In 2013 The literary world had two sestina anthologies to look forward to. The book that had been in the works longest, since 2009, was The Incredible Sestina Anthology, edited by Daniel Nester (Write Bloody Publishing). He reused primarily those poems he had used in McSweeney’s because he already had the rights to publish them. Of mine, he chose “The Vision” to include (q.v. in an earlier post); the book appeared in 2013.
In that same year Gianna Jacobson wrote me to solicit a poem to be used in the revival of an old magazine, december, that had many associations with the Writers’ Workshop of the University of Iowa while I had been attending graduate school there. Over a period of years I, some of my classmates, and many other poets and writers had appeared there with early work. I was happy to contribute another experimental sestina titled “The Cathedral” which, instead of teleutons, used head-words, all of which were consonances of one-another:
Carven images bedeck its eaves;
Cloven hooves of fauns must scrabble where
Craven blackbirds arch their wings and call
Coven members to their burning duties.
Corvine discourses are hushed within the
Cavern of the nave. Do knaves fill this
Cavern once again? Are these figures
Carven at, or on the altar? Are they
Corvine in their nature? How long have they
Cloven faith from service to formulate a
Coven of figures clothed in cerements?
Craven from the beginning, have they preyed
Cravenly on the choir serving this
Cavern of piety? Was their warlocks'
Coven formed expressly for this purpose?
Carven in the doctrine of three males
Cloven from Adam's rib: Father, Son, and
Corvine Holy Spirit, never from the
Curving womb? Was doctrine ever so
Craven, so fearful of the feminine? Can
Cloven hooves be heard scuttling among this
Cavern's aisles, before these seven stations
Carven with the symbols of the rood?
Covens have been purported to exist from
Coventry to Navarre, all of them
Corvine in their kind...wings hover over
Carven gargoyles in the umber eaves.
Craven shadows linger in this empty
Cavern, in the apse and in the choir.
Cloven vows lie riven at the altar,
Cloven vows that echo in this final
Coven of the Holy Ghost, in this
Cavern of the lost where in the vault
Corvine hosts prey upon the children,
Craven blackbirds raven far beneath
Carven gargoyles sitting in the eaves.
Cloven vows fall beneath this corvine
Coven dedicated to the craven
Cavern-dwellers, caryatids carven.
The resurrection issue of december appeared in December of 2013.
The second anthology, Obsession: Sestinas for the 21stCentury,edited by Marilyn Krysl and Carolyn Beard Whitlow, was started much later than Daniel Nester’s, in the summer of 2012, by which time the editors had already chosen most of its contents; they wrote to ask for my help in arranging and publishing it. They had selected my poem “The Obsession” to use (q.v. in an earlier post), and I contributed an "Afterword" as well. I recommended it to my publisher, the University Press of New England, which is a boutique press that includes such elements as Wesleyan University Press and Dartmouth College Press – it was the latter that published it in 2014.
Interest in both anthologies continues apace. On Wednesday, May 21, 2014 I received this request from Kristin LaTour:
"I am working on an essay for a presentation at a writing retreat that will be developed for publication. I will credit your answer, any lines I quote from a poem of yours, or words you list in your answer. In your answers, feel free to include an example of a set of words, or point back to the poem you have in the sestina anthology or another poem if it’s posted somewhere online. If you refer to another published poem online, please copy and paste the link to the poem.
LaTour. How do you begin a sestina? Do you start with a set of words? Do you have any guidelines for choosing the words you’ll use?
Turco. There is no one way. Sometimes there is a series of words, as in “The Cathedral,” though first I had the topic in mind and chose the words to fit the topic; or a line, as in “The Obsession” – I think I almost always have a topic in mind first, then I develop the sestina to suit the topic.
LaTour. Once you’re going, how to keep up the thread? Do you worry about theme or do you just keep going?
Turco. Well, I guess if you mean by “theme," topic, that always comes first. I have no trouble keeping the sestina going once it’s started and I know where I’m going.
LaTour. Have you ever tried a double sestina? Is the process any different?
Turco. Yes, I have, “Double Vision,” though I began with “The Vision” and later added “Second Sight.” I have never just sat down to write a double sestina.
LaTour. Do you have trouble revising a sestina given the set words? Why or why not?
Turco. I don’t do a lot of revising of a sestina. Any revisions are likely to take place while I’m writing the first draft or just after I’ve finished the first draft. “Double Vision” was the exception; the two halves were written at different times."
There will be a poetry reading by contributors to Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 19, 2014, at Bestsellers Cafe, 24 High Street, Medford, MA. I have been asked to introduce the session as well as read my own work.