Tag Archives: New York City

New School Poetry Forum Presents Incredible Sestina Anthology Editor February 4



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: 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

Behind the Sestina: Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s “A Sestina for Shappy, Who Doesn’t Get Enough Love Poems”

Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is the author of six books of poetry, most recently The
Year of No Mistakes (Write Bloody Publishing), as well as Dear Future Boyfriend, Hot Teen Slut, Working Class Represent, Oh, Terrible Youth and Everything is Everything. She is also the author of two books of nonfiction: Words In Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam and Curiosity: Thomas Dent Mütter and the Dawn of Modern Medicine, forthcoming from Gotham Books/Penguin.

Aptowicz’s most recent awards include the ArtsEdge Writer-In-Residency at the University of  Pennsylvania, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, and an Amy Clampitt Residency.

We unearthed Aptowicz’s “time capsule” and asked her about “A Sestina for Shappy, Who Doesn’t Get Enough Love Poems,” included in The Incredible Sestina Anthology.

When did you first discover the sestina?
I am sure I was first introduced to the sestina form in high school, but the first time I saw contemporary poets use it in a way that was exciting and inspiring was in the online lit journal, McSweeney’s Internet Tendancies, which only published poetry in that format.

Have you written sestinas before this one or since?
I have only written one other sestina, and it was written before this one. When I first graduated from NYU, the only job I was offered was a writer and editor for a porn website. And, as a hazard of the job, I was bombarded daily with pop-up ads advertising other porn sites. I noticed that many of the ads used the same words (you can imagine what they are!), so I spent MONTHS collecting phrases from pornographic pop-up ads to create a “found poetry” sestina. When I finally plugged in the last “found” line I was filled with such joy at a job well down–and then, almost after, a woeful sorrow at what my poetic life had devolved into! The resulting sestina can be found in my book, Hot Teen Slut, which is a memoir-in-verse about my year working that job.

Can you describe writing ‘A Sestina for Shappy?’
I was invited to try the sestina format again by McSweeney’s Internet Tendancies, editor Daniel Nester, and when I tried to think of a subject to place in the center of the poem, my relationship with my partner Shappy came to mind. At that time, I had not written much about us, and the timing felt right. The poem came out pretty easily and I was thrilled when it was well-received both on the web (it was later accepted by McSweeneys) and page (it became a crowd favorite at my local poetry venue, the Bowery Poetry Club).

This sestina describes the tentative beginnings of a relationship. Now, six years later, what is like re-reading this poem?
I think it captures wonderfully that time in my life. Shappy and I dated for eleven and a half years, and our years in the tiny kitsch-crammed apartment are among the happiest I’ve ever lived.

Would you consider writing a sequel? If so, what do think the sequel sestina– a sequestina, if you will—would discuss?
I don’t think I would write a sequel. The poem is time capsule, and I think it is best if it remains that way.

The first sestinas were always dedicated to someone—who would you dedicate your sestina to (outside of the obvious candidate)?
The obvious candidate—my partner Shappy – is the only candidate. He absolutely earned every drop of love I crammed into that piece, and I still love him to this very day.

–Interview conducted by Alex J. Tunney

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.