Tag Archives: David Trinidad

Behind the Sestina: Alex J. Tunney on The Incredible Sestina Anthology and on “The Long Hot Summer Sestina”

alex tunneyAs most people who read these “Behind The Sestina” interviews know, we usually interview poets who are featured in The Incredible Sestina Anthology. While Alex J. Tunney isn’t featured in the book, he played a large role in its construction. As an undergraduate intern at The College of Saint Rose, Alex was there with Daniel Nester at the inception of this idea and the two have spiraled into madness together for several years.

We went Behind The Incredible Sestina Anthology with Tunney to talk about working on The Incredible Sestina Anthology, and to talk about his own sestina, “The Long Hot Summer Sestina,” that was inspired by the anthology.

What was your role in The Incredible Sestina Anthology?
I was one of the first editorial assistants working on the project way back in the summer of 2007 when it was still a project. I proofread, contacted poets, journals and presses for permissions and did some general office stuff like mailing and logging the projects process. Recently, I did some interviews and posts for the blog.

So this was during the “Long Hot Summer” from your sestina’s title?
That’s right.

What did you expect when you heard about an entire book just of sestinas?
Honestly, I don’t remember. I believe I did know about Nester’s work maintaining the sestina section at McSweeney’s, so doing something with all those sestinas must have made sense to me. I think I was just excited to be working on something that got me connected to the literary world at large outside of school.

Have you seen the finished product? Did it meet your expectations?I actually bought a copy at Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene on a whim. I wanted to see if they would have it and, of course, they did. I just had to have it in my hands [you’re also getting a free copy in the mail soon, Alex! ed].

The cover looks great! My only real expectation was that the anthology get published. Anything else is just icing on the cake.

Do you have a favorite sestina from the book? A favorite sestina poet?
For my favorite poem, I’ll go with Laura Cronk’s “Sestina for a Sister.” The nature of the structure of the sestina allows for a focus on things and ideas and this poem illustrates that very well. She’s able to render a great story because of the repitions force readers to certain words and objects.

For favorite sestina poet, I’ll go with David Trinidad. “Playing with Dolls” reminds me of my childhood, and “Detective Notes” references Clue and is also a brilliantly constructed sestina.

When did you first discover the sestina?
I probably discovered it while I started working on this project that summer. If not then, it was probably during a class taught by Nester the semester prior to the “long hot” summer.

During this sestina project you were inspired to write your own sestina, “The Long Hot Summer.” What can you tell me about this sestina?
I wouldn’t say it was “inspired” so much as it was assigned to me by Barbara Ungar, in the poetry class I had with her that fall semester after the eponymous summer. A sestina about a sestina anthology? I couldn’t pass that up. Of course, my life had managed to seep into the piece eventually, something I don’t think I could have avoided.

I remember hating this sestina immediately after writing it, especially the last line. It’s not Elizabeth Bishop’s “(write it!)” as it is a Marx Brothers’ punch line. I still have my issues with it. Having written about this summer twice—during the summer itself and recently for grad school—I know that I avoided from going further into what happened during the summer and I think the poem suffers because of that.

Having said that, I also tend to take myself too seriously and am perpetually embarrassed by my past self, so take that last reason with a grain of salt.

I do like things about this sestina. I love the flexibility the word “really” has throughout. I also like that the repetition of the form relates to the focus that comes with reading and, well, love.

Had you written any sestinas before (and have you written any since)?
No, I haven’t and I haven’t written any since. I tend not to write poetry because prose (mostly nonfiction) is the format in which I feel I can best express my thoughts and feelings. When I attempt to write poetry it tends to turn into prose with line breaks. That said, I am very tempted to revise/update/salvage this sestina.

You know as well as I do, first sestinas are always dedicated to someone. Who would you like to dedicate this sestina to?
It would be obvious to say Nester, wouldn’t it? But, I will dedicate it to him. I owe a lot to him.

I also want to dedicate to an additional three professors I had at The College of Saint Rose who were essential to my development as a writer. First is Dr. Ungar, who made me realize it was just as important to have a sense of humor about myself as it was to take myself seriously. Next would Kim Middleton who fostered my love of examining pop culture and gave me the tools to do it well. Last but not least is Cailin Brown of the Communications department, who advised me while I worked on The Chronicle newspaper and taught me not only how to look for the truth, but the importance of how it is presented to readers once it is found.

