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Ramblings from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia

Form Poetry Competition

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Duplicated below:

I'm going to assign a sestina, which may be a harder form, but I want you to think about it. I won't make it due until Feb. 14th to give plenty of time: Here are your instructions and one of my own for a sample. Play with the form to your hearts desire and read a few famous ones before you write. Good writing to all!

The sestina is a complex form that achieves its often spectacular effects through intricate repetition. The thirty-nine-line form is attributed to Arnaut Daniel, the Provencal troubadour of the twelfth century. The name "troubadour" likely comes from trobar, which means "to invent or compose verse." The troubadours sang their verses accompanied by music and were quite competitive, each trying to top the next in wit, as well as complexity and difficulty of style.

Courtly love often was the theme of the troubadours, and this emphasis continued as the sestina migrated to Italy, where Dante and Petrarch practiced the form with great reverence for Daniel, who, as Petrarch said, was "the first among all others, great master of love."

The sestina follows a strict pattern of the repetition of the initial six end-words of the first stanza through the remaining five six-line stanzas, culminating in a three-line envoi. The lines may be of any length, though in its initial incarnation, the sestina followed a syllabic restriction. The form is as follows, where each numeral indicates the stanza position and the letters represent end-words:

7. (envoi) ECA or ACE

The envoi, sometimes known as the tornada, must also include the remaining three end-words, BDF, in the course of the three lines so that all six recurring words appear in the final three lines. The words usually occur at the middle and end of the lines. In place of a rhyme scheme, the sestina relies on end-word repetition to effect a sort of rhyme.


Red is the color of the bubbling blood
that flows in scarlet streams from the slashed skin
of my right forearm. Watching it, I laugh.
It gives me a wonderful sense of release
from the pressures of a weary, tormented mind.
Sylvia Plath would recognized the feeling…

Blue is the color of my mood; the color of my feelings—
feelings too often painted in letters of blood;
the scattered ravings of an oppressed mind
encapsulated in a thin veneer of skin;
a caged animal seeking blessed release.
The imagery alone is enough to make one laugh.

Raven-black is the color of the hopeless laugh;
humor that never reaches the eyes, nor expresses the feelings
of the soul; just a pressure-valve, a release
to prevent total madness. The thin trickle of blood
is never a life-threat; the blade barely breaks the skin.
Any therapeutic aid exists solely in the mind.

Grey, it is said, is the color of the mind;
a twisted mess that resembles worms! What a laugh!
We lavish so much time and attention on our skin
and bones to feed worms! Isn’t THAT a creepy feeling!
One red worm crawls down my arm, a worm of blood,
while the worms that will devour my flesh seek release!

Yellow is the color of Light, of release;
the point of enlightenment that takes place in the mind.
The light engulfs my body, my bones, my blood.
Now, there is genuine mirth in the laugh,
an uplifting of the spirit and the feelings.
Energy pulsates all through this prison of skin.

Pale-white is the color of the skin
in which I live. The spirit struggles for release;
an emotional storm explodes in my feelings,
and a tiny voice (my own) whispers in my mind
things that I find so ridiculous that I laugh.
With a small cloth, I easily stop the flow of blood.

Having stopped the blood, I know a new scar will form on my skin.
But I don’t mind. I never have. I laugh.
If you have never experienced the feelings, you wouldn’t understand the release.

Dale Harris

Please read the instructions carefully and if it still isn't clear how to do the poem, google Sestina, please. I'm hoping for a better turnout than usual for this contest.



  1. Virgil's Avatar
    Pen I've got to get back to writing some poetry. Let me see if I can. Eek, a sestina. That's not easy.
  2. kiz_paws's Avatar
    OMG, that seems a mite complicated, Pen!