You took your long walk to freedom
inside your cell of twenty seven years.
Did you, alone in all your darkest nights
ever lose your will and give up hope?
Close your eyes and wish to never wake?
Or did you always know the dawn would come?
Rolihlahla, how did you come
to be the one to lead your land to freedom,
shake the branches of the tree and wake
the world that let you rot for all those years?
Become the one who gave us hope
that sunny days can follow darkest nights.
In your tiny room, alone at night,
did visions of a new land come
and go, new ideas, plans, and hopes?
Dreams of millions yearning freedom
after grinding years
of servitude and pain. Could you wake
the fervour that once kept you awake
when like a shadow in the night
you poked your rulers for so many years?
You knew that one day they might come
and smash your door, steal your freedom
for a final time, their cruel hope
would be to extinguish any hope;
hold no funeral, no wake,
just a fist to crush your freedom
so they could sleep at night
and when their morning came
their power would be safe for all their years.
But you knew better; twenty seven years
their game was up and hope
had won the day, you came
exultant from the open gates, no longer weak
or chained, the bravest knight
had slain a dragon, given back their freedom.
Freedom springs from hope
when years pass like nights
and our sun-filled morning comes
How Did It Go?
The sestina was inspired by Nelson Mandela after my trip to Robben Island last week. His Xhosa birth name is Rolihlahla, which means “One who shakes the tree”, or “troublemaker”. Sestinas are very tricky and I don’t write them unless I’m challenged to. I may take the themes here and create a poem in a more comfortable format.
He has the overwhelming urge to act
as he stands in the supermarket line,
cradles the deadweight of a baked bean can.
But now his pocket feels a buzz of hope
he musters all his strength to answer.
He knows in that moment he wants to live.
On this dwindling ice raft where can I live?
This bold death will be my radical act.
My habitat cannot show me answers:
walruses squash in suffocating lines.
Where should we look for next year’s shrimp of hope?
I defend my basking spot while I can.
The Home Office say doing what they can
but we know not all of us can be saved.
We were told wait at the airport. We hope
the Government will step in soon to act.
Meantime, we know we can’t step out of line
they will reply with bullets, not answers.
We trust the inquiry will bring answers:
we will find the offenders if we can.
Of course the whips have towed the party line!
After all, they’ve got their own jobs to save.
The ministers have all kept up the act,
but we believe in justice. There is hope.
Until we hear, we continue to hope,
and we also hope to find the answer
to what really happened. This is our act
of defiance, it’s the difference we can
make, it’s our last attempt to try and save
our lost child, to understand the timeline.
The arbitration has reached our red lines.
At this point, we don’t hold out too much hope
strikes can still be avoided, or jobs saved.
We’re going to need to hear last-ditch answers
from the Board. But there’s still time if they can
find their courage: now’s their moment to act.
Struggling to act, struggling to save
someone. Lives on the line. Short of answers,
we do what we can, raise our heads and hope.
How Did It Go?
Let me start by saying that I have tried several times to write a sestina and always abandoned them, and that I don’t think this draft is successful, either. The repetition and the length make it difficult for the poem not to be either annoying or ponderous, and the form really consumes the content, for me. I find it hard to think of any sestinas that I actually like as poems. Those end words always begin to jar by about half way through. The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus is perhaps one example I like, but he doesn’t maintain syllable length so it is possible for it to feel more conversational and natural.
I was actually going to write a sestina about the media reaction to the Queen’s death, and chose my end words accordingly, but the first image that came to me was the man in the first stanza and the idea changed my theme. I changed one of my end words from ‘force’ to ‘answer’ to fit the new theme of waiting. I wrote the envoi first, and then fleshed out the stanzas. I feel they get progressively worse through the poem, and maybe another edit could improve it, but I still would naturally want to cut 3 stanzas. Tritina, anyone?
We went walking in a dreary dream wood, we stopped
to get our bearings and drink wine.
We came upon the old, abandoned skating rink.
Focus on the forces that strip the forest of light,
You said in the haze of science-fiction cinema miracle,
stars falling down a staircase into a mirage of water.
A guitar-shaped lake resonating, reflected in a cup of water.
Poured it out into the edge of night and then you stopped
to proclaim your vision of the future to come, A miracle!
It has something to do, nonetheless, with the dark red wine
of nothingness, how soon shall we be in the light?
