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Monday, February 18, 2008


I wasn't doing as well in the college poetry class as I was in the other creative writing classes. My instructor, Robert Prins, Wunda Wunda's husband, was of the mind that a poet is born a poet and that one could not be taught to write poetry. Yet he supposedly was teaching us to write poetry. Go figure. Anyway, the day came when Mr. Prins challenged us to write a sestina --the most difficult form of poetry. He said that whoever writes a sestina that makes any sense would get an A for the quarter. I wanted an A, and so that night I wrote a sestina. There were only two of us in the class who did write a sestina that made some sense. Mr. Prins read both of our poems aloud to the class, commended us, and gave us an A.

To write a sestina, you must use 6 repeating words throughout the poem. Also, it has to be in unrhyming Iambic pentameter. If you label each word with a letter (e.g. A, B, C, D, E, F), the stanzas will follow this line pattern:
Stanza 1: A, B, C, D, E, F
Stanza 2: F, A, E, B, D, C
Stanza 3: C, F, D, A, B, E
Stanza 4: E, C, B, F, A, D
Stanza 5: D, E, A, C, F, B
Stanza 6: B, D, F, E, C, A
Tercet: AB CD EF
First line of Envoi: B, E
Second line of Envoi: D, C
Third line of Envoi: F, A
What this means is that in Stanza 1, the word you labeled “A” will end Line 1. The word labeled “B” will end Line 2; in Stanza 2, the word you labeled “F” will end Line 1, and so on. This pattern continues throughout the poem. In the tercet, there are only 3 lines. Line 1 will contain word “A” somewhere, and it will end with word “B”; you use the same pattern for the other two lines.


I seem to feel as though I climbed a mountain
That wasn't there. With sweat and blood
I lived through life; I toiled all I could,
To try to find the fame and fortune others
Have often found. But there is nothing where
I am right now; so now, I'll rest in peace.

The working man, who seldom has any peace
Of mind, must find his own lonely mountain
To climb, with visions of grandeur filling where
He usually should be thinking--shedding blood
With his mistakes, and finding fault with others--
Who have climbed higher mountains than he could.

I think I've climbed as high as most men could,
But most men die with never finding peace.
I choose to live apart from all the others
And camp upon the hill I call a mountain,
And fish the stream that's red with my spilt blood.
If you know of a better camp, tell me where.

I've seen so many lose their way and where
They've fallen down they've tried all they could
To prove to others that they're of the finest blood,
Though with their mask their conscience finds no peace.
They build facades to try to deck their mountain.
If they'd look around they'd find so many others.

I've listened close to theories told by others
On how to live and how to die and where
To climb to reach the peak of my little mountain,
Yet couldn't seem to think the way they could.
I think it's best, for I have found my peace,
While they still climb and leave a trail of blood.

As time goes on, my skin will cool, my blood
Will dry, my soul will leave all the others.
My camp will be in Heaven, where all is peace.
I'll finally find my fame and fortune where
The masked, facade creators never could;
And I'll be high above my earthly mountain.

And I'll look down at bloody rivers where
The others slowly drown, not knowing they could
Have easily found peace by resting on their mountain.

-May 18, 1973-

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  1. Wow. I have never heard of a sestina before, but this blows me away. You wrote: "My instructor, Mr. Prinz, Wunda Wunda's husband, was of the mind that a poet is born a poet and that one could not be taught to write poetry. Yet he supposedly was teaching us to write poetry. Go figure."

    Okay, let's figure. I was a highly successful computer programmer, having never been schooled for that vocation. I watched, and competed with, other candidates who had up to four years of college training in the field, while I barely graduated from high school. I could produce cogent, working programs in circles around most of them. They came and went, moving on to other fields, while I persevered, no matter the challenge. I thus came to profess that programmers are born, not made, just as you said above about poets.

    Instructors can only show you the rules, inspire you to strive, then sit back and judge your efforts. They focus your endeavor as any good professional should, then you both either find that you have it, or you don't.

    You proved yourself to be a born poet. I proved myself to be a born programmer. Neither of us were actually taught to do it, we were only brought to flower by those who inspired us and gave us opportunity.

    Does this make sense?


  2. According to Mr. Prinz (actually I've since rediscovered it's spelled "Prins"), I'm a born prose writer, not a born poet. Thank you, though, for the encouragement!
    One episode is well remembered with Mr. Prins: One day he was trying to teach us in the portable classroom beside the parking lot, and a guy outside was gunning his motorcycle and bothering Mr. Prins. Finally Prins went over to the window and opened it and shouted, "Kindly take your vroom vroom elsewhere!" That line has stuck with me for forty years.