I have this incredible weakness for free verse, whereas I know many readers also take great pleasure in meter and rhyme. Well, here’s a compromise for us, guaranteed to please no one. It’s a poem with intricate, bustling form, yet very few end rhymes! I don’t think it has a meter per se, but I’m feeling a lot of anapests when I read sections of it aloud (in my head). And there’s a maddening recurrence of words like 8, city, pear, think… Ah, it’s a sestina! I had to look it up. That’ll tell you how long it’s been since we read a sestina, a french troubador form named for "6" — 6 stanzas of 6 lines each, plus an "envoi" — that worked its way into Dante’s Italian, and, later, into Elizabeth Bishop’s English.
As Stephen Fry says, it’s a recycling of elusive patterns that cannot quite be held in the mind all at once. For the words have to be repeated in certain lines at certain points, and then all assembled much more tightly in the final, abbreviated stanza. I like Fry’s description. Sestinas tend to be more suggestive than conclusive… you read them, and read them again, and think… What is going on here? They’re like a little murder mystery.
Here’s a fresh one from Stav Poleg, which sounds very much like an anagrammatic pseudonym, but apparently is not. -ed.
Summer solstice (first scene). A girl with a knife cuts a pearin half. Think “Venus Rising from the Sea” goes cityand smoke. At the bar, a man dreams a glass of champagnelike an unbalanced thought. Think “Streetcar” goes “Gatsby,” the scenewith the boat. She lights a cigarette as if it’s made of thin glass,he’s telling a story as if it’s a city uncut. Cut.
A nightmare. The girl shouts in a black-and-white dream. Cut.There’s a gallery. Think MOMA but rough. She looks at a pearmade of bronze, in a nest of cast iron and glass.The gallery turns into a field of white roses, a white city,is it still June? Think Fellini’s dancing scenein “8½.” One hand’s filling a glass with champagne
the other offering the glass. Champagne?The girl dances and dances. Think Matisse, “The Cut-Outs.” Cut.Close-ups: Scissors. A dancer. Another dream scene.Think “Last Year at Marienbad,” the moon like a pear—the shape of a question. The actors arrive at an improvised city,think musical setting, the sky made of turquoise-stained glass.
London. A waitress with eyes like stained glass.Think Soho stilettos, fake mascara, cheap champagne.The phone rings with a “Moon River” cover. Think New York Cityat the end of the line. Can you hear me? We’ve met at the—. Cutto a mirror. Think Manet’s “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.” Cerulean pearmade of a girl and a corset too tight. But next, it’s the girl with the scene-
stealing smile. Ready? It’s “The Perfect Summer” deleted scene:a lake, pink lemonade, a girl’s wearing soft tan. Think “The GlassMenagerie,” anything but. Sunglasses like a Venetian mask, a spiral pear-and-amaretto tart, she drinks too much champagnethen hides and throws up. Think “Manhattan,” the outtakes. Cut.Rome. A girl opens an envelope with the tip of a knife. Think “La Città
e la Casa,” pages revealing city by city as if every cityis cut into rivers and sliced into streets down to the seeds of each scene.The phone rings. Don’t hang up. She hangs up. Cut.Later, she watches how sand travels like rain inside hourglassbulbs as if it’s a low-budget film. Sound effects: rain, champagneflute drops from a hand. Somewhere a girl wears a ring like a pear
on a knife, like the deepest of cuts. Somewhere a cityis closed and is endless, is the shape of an 8, a pear mise-en-scènewhere a glass stem is held like a spine and a promise. Champagne?