We climbed over brambles and descended to the rink.
I held you close you pushed me to the floor of the rink.
Get off me you fool, it had rained, the surface covered in water.
What of the reflection, the immaculate positioning of a target in ontological light —
We were both overcome, by the pattern of stars against our clothing, and stopped
our argument in the close approaching dawn’s ferocious sky dotted with the colouring of wine.
Is God anything more or less than the bliss of such a miracle?
We would argue in school, in secular clothing, there is no miracle.
To be perceived is to discern the thought patterns of the galaxy inside a rink.
Always hidden in overcoats, our small furrier flasks full of wine.
How was that story of Jesus turning water, the simple story of water —
Our father taught us outside the pubs there is no metaphysic, we stopped
on the road between belief and the hollow concave cistern of the street’s light.
Pour me out the language that erased our names in the torch grain of wine.
Your presence is my absence, I am engulfed in the light.
This enervating glow an austere reminder in any situation there may occur a miracle.
You raised me up, soaking, patterns of skates, entangled vines, the discourse stopped.
Pompous fools wearing pom-pom trinkets to identify greatness, echoed in the rink.
Were we brother and sister or two close friends’ family or distant spectres in the vineyards of old wine?
Vinegar is acid is ice is radioactive in the hollows of hands cupped to the chalice of wine.
Hallucinations of professional self-important wheelwrights as light
as the service of the overflowing water.
Beyond the stem cells of a clustered geometric miracle,
we remembered we were always joined together thus, skating across this rink.
Until the night music and the carnivalesque sound of the organ and the skates stopped.
So much for water and its transmutation to wine.
When the world stopped there was a mesmeric light.
It was not a miracle it was the held embrace of downy moss along the neck of the rink.
-Robert Frede Kenter
How Did It Go?
This worked out quite well for me; I received the prompt from Paul Brookes a day before the Sunday to return. I had travelled to the forest where I often go, a retreat, a sanctuary – a place to regroup and to write and draw. To do this, I had to place the pattern of last word-word order before me and wrote a quasi-narrative in one straight draft, as if working quickly with knitting needles on a pattern of a descending day. I chose to work with whatever last line words (in stanza 1) emerged, intuitively – these no matter how awkward, I did not change. To finish, I had to change ‘stop’ twice to ‘stopped’; choose a few connecting words here and there, to polish the rhythms and the ties between wor(l)ds; like building new collagen in the form of a working poem, with otherworldly sci-fi elements, a poem formed from memory & relational dynamics, of family and early life and neighbourhood landscape, joined to the eco-apocalyptic. By draft 4, I realize—recognize the SESTINA as an excellent, elegant way to empty the mind of preconception and enable a weave and convergence to unravel a tangle of associations and juxtapositions through meaning and repetition succour.
-Robert Frede Kenter
The turning of years
This light too bright, too harsh to see
The turning of the year, the last
Of all the golden leaves. The bird
That sang so sweet, we see it fall
And lie in downy feathers, curled
In its dead grace and our deep sorrow.
Joy is ever cast with sorrow,
Shadows shape the forms we see,
Night-dark is the foil to stars that fall.
What was the first light’s now the last,
Time spins in timeless spirals curled
And teaches songs to each dumb bird.
So few springs of life, the bird
Has no time to spend on sorrow.
From soaring in the blue, to fall
And never rise, it cannot see
An end to flight, the place, the last
Nest where in death it will lie curled.
The gales and leaves of autumn curled
About the trees that shelter bird
And wild things ’gainst the cold. The last
Days, summer-mild, have gone, and sorrow
Hangs in bare black boughs that see,
Leafless, blind, how all their children fall.
Nothing is wasted, each windfall
Is taken home where cubs are curled,
For winter’s long, too far to see
The end and plenty, vole and bird
That spring breeds fat. Times of sorrow
Are still to come. With luck, we’ll last.
It comes to all of us at last,
However high we rise, we fall
And leave this life in grief and sorrow.
Look, in the leaves brown-curled,
Its head beneath a wing, the bird
Another spring will never see.
Joy and sorrow come, though neither last,
And we see red flames dance at each leaf fall,
Spring curled in the heart’s song of each bird.
How Did It Go?
The sestina began life in the head of a 12th century troubadour in the Occitan language. The first difficulty for me, as with all these old poetic forms, was finding a relevant way to use it. The world of the troubadours is long gone, and the sought after effect of poetry has changed.
