Tag Archives: Incredible Sestina Anthology

Behind the Sestina: Nate Marshall

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From the South Side of Chicago, Nate Marshall is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan, and was the star of the award-winning documentary  Louder Than A Bomb. He has been featured on HBO’s Brave New Voices, and his work has appeared in such places as Vinyl Poetry, Poetry, Learn Then Burn, and The Spoken Word Revolution: Redux,on Chicago Public Radio.He is also an Assistant Poetry Editor for Muzzle.

Marshall has also worked a teaching artist with organizations such as Young Chicago Authors, Inside Out Detroit, and Southern Word. He is the founder of the Lost Count Scholarship Fund that promotes youth violence prevention in Chicago. Marshall has performed poetry at venues and universities across the US, Canada, and South Africa. He is also a rapper.

We asked Nate about “pallbearers (a sestina),” featured in The Incredible Sestina Anthology.

When did you first discover the sestina? 

I first discovered the concept of a sestina at the opening event of Louder Than A Bomb Youth Poetry Slam. One of the featured readers read one and I totally didn’t understand it. I remember thinking it was so odd but I was drawn to the repetition.

Do you remember the first sestina you ever read? 

The first sestina I read I think was Lucy Anderton’s “Eve’s Sestina for Adam” from The Spoken Word Revolution: Redux. I don’t know if I have a favorite sestina but I really respect the sestinas that have very short lines. That’s hard, man.

We’re curious about your sestina-writing life. What got you started? 

‘pallbearers’ is the first sestina I ever wrote. I wrote the first draft of it in 2009 during my sophomore year of college. My professor, Mark Jarman, trashed it pretty thoroughly in workshop, but I still thought it was pretty good. After many successive drafts its much better in my opinion.

What keeps you coming back (or are you sestina retired)?

I love the sestina for the repetition. It lends itself well to narrative because of that and that plays well to my instincts as a poet. Also I really dig the way knowledge of homophones becomes so golden in building a sestina. That homophone use really reminds me of the inventiveness of writing raps.

Sestinas are my go-to form when I have time to kill. They are like poetry sudoku. They are the official form of international flights, long flight delays and MegaBus trips through the Midwest.

Can you walk us through the composition of “pallbearers”? The sestina welcomes and demands repetition, and so I suspect your writing about this particular subject came out of witnessing and experiencing death, life, friendships? 

It’s hard to say. The thing I started with in this poem was the end words. That’s a trick I learned from Mark Jarman. I wanted to use a bunch of small, flexible words and then one that was strange or more challenging. I think coffin became the word because I could think of a variety of ways it could be used and because I often write about how death and loss impact my life and my world. The repetition seemed to fit the storyline naturally because in a childhood friendship there’s often a kind of repeating, almost sitcom quality to the times you spend with those friends. There’s also sadness to when that time in life ends that might be kind of akin to a sort of death. I think though it is important that the poem ends on the image of togetherness and support even in death. That makes the poem hopeful, it speaks to life and the fact that life is ultimately about the relationships we cultivate with each other.

Can you tell us about the important of the poem’s epigraph? Ang13 is from Chicago, as you are, so I imagine that’s a big part of it?

The epigraph is so important. Listening to that song was the thing that sparked the writing of the poem so there’s that. Also I think Ang13 means a lot to the work. She’s a legendary underground female rapper from Chicago. She’s a smart ass, witty, strong woman voice and that makes sense to start in a poem about my grandmother who was also all those things.

Finally, the first sestinas were always dedicated to someone—to whom would your sestina be dedicated?

Oh this is definitely for my maternal grandmother, Mary Frances Griffin. To a lesser extent, it’s also dedicated to my childhood crew: Shaun Peace, Bart Studnicki, Dominic Giafagleone, and Kenneth Kittrell.

Behind the Sestina: Amanda Nadelberg on “My New Pet Word is Mozzarella”

Amanda Nadelberg is the author of Bright Brave Phenomena (Coffee House Press, 2012), Isa the Truck Named Isadore (Slope Editions, 2006), and a chapbook, Building Castles in Spain, Getting Married (The Song Cave, 2009).

We went Behind the Sestina with Nadelberg to talk about her sestina, “My New Pet Word is Mozzarella,” featured in The Incredible Sestina Anthology.

When did you first discover the sestina?
In College. My teacher used The Making of a Poem and lo and behold! 

Have you written sestinas before this one or since?
Before, yes. Since: maybe not? I have probably written 4.5 sestinas in my life. 

