Sestina

Photo-5
I created the image above for a piece I directed last year, Mamet’s All Men Are Whores. Details of the production here. If you can, read it, watch it. It’s great. Very Wallace Shawn.

 

 

“If we could reproduce like paramecia do you think that we would not?” 

 

“I like a nice ass. I like a nice ass and legs. (Pause) The ass is the top of the legs”

 

“And so we will do anything for some affection”

 

– Mamet, All Men Are Whores

 

Skip to the draft poem below if you don’t want to know about the task behind it or the process by which I made it.

So on Thursday I was paired with E for the collaboration on Form. Our task is to change a traditional writing form and he suggested a sestina, which is what he happens to be interested in at the moment. I had a couple of minutes to grasp what one was, and I loved the idea that each unit had to end up in the same place i.e. the final word was always the same. I hadn’t realised that the final word of EACH line had to be fixed when I suggested that to make things more difficult, to subvert the form, we should try to place a word from the set of six, next to or as close to, the final word.

Anyhow, its turned out fine so far. E suggested two sets of six words, Set 1 would be 1,2,3,4,5,6 and Set 2 would be a b c d e f. The former would occur in stanzas in the configuration listed in pink below but the latter would stay fixed i.e. always a b c d e f.

1 2 3 4 5 6 
6 1 5 2 4 3
3 6 4 1 2 5 
5 3 2 6 1 4
4 5 1 3 6 2 
2 4 6 5 3 1

To help me visualise the whole, I marked it all out per stanza and listed the word pairings I had to work towards per line. Remember, each line had to end with the a b c d e or f. But our allowances were: 
– you can swop the alphanumericals over
– you could place them apart
– you could use homonyms

You will see that I have taken advantage of our allowances and broken a couple of rules.
So with the structure charted out I spoke it out loud in case it led me to think of certain themes. From my scribblings yesterday, I had already thought of some images and emotions and these became clearer. Thoughts: luxury and whirlwind, travel, sleep, night time, skies, dilemma/tension.

(It has turned out to have quite a strong voice. A very particular character. The references are ones I wouldn’t normally use. I wouldn’t normally write like this at all, which is, I guess, the beauty of taking a class and being challenged on many levels.)
I decided that a shift had to happen neatly in the middle of the thirf stanza. Absolutely mid-way.

E chose the words from lists of words we proposed. He had suggested we list words which could be both adjectives and nouns.

He also shortlisted the 12 we worked with. Perhaps I should have fought for particular words I liked, but I also take a perverse pleasure in making things “difficult” for myself or more accurately, to chose the route that is seemingly less self-serving. I found this super helpful in a recent writing exercise with Bryony Kimmings – choosing provocations randomly as opposed to picking ones that might serve the piece I was writing. It forces you to approach what you care about from an angle, to articulate what you care about despite the odds. It takes you out of your head. Supremely useful. (It’s no new idea that structure and constraints give you freedom to jump off and fly. Obstructions with Lars von Trier – watch that.)

“Hip hop” was tough!

I have left in the word pairings, in italics, at the start of the lines only as guidance to myself. In the final they won’t be there.

I need to correct some punctuation.

The next step is to mash up E’s and my work to form a new, third, thing.

1. Pair/pear/pare 
2. Plain/plane
3. Periwinkle
4. Fly
5. Pagan
6. Pearl

a. Down
b. Jet
c. Mongrel
d. Hip-hop
e. Star
f. Feather

1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 
pair down –  It’s time to do it. It’s time to pare things down.
plain jet –  A life less lived, paler dreams. No more jet planes.
periwinkle mongrel –  A cat may look at a king. I’ll delve into pools of periwinkle, a mongrel’s.
fly hip-hop –  He’ll silence the motion, flighty notions of stardom and hip-hop
pagan stars  – Call down from skies lucid, the pagan stars
pearl feather  – Draw down and burn all feathers and pearls

2. 6 1 5 2 4 3
pearl down – Reject rich sleep, grind pearls down
pair jet – Leave off all but the vital. No jetting pears in.
pagan mongrel – Force the first step then dance. Smash the system. Run as pagans ran. Wild mongrels.
plain hip hop – Race. We’ll zig zag up and down jagged hills and plains. Feet, knees, hips hop. 
fly star – Pop! Escape! Release! Harp strings of the heart ring, fly to the stars
periwinkle feather – Everything feather light, bright, blooming, spring. Periwinkles sing.

3.  3 6 4 1 2 5 
periwinkle down – Scented periwinkles. Extinct in an air-conditioned nightmare. Take the lift down
pearl jet – thirty stories. Under ground, plumb for a different kind of pearl. Black jet
fly mongrel – inky wet. Primal paths to Hades. No Orpheus, here. Fly, mongrels!
pair hip hop –  Wait. What’s this? A pair of pants for hip hopping?
plain star – Made for hanging off young butts? Made unplain with stars?
pagan feather –  Where are my vital fetishes? Pagan bones and feathers?

4. 5 3 2 6 1 4
pagan down – Pagan bones tarred and brittle. Salt pillars and whorish empires brought down.
periwinkle jet – Obliterate the myth that money buys joy. Sniff out periwinkles not fuel for jets.
plain mongrel – Everyone’s loved, equal. Plain beauties, prize mongrels.
pearl hip hop – Give pearls to swine, Brahms for body popping hip hop
pair star – Old and young in pairs, a new ark to the stars
fly feather – On take off, we burn off – watch those feathers! – fly!

5. 4 5 1 3 6 2 
fly down – Too close to the sun. Don’t stare at the sun. Eyes down. Fly!
pagan jet – Too late. We are ever on the ship of fools. Pagan? Preposterous jet.
pair mongrel – We’re beasts on a boat. Balls! Pair-licking mongrels.
periwinkle hip hop – Slaves to comprehension, desire, limited expression. Periwinkle. Hip hop.
pearl star – In my ditch, I want my pearl necklace. Sticky death. I eyeball the stars.
plain feather – Sullen pouting ensues. Petulance. Exhaustion. Plain-faced. Stain-faced. A child clad in feathers.

6. 2 4 6 5 3 1
plain down – Blanched from my bones. Breathless in space. It’s plain. I’m down.
fly jet – Blood pale won’t clot in the sky. I won’t fly. No, no jets.
pearl mongrel – Are those stones or pearls. Underfoot. A mongrel.
pagan hip hop –  Ear flaps down. Distant pagan sounds. Again, hip hop.
periwinkle star – Measure it out. From primordial slime, periwinkles sense the stars above.
pair feather – Fast forward a millennia and another. Paramecia and cilia. A pair of charred feathers.

Copyright Vera Chok March 2013 

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