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Leonard Kress

Why I Keep Writing Sestinas

The first sestina was by the Troubador poet
Arnaut Daniel and immediately imitated
by a host of others, including Dante in his "Stony Lady,
Pietra." Try not to focus on the monotony
of the six or seven-fold repetition,
it's just right for a song of mourning,

dolorous, despairing, melancholy--a morning
spent with a stubbornly forlorn poet
who thinks his words deserve repeating,
which makes him (or her) no more than an imitation
of the rest of us, who think our own monotonous
lives deserve airing. We've all been betrayed by that lady

or that man, or else we've been that lady
who betrays. What's so special about your mourning
over this or that? It's all monochromatic, monotone,
without inflection, at least that's what some poets
would have you believe-and inimitable
once their special touch makes it worth repeating.

And, of course, repeating
over and over. If you think this is about some lady,
well, you're mistaken. I am loathe to imitate
anyone, by God, and when I arise each morning
it's not with the intent to sound like a medieval poet
"with a wailing and immoveable monotony,"

As though monogamous and monotonous
were homophones, a sentiment oft repeated
since the earliest troubadour poets
began to obsess over cold-hearted ladies
like Pietra. Knowing there's never a morning
when they'd awake side by side imitating

lovers, as if intimate and imitate
were also homophones. If something's monotonous,
at first (to cite a Zen saying) then try it all morning:
what seems at first mere repetition
will turn profound. Tell that to the stony lady
and perhaps she'll forgive you for being a poet.

Leonard Kress has published fiction and poetry in Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, Crab Orchard Review, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, etc. His recent collections are The Orpheus Complex, Thirteens, and Braids & Other Sestinas. He teaches philosophy, religion, and creative writing at Owens College in Ohio and edits creative non-fiction for Artful Dodge.

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