Round and Round and Rondeau We Go

So, last week I told you about my students writing Sestinas and asked what other forms we should try. But no one here or on Twitter offered a suggestion, so I scrolled through some Writer’s Digest posts until I settled on the rondeau. Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask” is such a masterful example of this form; reading it alone makes the exercise worth it.

But, of course, there’s more. The writing’s the thing. I think my rondeau attempt is better than my Sestina, but it’s not quite where I want it to be yet. I’m having verb tense issues in trying to work the rhyme. In addition, I find that while my students dig deep, I seem to become a bit trite when confined to a rhyme scheme. This is something I want to work on.

However, as it did last week, the exercise warmed up my writing muscles. I followed up my writing session with a stint at a coffee shop with my novel in progress. It’s a good reminder of why we do these exercises and that I should do them even without my students. Just as musicians often begin with scales before going on to their new pieces, so too should writers exercise before composing new work.

So try a rondeau (follow the link here for instructions) or some other form if for no other reason than to warm up your writing muscles. If you like the result, share it here. And if I find a way out of my tense problems, I’ll post the result too. Good luck.


Today I offered my creative writing students a challenge: write a Sestina. We briefly went over the “rules” of the form and looked at an example. (link below) Then I set them free. Our time together is short, and I wanted them to get to the writing part of the session as quickly as I could. One of the girls moaned as we began writing, “I don’t even have a topic yet.” But write they did. In fact, they finished before I did! I will not publish my attempt here–and it was simply an attempt, a not-very-successful attempt. The end words are there, but the poem is clunky. Maybe one day I’ll revisit and revise, who knows. For me, that is not the point. Rather, there were two greater victories today.

First and foremost, my students amaze me. Two high school ninth graders and one junior showed up today (this is an after school activity). One of the ninth graders is painfully introverted, yet she lets me read her poetry as long as I promise not to read it aloud to the rest of the girls. And it is powerful. Very powerful. Even within the restrictive form of the Sestina, she finds the vein and goes deep. The other ninth grader prefers to write prose, sci-fi/fantasy to be exact, but she’s game to try new things. She essentially wrote the bones of a fantasy story about a witch banished to the forest by her father who comes to live in harmony and peace with the animals until the villagers go to the forest in fear and kill her. But she did this in Sestina form!!! And it’s really, really good, like I want to find somewhere for her to publish good. I am blown away. I’m encouraging her to perform the poem at our annual Poetry Café at the end of the month.  (I’m still waiting for the junior’s submission as she had to leave early to get to her extra, after school physics class, but I’m sure it will be good. I also expect that she will have broken the rules at some point for effect.)

Secondly, in addition to the inspiration that my students give me, there is the benefit of having stretched my creative muscle. I tried a new form. The result was not too good, but it is finished. (That in and of itself is an accomplishment sometimes!) And I can try again, maybe choosing better words this time or having a clearer idea (dare I say theme?) when I start out. Even though the poem is a bit of a dud, the brain power is not. Words are churning through my mind searching for the right part of the puzzle in which to land. (Hmmmm…might use that line in a poem one day even though the metaphor is mixed. Perhaps break it up into two images…see what I mean?…Hey, I was even inspired to write this blog post!) It is invigorating. It is gray and wet here in NYC today, and the last week before Winter Break. Everyone is dragging. But my writers and I are leaving today with a bit more bounce in our steps and active minds.

Have you written a Sestina? Want to give it a try? Here’s a link to Writer’s Digest‘s Robert Lee Brewer’s blog post from January 17, 2008 about Sestinas. Give it a read and Sestinas a try. If you like the result, share it with us here in the comments or on your own blog (give me a pingback so I know when it goes up!). Or just share your experience. Or perhaps you have a different form to recommend for my students. What should we try next? What is your favorite poetic form?

Happy writing everyone! Keep at it. 🙂