadelphia, PA

Saturday, February 1, 2014
New York Launch Reading of The Incredible Sestina Anthology
With David Lehman, Sharon Mesmer, Sparrow, Victor D. Infante, Patricia Carlin, Jason Schneiderman
Poets House
Ten River Terrace (at Murray Street)
New York, NY 10282
Subway: 1, 2, 3, A or C lines to Chambers Street Station
Detailed directions here

Tuesday, Feburary 4, 2014
Poetry Forum at The New School
with David Lehman

Wednesday, February 19, 2014
NYU Bookstore
Scott Edward Anderson, Patricia Carlin, Victor D. Infante, Jason Schneiderman
726 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Friday, February 21, 2014
Chicago launch of The Incredible Sestina Anthology
Quraysh Ali Lansana, Marty McConnell, Leonard Kress, Kent Johnson, Jenny Boully, Elizabeth Hildreth
The Book Cellar
4736 N Lincoln Ave #1
Chicago, IL 60625

Thursday, February 27, 2014
Seattle/AWP launch party for The Incredible Sestina Anthology
With Patricia Smith, Paul Hoover, Geoff Bouvier, Ravi Shankar, John Hoppenthaler, Sarah Green, Beth Gylys, Sharon Dolin, Nate Marshall, Tomás Q. Morín, Richard Peabody, Sonya Huber, Aaron Belz, Jade Sylvan, Kiki Petrosino, James Harms, Jeffrey Morgan, John Hoppenthaler, Jason Schneiderman, Sandra Beasley
5241 University Way NE [map]
Seattle, WA 98105

Behind the Sestina: Marty McConnell’s “one possible explanation of my utter and rather surprising lack of an adolescent tomboy phase”

Marty McConnell at the IPPY Awards.

Marty McConnell at the IPPY Awards.

Marty McConnell personifies stage meeting the page, part of a generation of poets equally at home performing and publishing their work. A member of seven National Poetry Slam teams representing New York City and Chicago, McConnell was also the 2012 National Underground Poetry Individual Competition (NUPIC) Champion. She is the author of wine for a shotgun, a finalist for both the Audre Lorde Award (Publishing Triangle) and the Lambda Literary Award for lesbian poetry.

McConnell’s work has been published in numerous anthologies, including A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry, City of the Big Shoulders: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry, Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Movement, as well as such journals as Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, Salt Hill Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Drunken Boat, and Rattle. McConnell has lived in Chicago since 2009, where she co-founded Vox Ferus, an organization dedicated to empowering and energizing individuals and communities through the written and spoken word.

We spoke to Marty to take us Behind the Sestina, “one possible explanation of my utter and rather surprising lack of an adolescent tomboy phase,” included in The Incredible Sestina Anthology.

When did you first discover the sestina? 
When I was in grad school, we did a segment in Joan Larkin’s workshop on form poems, and I did a few of them–to my recollection, a sonnet, a pantoum, and something in iambic pentameter. She said to me, “You know, sometimes people try form and you can just see that it’s something they’re supposed to do, that it works sort of automatically with their voice. I don’t think that’s true with you.” Because, well, the poems were awful.

So I kind of wrote off form for a long time, until I was making a shift from writing a lot of persona work into getting autobiographical again, and remembered vaguely a quote from Adrienne Rich about form which the internet tells me goes like this: “In those years formalism was part of a strategy–like asbestos gloves, it allowed me to handle materials I couldn’t pick up barehanded.” Regardless of the fact that she wasn’t actually talking about traditional form, the idea stayed with me that maybe I could get to terrifying ideas by writing them into existing structures – and there began a long, though sporadic, love affair with formal structures. Often, I will use form such as sestina either as a way to get started or as part of the revision process, but not end up with a form poem in the end.

What’s your favorite sestina?
I think my favorite sestina is “Morning News,” by Marilyn Hacker. The form genius.

What can you tell us about your sestina-writing life?
I don’t write many sestinas, or write in form all that often. Generally, what happens is that a poem will start to form in my head and feel like it needs a specific kind of excuse for its repetitiveness, or a framework to hold it. I actually write many more pantoum than sestinas, maybe because I fall in love with lines and want an excuse to hear the whole thing more than once.

Can you walk us through the composition of “one possible explanation of my utter and rather surprising lack of an adolescent tomboy phase”? Was there a biographical inspiration to this, a real-life “brother”?
I’m in the process of writing my second book, which has a lot to say about my relationship with my mother, particularly with regard to my thoughts and feelings about potentially ever becoming a mother myself. I started writing “one possible explanation of my utter and rather surprising lack of an adolescent tomboy phase” in the blank back pages of another person’s book a year or so ago, sitting on a pier in Wisconsin watching a girl who had twin brothers play with them and others and thinking about how different my childhood might have been had my mother not miscarried the boy she conceived between my second and third sisters, what it might have been to grow up in a household that included a brother instead of two sisters, how that might have influenced my way of interacting with male-bodied people.

The poem was a terrible failure in all of its early forms, until out of desperation to make something of it I started playing with putting it into various traditional forms just to see what would happen. I think that by radically re-writing it as a sestina, I was able to release my expectations and aspirations for it in terms of content and just focus on the form, allowing my subconscious to supply the content in surprising and, quite honestly, moderately disturbing ways. It is not the poem I set out to write at all, which is maybe the key to its success.


You’re a poet who is also a dynamic performer. Do you have any thoughts on the sestina as something performed or heard at readings? 
I’m always of two minds about form being declared before it is performed–on the one hand, I like knowing something is a sestina or pantoum or whatever so that I can listen for it. But I think that’s really just my geekery, and really the best thing to do is just read a poem as a poem, and let the audience receive it however they will.

Because so much poetry involves repetition as a technique anyway, I think the sestina tends not to announce itself in the way that a pantoum does, but the repetition can be incredibly effective in performance. It depends though on what the end-words are… if you’ve chosen really ordinary words, it’s not going to be as impactful or apparent as it would be if you’ve picked words that draw more attention to themselves. I think sestinas make great performance pieces without any need to announce them as such.

Finally, the first sestinas were always dedicated to someone—to whom would your sestina be dedicated?
Mrrrrr. Well, I guess it would be dedicated to the ghost of the brother I didn’t have. Or to my nephews, Orson and Calvin. Maybe all of the above.