Although the whole idea of ‘authenticity’ is redundant, I decided to stick to natural themes (life, death, nature) and kept an iambic meter. The words I chose were six of the twenty-five of a very short poem I’d just written. It might have been better to write a first stanza and recycle all the last words. At least the first stanza would have read in a completely natural way. Because that was the second difficulty, not the repetition of the words, but because they weren’t necessarily words I’d necessarily end a line with. Like ‘see’ or ‘curled’. Hence the enjambment.
The third difficulty was keeping up momentum, making a six-stanza poem without simply repeating the same phrases. Perhaps choosing words that have more ambiguous meanings would make that easier. Though, I suppose, a good poet can find a dozen meanings and uses for every word.
It was a challenge, like a puzzle, fitting pieces together to make them fit. Keeping more or less to a strict meter might seem like adding an extra difficulty, but I think it gives the piece coherence, smooths over some of the ‘stilts’ in the phrases. The result should probably be considered a first draft, and a true troubadour would have spent many hours, chewing his quill, to get a better effect. But there’s a sense of satisfaction in finishing a sestina at all, even if it does look and sound like something from another age.
“In the Morning”
To 400 degrees preheat the womb
In hills they’ll pay good money for young blood
Cratchits make the best out of their goose
Mosquitos proboscises spread fever
Humans service the department of health
Latchkey bags of kittens repay in kind
Animals are taught cruelty by men kind
The stone is rolled back, reveals barren womb
From Michigan tap, he drinks to their health
Rejects discharged, torrents tissue and blood
Stuck in first class feral, cabin fever
Different generation, excuse his goose
Depending on year, Wild Turkey/Grey Goose
In their game pairs trumped by four of a kind
Prime minister opts to starve the fever
Certain eggs fetch a good price — tomb to womb
Paltry pay for sweat, tears, plasma in blood
Premie is dealt in with compromised health
Where legal feel safer about hygiene, health
Migrating to mate, becomes a cooked goose
Pays a king’s ransom for that cruel blood
Some can take home, prefers the other kind
Misses birthplace, so often visits womb
Travels abroad to treat yellow fever
Friday’s black nightlife, the disco fever
Too late, eleventh hour trip for his health
Had disease since birth, contracted in womb
Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, Goose
Bondage conception of being kind
Kids today paint town with innocent blood
The flier is printed in dirty blood
Record producer describes his fever
M&M’s in the dish must be one kind
Insomniac assesses smarts, worth, health
To protect child, into fray goes mongoose
Public pools mimic overcrowded womb
Prioritizing detrimental health
Good for the gander, is a Christmas goose
Crust trail has vanished, can’t return to womb
How Did It Go?
This second Sestina I have ever attempted made for a somewhat challenging proposition, but I powered through and enjoyed the resulting verses which materialized. The six repeating line-ending words I chose proved a bit tricky too… I realized early on the possibility of weaving into a smooth self-contained, linear storyline would not generate a collective piece I was interested in pursuing, so instead I changed my tack and employed a variety of snapshotted images in an approach approximating that of an Eisenstein montage, with each verse adhering to a general theme, allowing the reader to piece together internal meanings of particular stanzas together and mull over how they come together in Frankenstein fashion to make one cohesive whole. This form’s greatest difficulty is the groundwork, setting up the foundations and laying out the arrangement, then one can proceed filling things in (maintaining the chosen syllable counts for each line’s meter) with leisurely ease, almost in an automatic writing manner of the French dada practitioners. The sestina form is almost a talk therapy exercise in word association not unlike a Jungian’s delivering of some Rorschach query to the patient become poet. In that sense it’s quite interesting to scrape your unconscious for material, reel in a line from the mind’s dark depths and see what has been hooked. Personally, with the building blocks I chose (at random, in homage to admired publishers including Wombwell Rainbow, BloodBathHate, Sad Goose Collective, Fevers of the Mind, HealthLineZine, It Takes All Kinds) I ultimately invoked and explored material and allusions mythological, literary, political, and ethic in themes. Economic issues of inequality and their intersection with affordable family formation (and different institutions, correlated deviance) loomed ominously over my thoughts and concerns, as did generational slash and burning and the imperfect world our generation and the next to come must contend with inheriting. But the process at least was a smooth one once I’d set out the parameters. I completed this exercise slowly but surely while attending a virtual release party (a quarterly process they have long generously offered) for the most recent issue of glorious magazine Meat For Tea… Sestinas might similarly be fine fodder and mental practice for cognitive sharpening a person could attempt as distraction or wit strength lifting during a long commute, road trip, in the background of a dull workday, or any number of sundry places, truly benefits as a multi-tasking supplemental operation to pick away at instinctively without pressure or intensive focus. By letting your conscious mind drift and giving your free associations the reigns, you will be quite amazed by the directions things proceed in, and satisfied with the unexpected fruits reaped. Immensely grateful to Paul Brookes and his fantastic journal for stimulating this process, and spurring us each to try something new and rewarding, which once we overcome the intimidation of venturing from our comfort zones, can be of great edification and full of intriguing surprises and unique configurations!
