Pick a Subject That Melds With the Form

Many sestinas fail because the poet uses this complex form to express any old idea. If you like formal poetry, you should know that each form was meant to convey different moods or subject matter. In the case of the sestina, the topic has to be inherently repetitious. For instance, the last two sestinas I have written and published depicted:

• A trip north along Interstate 29 in the Midwest, chronicling a family trip in which the same road signs, diners, smells, cities, animals, and other similarities and phenomena seemed to recur with every mile.

• My daughter getting lost in a maze at an Austrian castle, which actually happened when she was three. I could hear her voice echoing in the chambers as she ran from place to place, giggling as in a game of chase (which it, eerily, was).

So before you even consider composing a sestina, make sure your subject suits the repetition. If it doesn't, cut your losses right now.

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