I would love to read the .5 sestina. Can you describe writing “My New Pet Word is Mozzarella”? 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?
Its form drives the content most of all. It’s fine to have a nugget expectation of direction but after a while what I always forget I love about them is how you are bullied by these words into a narrative and sometimes it becomes a surprise, the direction taken. It would be fun to a write a sestina without a narrative. I’ve always enjoyed writing sestinas with end words that are seemingly “less expensive” (i.e. prepositions and articles are keys to the kingdom). 

Have you heard anyone use mozzarella as a pet name?  How would define mozzarella as a verb?
I haven’t. It could mean to tussle someone’s hair, as if an affectionate noogie; or it could mean to hurry up or to lie beneath a tree on a hot day.

The first sestinas were always dedicated to someone—who would you dedicate your sestina to?
Donald Duck’s mom. 

Behind the Sestina: Matt Madden on “The Six Treasures of the Spiral: A Comics Sestina”

Matt Madden is a cartoonist who teaches at the School of Visual Arts and in workshops around the world. His work includes 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style (Penguin), a collection of his comics adaptation of Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style; a translation from the French of Aristophane’s The Zabome Sisters (First Second); and Drawing Words & Writing Pictures and Mastering Comics, (First Second), a pair of comics textbooks written in collaboration with his wife, Jessica Abel. The couple are also series editors for The Best American Comics from Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt. He is currently on an extended residency in Angoulême, France with his wife and their two children.

We went Behind the Sestina with Madden to talk about his “The Six Treasures of the Spiral: A Comics 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?
My friend Jason Little described the sestina to me the first night we ever got together (along with Tom Hart) to seriously discuss comics, constraints, Oulipo, and Oubapo (see next question) around 2000. I didn’t actually read any sestinas until a few years later when I researched them online. I believe the first one I ever read was by Rudyard Kipling’s “Sestina of the Tramp Royal.” I loved the sea-shanty-like quality of the imagery and undulating rhythm caused by the repeating words. That poem certainly informed my comic, and if you look closely you can see that I named the boat the Tramp Royal. Another sestina that I read early on and which deeply impressed me was Elizabeth Bishop’s melancholy “Sestina.”

What’s your favorite sestina?
That one might well be my favorite, though as a cartoonist I also have a soft spot for John Ashbery’s “Farm Implements and Rutabaga in a Landscape.”

We’re curious about your sestina-writing life. What got you started on writing comics versions of poetic forms?
I don’t have much of a background in poetry, but I’ve been reading experimental and formalist literature and comics of one sort or another for a long time. Since I started working on my 99 Ways to Tell A Story: Exercises in Style in the late 90s I’ve immersed myself in the world of Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or Workshop for Potential Literature), the literary supper club/laboratory founded by Raymond Queneau and François LeLionnais in 1960. I found my kindred spirits when I discovered that group and its passion for constraints and formal structures and their application in literature. As it happened, around that same time some French cartoonists had founded Oubapo (Ouvroir de Bande Dessinée Potentielle, or Workshop for Potential Comics) and after a few years’ correspondence they made me a “US correspondent” to the group. When Jason Little described the sestina’s structure to me I was intrigued by the possibilities of that sort of permutational repetition for comics: there are a number of ways you can adapt the concept of repetons to comics: you can have words repeating or images, bits of dialogue, compositional schema, keywords, or, as I did in “Six Treasures,” whole panels. As an author of narrative, I like how the recurring repetons supply story prompts that are always surprising yet have a rhythmic repetition built into them. I feel that even if the final story were seamless there would still be a formal integrity bolstering it behind the scenes—that’s something that’s true about many fixed forms and constraints in general. Since finishing “Six Treasures” I’ve done comics based on the pantoum, the villanelle, and the haiku, and I have notes for a few more sestinas I’d like to try.

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Some panels from Madden’s “The Six Treasures of the Spiral,” his sestina comic.

Can you walk us through the composition of “Six Treasures”? I imagine you coming around to embracing the constraint of having the end/right-most panels adhere to the end word scheme. Did this help determine what kind of story you told?
That’s correct. I decided that my repetons would be panels. I then decided to treat the 2-page spreads as “stanzas” because to put six tiers on a page would have made for too dense a comic, at least for my style of cartooning. That implied that my envoi would be one page that would feature all six repeton-panels, leaving me the equivalent of three panels to complete it (in the end I only used two, the final one being a double panel). 

I played around with different kinds of panels that might work in multiple contexts: ambiguous gestures or expressions, bits of dialogue. At some point I decided that each of the six repeton-panels would show one of the six characters and then used their numerical order as a basis for their names (one=Einiger, two=Twopenny, five=Captain Sank (cinq), etc.). I then pasted up copies of the repeton-panels in their corresponding positions and started filling in the gaps with the aim of telling a reasonable fluid story. I roughed out a whole version that I scrapped because it wasn’t working before coming up with the final repeton-panels.