I came here, to this white garden,
where petals fall from the trees
and the air is heavy with honey –
I came here, aching to sleep,
to sleep deep and slow and long –
to drift. That’s all. Just to drift.
White blossom gathers in drifts
as if winter has come to the garden:
soft piles of petals, making me long
to curl cat-wise under the trees.
I might dream if I could only sleep,
of white bees collecting white honey.
I might dream of the scent of honey,
and the way bees hum and drift,
’til the air’s heavy with buzzing and sleep
floats like petals over the garden.
I might dream of white flowers on white trees,
white flowers that are drifting along
paths that wind, twisting along,
past white roses all scented with honey,
that spiral beneath moonlight trees.
Like a white blossom, I want to drift
past pale lilies that bloom in the garden,
past the place where the white doves all sleep.
I know where it is that they sleep,
nestled together. I long
to find them again, but this garden
twists me and turns me. Roses and honey
and lilies – a sweet drift
of perfume. The shade of the trees.
Don’t wake me. I’m dreaming of trees,
white barked and silvery leaved. Sleep
has softened me, set me adrift.
Days are long. Days are long
and I linger, with a sweet honey
taste on my lips. I dream of a garden.
I lie under the trees, and I long
to stop dreaming, to waken to honey
and white rolls. To drift all my days through the garden.
How Did It Go?
Here is my sestina. Problems with it? I think it’s mostly a difficulty in coming to grips with the form. I felt like I was just circling round and round and not really going anywhere. I have done sestinas before, and found the same problem. I wonder if the key is to choose end words that can be nouns/verbs or have more than one meaning? And it’s so long. I don’t naturally write long poems – in fact I think I’m getting shorter and shorter – so such a long poem felt a bit daunting.
I write. I brandish my pen, nib gleaming dark
And the words flow from my pen like swords
That deflect and slay and mock and laugh
As they paint a picture of love, of loss, of hope
I write and as I write the stories stand behind me
Like statues, faceless, the shapes of my memories
But I know that the endless fog of my memory
Causes me to wander incessantly, my face dark
As I seek and search the inner labyrinth of me
Seeking the truth in me, hunting my courage, a sword
That I need to find my way, to search for hope
Yet that impossibility raises in me a mocking laugh
I write beautiful statues that evoke tears and laughter
I caress faces and hopes and tears that live in memories
I sidle past sculptures in my mind that once held hope
But I know not if they are true, or if I created them in dark
I fall in love again with memories of knights with swords
But I wonder how I lived those tales, drawing them into me
I muse on it, on my statues, on the creation of beauty, on me
The endless pursuit for perfection, the race to live, love, laugh
That need for peace that I then disdain, I reach for my sword
To seek drama and adventure, to create deathbed memories
I do not wish to slide helplessly, so inexorably into the dark
I want to grow something, use my hands – but I have no hope
Can my statues, my creations, my beauty, lend me that hope?
Because once upon a time, in some form, they were part of me
I wielded them, I drew them out of me, juddering, into the dark
I could breathe life into them, they could show me how to laugh
And love and dream my way to life, I could make new memories
I could turn away from my tears, I could discard all my swords
But perhaps the statues are a false me, perhaps I am but swords
Some of us who are tainted with melancholy cannot hold hope
In their wasted palms, as the light falls through, leaving no memory
I am not my statues, the poetry that I made, and it is not of me
They are words fallen from my lips, from my tears and my laughs
But the events maketh not a person, nor their scars but the dark
Swords that clash and slice my soul in two, leaving me in dark
That poisons hope, the ragged sigh that trails into mocking laugh
The memories that swirl, that chafe and itch, that makes me, me.
