Sestina variations - non-standard

All the forms on this page are non-standard. See also the normal sestina, and the standard variations.

Newman sestina

This is a standard (unrhymed) sestina in which all the keywords are anagrams of one another. I was challenged to write such a thing by one of my son's school friends. Just to prove it can be done: 

Rambling in Tresco
A Scilly sestina

Last Wednesday there were questions in the Cortes
From Miguel Martinez, MP and coster,
Concerning an endangered fowl, the scoter,
Much traded in the thriving private sector,
Delicious roasted in a bacon corset,
A dish so prized it merits an armed escort.

Martinez left for home in his Ford Escort.
Alas, he’ll speak no more before the Cortes,
For Semtex slyly planted in his corset
Was detonated by another coster
With interests in the wildfowl trading sector,
A specialist in ptarmigan and scoter.

What virtue, to lay down one’s life for scoter!
May choirs of angels strum their harps and escort
This hero straight to heaven’s swishest sector!
Meanwhile, his bill’s in trouble in the Cortes -
No sponsor since we lost our gallant coster;
Debating time’s as tight as any corset.

“The currency regime we call the corset
Is more important far than any scoter.”
So says the Chancellor. But wait! Our coster
Has friends who know some girls who sometimes escort
The Chancellor when he’s not in the Cortes,
Who work in, shall we say, the private sector

And also in the Chancellor’s privates sector,
And wear the most suggestive style of corset.
A scandal! And the Chancellor quits the Cortes
Thus leaving ample time to save the scoter.
Relief, my ducks, as into law they escort
The bill so ably drafted by the coster.

So honour be to Martinez the coster
Great benefactor of the wildfowl sector!
For thanks to him birds get an Air Force escort.
(It’s cheaper than the monetary corset).
His name shall be the toast of every scoter.
Right wondrous are the doings of the Cortes!

Now like stout Cortes in the Darien sector,
I marvel at the coster and the corset,
And at the scoter flying with their escort. 

Manifold magazine held a competition for poems in this ridiculous form, which the editor named the Newman sestina in my honour.


Another variation for which I accept full responsibility is the quartina.  This uses the same idea as the sestina but only has 4 keywords, hence is only 18 lines long. Here's one:

This is the day when we shall see the moon
Dispute the morning sky; usurp the sun;
Beshroud the world in unaccustomed dark.
We know this - and we know it won’t last long.

This is the day; the wait will not be long
Until we’re on the dark side of the moon.
Unseen by us, our life-giver, the sun,
Will impotently rage against the dark.

The birds, lulled into silence by the dark,
Will tuck heads under wings - but not for long.
Two minutes only, this night of the moon,
Before the sky is reclaimed by the sun.

Though there is nothing new under the sun,
All seems new at the dying of the dark.
A second full dawn chorus, loud and long
Will celebrate the passing of the moon.

Don’t worry when the moon obscures the sun.
Although the day be dark, it won’t be long.

I chose the name "quartina" so that I could write flawed ones. 


An even smaller variation with just 2 keywords and 5 lines is possible; we may as well call this the bina, then we can have:

Wry Bina
When young Michelle was thirsty, she would long
For “that blackcurrant drink - is any left?”
I wonder, now that she’s grown up and left,
If maybe I indulged her for too long.
When in the tooth she’s long, she’ll have none left.

Other possibilities

Between the sestina and the double sestina there is perhaps room for sestina-like forms with 8 or 10 keywords, and respectively 68 and 105 lines. I wrote a 10-keyword one once, and threw it away shortly afterwards. If the 8-keyword variant were not called the ocarina, it would be an opportunity wasted.

Do not overlook the 65-line standard form called the canzone.

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© Bob Newman 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007. All rights reserved.

This page last updated 05/03/2007