note on the “sestina”

I wanted to say a little more about the sestina form, as it appears in When Rap Spoke Straight to God, which I glossed over in class.

The sestina is a complicated form that goes back to 12th century Troubadour poetry. The form consists of six stanzas of six lines each, with the addition of a three-line envoi. (Envoi is a poetics term for a short, concluding stanza.) The “end words” of the first stanza are repeated in a fixed order, with the concluding envoy including all of the end words.

Dawson’s sestinas in Rap Spoke Straight to God follow an irregular order of end words. If you map out the six end words (swing, trump, skies, this, “K,” new) in the sestina beginning on page 11 (with the line, “For some, it don’t mean a thing without the swing . . .”), you’ll find this pattern:

1 2 3 4 5 6

6 1 2 3 4 5

5 6 1 2 3 4

4 5 6 1 2 3

3 4 5 6 1 2

2 3 4 5 6 1

(5 6) (1 3) (2 4)

This is just another way that Dawson works within “traditional” poetic forms, yet also audaciously remixes them.

For more on the sestina form, check out this page:

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