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Behind the Sestina: Jeanne Marie Beaumont’s “A Stein’s Sestina”

Jeanne Marie Beaumont is author of Burning of the Three Fires (BOA Editions, 2010), Curious Conduct (BOA, 2004), and Placebo Effects, a National Poetry Series winner (Norton, 1997). She co-edited The Poets’ Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm Fairy Tales, and teaches at the 92nd St. Y and in the Stonecoast low-residency MFA program.

In this latest Behind the Sestina, Beaumont helps us get to the bottom of the (S)teins in “A Stein’s Sestina,” included in The Incredible Sestina Anthology.

When did you first discovered the sestina?
The sestina really entered my consciousness in graduate school, in the late 1980’s. Other students were writing them, and around that time, or shortly after, I wrote my first sestina.

Have you written other sestinas?
I have only written a couple of sestinas that I am happy with. I think it is difficult to make them work all the way through, so I have several “in process” or perhaps “stillborn,” as Plath would say.

Let’s talk about “A Stein’s Sestina.” Where did you get the idea for the poem? I love what one may call the pastiche of Stein’s language while speaking of steins, how it leads to line as surprising as “Inside every charm/a little harm lurks no matter how safe the spot.”

The stein that started it all

The stein that started it all.

I was given a miniature stein by David Trinidad, who had bought it while traveling in Europe. It was doll-size, but quite detailed, and as I own a miniature fireplace (which my brother made for me out of rock he chopped out of his own land), I had a little mantle to set it on.

Around this time, I had been reading Tender Buttons. I noted that “A Stein’s” was an anagram for “Sestina” so I took as title “A Stein’s Sestina” and used it as a challenge and an inspiration. I chose the teleutons from her text, and I borrowed some of her phrases and habits of phrasing.

This poem fit into a series of tribute poems to foremother poets I was writing at this time, often in playful forms; for example, I composed a cento from Marianne Moore opening lines. It was a way of “collaborating” with beloved dead poets.

01 Beaumont_Jeanne Marie_Sestina_InterviewSTEIN2

Another view to give the stein perspective. Tiny!

I see a reference to stein, as in a type of mug, of course as well as Gertrude Stein, which makes me wonder: in fact, a Gertrude Stein-themed stein?
Not that I know of, but what a great idea. She had quite a distinctive mug!

The other Stein.

The first sestinas were always dedicated to someone, and yours is dedicated to David Trinidad, another sestina master and fellow contributor to The Incredible Sestina Anthology.
It seemed the right way to thank him for his gift.

The back cover copy!

A whole book of sestinas? Are you freaking kidding me? I know. Hear us out.

The sestina is one of the world’s oldest literary forms. It’s also one of the most tricked-out and wacky: six words appear at the end of 39 lines over the course of six, six-line stanzas and a three-line finale. Since it was invented 700 years ago, people keep writing them.

Why? Because of the challenge it presents poets to experiment with a six-pack of words and a spiral-based secret code hidden inside.

For this incredible anthology, poet and editor Daniel Nester has brought together more than 100 sestinas. Here, in all their glory, are poets from all schools and stripes who have taken the sestina challenge, from Sherman Alexie to Louis Zukofsky and everywhere in between:

  • sestina classics from John Ashbery, Elizabeth Bishop, Ezra Pound, Anthony Hecht, Donald Justice, and Marilyn Hacker
  • modern masterpieces from David Lehman, Patricia Smith, James Cummins, Sandra Beasley, Quincy Troupe and Anne Waldman
  • double sestinas from Denise Duhamel, Ernest Hilbert and Star Black
  • Matt Madden and Casey Camp’s comics sestina
  • Florence Cassen Mayers’s minimalist takes
  • Jonah Winter’s world-famous “Bob” sestina
  • selections from Nester’s picks as sestinas editor at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, from Rick Moody, David Trinidad, Rachel Shukert, Alfred Corn and Steve Almond
  • and much, much more!

With comments from contributors that take us “Behind the Sestina,” The Incredible Sestina Anthology is a greatest hits collection of this incredible form.