Decide Whether Your Sestina Will Be Metered

Because the sestina contains such a strong pattern, you can compose one without meter. It won't be free verse because the end words of each line repeat and will have a rhymelike effect on the ear. Nonetheless, deciding to meter your sestina is a top priority.

If you meter your sestina, you should avoid trimeter and even tetrameter. The repeating end words will start to call attention to themselves in small lines, detracting from your poem's meaning. Pentameter is the meter of choice, but hexameter also works nicely in a sestina. The longer lines de-emphasize the repetition that so often results in an artificial-sounding sestina.

Again, if you don't meter your sestina, you should avoid short line lengths. Varying the line lengths not only can be visually appealing on the page, but also can appeal to the ear; it adds an element of surprise or anticipation because we never quite know when the repeating end words will resound. (This effect can be combined with content to produce a startling sestina about, say, negotiating a mine field in a war poem or describing thunder in a nature one.) Finally, long freestyle lines undercut the effect of repetition, making the sestina sound less forced. (See Diane Wakoski's freestyle "Elvis at the Dollar Slotbank Sestina" in the mini anthology.)

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