To jump back a step: The first thing that really got my brain working was the image of the spiral that you can use to figure out the order of the repitons (so I’m very happy it’s on the cover!). I probably also had that Kipling sestina in mind but I started to think about whirlpools and I had a notion to try to adapt Poe’s “Descent into the Maelström” which didn’t work out but which left me with the idea of a maritime adventure and a tragic ending at the bottom of a giant whirlpool. The maritime theme got me thinking about visual sources to draw from: Roy Crane’s adventure comics, Alex Raymond’s elegantly swooping lines he uses to indicate weather and water in Flash Gordon, and Hergé’s Tintin

I love how you integrated the idea of the “spiral,” so integral to the sestina and its origins, into the sestina itself. This self-referential move is part of a rich tradition in sestinas, the “sestina about writing a sestina.” Is that part of what you were going for, or was it more of an easter egg thing, something for the sestina smart fans?
I suppose it’s a bit of both. I like work that references its own creation but I also enjoy the old-fashioned illusionistic possibilities of storytelling. So while it’s not overtly a meta-comic, there many clues and references that a close reader will pick up on, most having to do with the idea of the spiral and the number six.

Finally, the first sestinas were always dedicated to someone—to whom would your sestina be dedicated?
Harry Mathews

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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New School Poetry Forum Presents Incredible Sestina Anthology Editor February 4

 

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Editor of The Incredible Sestina Anthology, Daniel Nester, will read from the book and speak about sestinas at The New School’s Poetry forum on Tuesday, February  4,

Moderated by David Lehman, poetry coordinator at the School of Writing, a contributor to the anthology, and poet, critic, and series editor of The Best American Poetry series.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 6:30 pm
Klein Conference Room (Room A510), Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall
66 West 12th Street
Sponsored by the School of Writing.
$5; free to all students and New School faculty, staff, and alumni with ID.

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: Peter Davis on “Mustache Sestina”

Peter Davis writes, draws, and makes music in Muncie, Indiana. His books of poetry are TINA (Bloof Books, 2013), Poetry! Poetry! Poetry! (Bloof Books, 2010), and Hitler’s Mustache(Barnwood Press, 2006). He edited Poet’s Bookshelf: Contemporary Poets on Books That Shaped Their Art (2005) and co-edited a second volume, Poet’s Bookshelf II (2008). His poems have appeared in such places as Jacket, La Petite Zine, Court Green, Rattle, and The Best American Poetry. He lives with his lovely wife and two lovely children, and teaches at Ball State University.

In honor of “Movember,” we thought it was the perfect time to go Behind the Sestina with Davis and talk about his “Mustache Sestina,” featured in The Incredible Sestina Anthology.

When did you first discover the sestina?
Not sure exactly, but I never wrote one till I was getting my MFA. One of my teachers, a sestina lover, told me to write a sestina about August, or something like that. For some reason I don’t entirely understand, I thought it was a lot of fun.

Have you written sestinas before this one or since?
O yea. The book this comes from, Hitler’s Mustache, has 3 or 4 sestinas and for a while I toyed with the idea of writing a series of sestinas about the original Beverly Hills, 90210 TV show. I wrote one where all the end words were either “Dylan” or “Brenda,” and another with the end words, “Brandon,” “Brenda,” “Kelly,” “Donna,” “Dylan” and “Steve.” I’ve written many sestinas, most, obviously, are very forgettable.

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?
As to the second question, yes and yes. Obviously, the image of Hitler’s mustache is, to me, one of mystery. It is a square box of darkness. And in that darkness is a whole host of mysteries. In short, one mystery after another. But there is a repetitive formality in that mustache (imagine all of those individual hairs laying down together like that! Unreal!) and the sestina seems capable of handling repetitive formality. As to the first question, I’m not sure I can, but I’ll try. I was thinking about words. I was thinking about mustaches. It happened pretty fast.

Most obvious question. Why Hitler? Then, mustaches. Why?
Because of the mystery. How is it that our face of evil in contemporary culture also is the ridiculous face of Hitler? How often is evil the face of a clown? How often, through a mustache, do we see the deep anomaly in human nature? How many questions can be asked about what motivated that square patch of hair? The intersection of fashion and fascism.

 The first sestinas were always dedicated to someone—who would you dedicate your sestina to?
I should probably dedicate everything I do to my wife, since she supports me and takes care of me, but that’s boring. The other obvious person would be Hitler, but that’s too obvious. So, I’d dedicate it to Julius Stricher, the only other really prominent Nazi who sported a Hitler mustache. He could have stood to hear some contemporary American poetry. It might have done him some good. So, For my wife, and Julius Stricher.

–Interview conducted by Jessica Furiani

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.

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

CampCasey

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