Many years ago, I wrote poetry with some frequency. I have been indulging in far more creative writing recently, though mostly writing plays, and I have been inspired to write a few new poems. I actually have a somewhat ambitious project, though one I do not expect to complete by my tentative due date of April 29.
Most people that follow poetry are aware that traditional forms, as well as rhyme and even meter in many cases, have been eschewed by contemporary poets. Robert Frost complained, “Poetry without rules is like tennis without a net.” However, this battle has been lost, and indeed, poems with short lines and strong rhymes can sound very odd indeed to modern ears. Certainly much of my work would be considered free verse. However, there are some interesting cases of poets taking conventional forms and twisting or bending the rules. One example that inspired me a fair bit was the series of "sonnets" written by New York poet Ted Berrigan: The Sonnets. In some cases, the only thing sonnet-like about these poems is they have 14 lines, but cumulatively they have a strange draw.
Somewhere along the line I got the idea to write sestinas and to bend the rules. A sestina is a fairly elaborate poetic form with seven stanzas and strict rules about how words are to be repeated. More information is here: Sestina rules. I'll include my first attempt (written as a junior in college) below after describing the rest of the project. As you'll be able to see, I do stick to the proper ordering of words but they may be anywhere in the line, not specifically at the end. There are also extra lines, not part of the pattern, in some of the stanzas.
My idea was to take these broken sestinas and use them to write a poetic autobiography (taking extreme poetic license). Forty seems to be a good number, given how long each poem is. I'll probably write at least one proper sestina, but most will be twisted in some way, including having shadowy secondary patterns within some of the stanzas. My goal is to wrap this up before I turn 41 at the end of April, but I suspect I started too late to complete it in time. I will post them as they are completed.
The original broken sestina:
Something is stuck deep in her purse.
She gropes, unwilling to use her eyes.
Finally, she brings up a lost key.
From the windows of moving cars comes music.
She sinks down on a bench, facing the street.
It all seems vaguely unreal, a dream.
It was the craziest dream -
Stones were pouring out of the sky
as if it were a purse that had burst its seams.
People ran screaming, trying to get off the street.
Wounds gaped red.
They covered their eyes and cried.
The rocks pounding against cars
beat out a crazy rhythm,
like the music of a demented god.
No one knew the key to make it stop.
In the fading light, he squints.
At his feet, lies a rusting key.
He remembers an old dream
of standing behind a club,
listening to music faintly through the door,
needing a pass of some sort
if he was to come through the front.
This has no secret value, he decides.
If he had found a wallet or a purse,
then he could have expected a reward.
He moves on, he turns his eyes down.
He wants to see everything on the street.
The street is identical to the others.
Even the houses are alike.
At six o'clock, a thousand hands,
each holding a key,
turn the locks of a thousand doors.
Two thousand eyes peer into kitchens.
One thousand "Hello"s are shouted.
In one house,
something awful has happened
that could not happen
in his worst dream.
Dinner is not ready.
A note lies on the table.
Her purse is gone.
She has left.
She will dance to the music
that she has never heard before.
He walks quickly,
moving in time to his own private music.
He picks her out, new to this street.
He grabs her purse from her shoulder
and spins away as she tries to scratch him
with the key she held in her fist.
He is gone before she has screamed.
It was easier than he ever imagined it.
He is surprised.
In his next dream
and all the ones after,
he sees no eyes glowing,
hears no accusing voices.
His cousin had said that that would be the worst.
He sits down at the piano, pulls his bench up.
Her eyes close.
The music transports her,
as in a dream,
to a completely foreign land.
She no longer hears the street noises;
she wants to cry, for it is so beautiful.
Then she realizes that he has been playing
the same note off key for several minutes.
She listens a little longer to make sure.
She stands up and exits,
not bothering to slip the program into her purse.
It is in her purse that she keeps her glass eye.
It lies wrapped in a wad of tissue paper,
surrounded by old lottery tickets
and already cancelled stamps, torn from envelopes.
She knows that somewhere in there
is the key to a wind-up music box.
The street is cooled by a persistent howling wind,
and one day, she will be able to cash in on her dream.
This is my second attempt at blogging -- with my first from about five years back scattered like so many electrons. I hope to be able to pin this first post. I ultimately would like to set up four or five main content areas with posts under each: creative writing, children's artwork, musings on theater and literature and last, but certainly not least, discussions from the perspective of an urban sociologist (and frustrated academic type).
The rules are fairly simple. It's my blog, and I will not hesitate to moderate and delete comments that I don't care for, for any reason, and if necessary block users who are abusive (or totally clueless). But I don't think it will come to that.
In the very unlikely event that I publish material from the blog in another format -- and if I feel that comments left on the blog should be incorporated to establish context of my own rambling thoughts or to convey more fully an interesting debate -- then I will attempt to contact the poster before publication but will publish regardless if unsuccessful. There will be no financial compensation if I publish comments left on this blog. Leaving comments on this board will be taken as acceptance of these terms and conditions.