How Did It Go?
Well this one was pretty tough to do!
I went for a muse image to consider, and I used the photography of Taylor Lashae when she stands with her sculptures, personifying them if you will. I wrote the first verse organically, making a note of which words fell at the end, and then began to repeat them. Some changed.
The original word sequence was A Wet, B Swords C Turn D Hope E Me F Memories. I changed A Wet to A Dark and C Turn to C Laugh.
Ask That Librarian of the Lost
1) Ask them if they can lose something you found,
a memory perhaps, a hanger on,
that thing that glues, sticks, grips, will not let go,
what you cannot forget, the wound, the hurt,
a betrayal that deepens in your skin.
an unseen wound that winds worries the nerve
2) twists the windlass, always tightens nagged nerve,
Ask official to get rid of what you found,
can they dig it out of your bones and skin,
can they lose it on this damned track your on,
how to accept the pain and wounded hurt,
how to free it up, loose its hold, let go.
3) The librarian unsorts what must go,
declassifies, takes pressure off ragged nerves
There is a high cost, demands for payment hurt
with menaces as happens to all found
Pending. They discuss alternatives on,
examining the wound under your skin.
4) Say the damage deepens under your skin,
everytime you refuse to let go,
to forgive the one who you dwell upon,
you are the one lost, who lacks the nerve,
to remove the glue, your grip on the found,
you encourage the pain, foster the hurt
5) you tighten the windlass, to speed your hurt,
injure your own bones beneath your skin,
cannot forgive gullibility found
there, a weakness you cannot accept, let go,
your better person would have the nerve,
to send pain on its way, let it go on
6) without you, take another path to go on,
the broken promiser wins all times you hurt.
This is not psychobabble, have you nerve?
I’m reclassifying your emotions skin.
Teaching how to heal yourself as you go.
You were lost and in pain, now you are found.
7) Librarian’s nerve, in goading me on
I don’t feel that found, I can still sense hurt
but it’s lifting skin healing, on I go.
How Did It Go?
Bio and Links
is an English poet based in Barcelona. Her work has featured in Ink, Sweat and Tears, Black Bough Poetry, The Alchemy Spoon and The Blue Nib, among other publications. She was longlisted for the Live Canon 2021 International Poetry Prize and shortlisted for the Hastings Book Festival 2022 Poetry Competition. Her first pamphlet Zoetrope is forthcoming with Hedgehog Press. She tweets at @hilaryotto.
-Robert Frede Kenter
is a writer, editor, visual artist & the publisher of Ice Floe Press. Work recently in journals incl: CutbowQ, Streetcake Magazine, Feral, WatchYrHead, Anthropocene, FeversOf, Anti-Heroin-Chic. Work appears in The Book of Penteract, an Anthology (Penteract Press, 2022), The Poets of 2020 (FeversOf Press), Pandemic Love and Other Affinities, an Anthology (Ice Floe Press). Their most recent book is EDEN (2021), a hybrid now available at Rare Swan Press.
lives and works in southwest France. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her poems and stories have been published in magazines and journals including Ogham Stone, the Ekphrastic Review, Black Bough Poetry, ink sweat and tears, Gleam, Nightingale & Sparrow, Green Ink and Brilliant Flash Fiction. She blogs at https://janedougherty.wordpress.com/ Her poetry chapbooks, thicker than water and birds and other feathers were published in October and November 2020.
graduated from the University of Southern California’s Cinema-Television Production program and spent a picaresque decade in the entertainment industry before returning to the midwest where he was born and raised. Since then he has worked as everything from dishwasher to paralegal, night watchman to assembler of heart valves. Berglund has exhibited many poems employing a variety of forms online and in print, most recently in Vermillion, Hey I’m Alive Magazine, and Fauxmoir. He is furthermore an established, award-winning fine art photographer, whose black and white pictures have been shown in galleries across New York, Minneapolis, and Santa Monica.
is a poet originally from the UK who now lives in Germany. They published their debut of poetry, Of Swans and Stars, in July 2022, and is planning to release a collection called Love Lost and Found, towards the end of the year. When they are not writing poetry they are working on a dystopian novel or teaching English freelance.