My writing group bursts onto the deck, smiles first.

Carloads of stuff to say, caravans of stuff to share,

char-à-bancs of stuff to celebrate.


Ronnie is the serious poet among us, a fancier of the classic form. She devours Dante, the man known in his country simply as il Poeta.

Alessandro Botticelli. Portrait of Dante.

And she has an abiding love for opera. Ronnie, it turns out, is just like the woman idolized by Dante ~ Beatrice Portinari, a “bringer of blessings” and his spirit guide through Paradise.

Ronnie is our guide through the purging fires of form poetry. Today she brings us a poetic blessing, her recently-penned tour-de-force in praise of her passion ~  Sestina for an Opera Fan.

Sestina #1

Sestina for the Opera Fan    (by Ronnie)

Opera people chatter of the diva’s voice.

Does this tenor have sufficient breath and heart

 to convince us that he loves Violetta to the death?

The grand in opera captures my steadfast love.

I focus.  I listen.  I want to know

if this tenor and his soprano make a winning pair.


I block the grim joke that shadows the aria-singing pair.

It is the tenor who always snares the lady’s heart.

The rumbles of a basso voice

cannot fight melodic vowels that caress the flames of love.

Joy and tender looks seldom alter what I know.

Their soaring phrases spell out death.

Bel Canto will not spare the two from early death.

Mimi and Rodolfo, Puccini’s youthful pair,

Aida, Madama Butterfly, all victims of the heart;

each smitten by the tenor voice.

My wishful warning cannot stop the lure of love;

it is sad and strange.  I always know.


Is the quiet listener next to me new, or also in the know?

We both stare as the strained throat muscles coax his voice

 to work beyond his tessitura spot with heart,

 to reach for the heights where violins sing sweetly to the pair.

The lovers caress the liquid notes, a camouflage to rude death.

The chorus, too, comments on their nearness to the canyon of splattered love.

The thrill of song and drama claims my love.

Opera lays bare the frailty of an impassioned heart,

 set from ancient stories of defeat and death,

 stories glorious as the rising-setting sun we know.

Tristan and Isolde, Orpheus and Eurydice, I remember every pair;

from them come art, drama, and centuries of voice.


Addictive work hones each gifted voice.

Genius masters give the stories heart;

form every note to speak of euphoria and death.

I hear in foreign language all that I can know

of need, of cruelty, of sickness, and human love.

They and I are now  the fated pair.

As Radame and Aida bow, I applaud the operatic heart.

Joy and suffering made one through voice.

Life’s absurdities celebrated by their death.



Can we just talk about the sestina? It’s, well, captivating. I’m in awe of Ronnie’s spin-straw-into-gold talent. I think her sestina is totally wonderful and I’m glad you’re here to read it. Ronnie follows the strict sestina pattern ~ repeating the initial six end-words of the first stanza through the remaining five six-line stanzas with a culminating three-line envoi. Phew. Don’t get the idea this is easy, just so we’re clear ~ it’s waaaay harder than you think.  Many twentieth-century poets have taken on the form which none of us in the group except Ronnie has mastered.  Or, let’s be honest, even attempted. *w*


If you’re curious about contemporary sestinas, check out the Web version of the literary magazine McSweeney’s to read some, including Sestina to Wheateena and Spaghetti Western Sestina. A cartoon cast lends a comedic touch in this one by John Ashbery ~ Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape.


The first of the undecoded messages read: "Popeye sits 
   in thunder,
Unthought of. From that shoebox of an apartment,
From livid curtain's hue, a tangram emerges: a country."
Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch: "How 
To spend one's vacation en la casa de Popeye," she 
Her cleft chin's solitary hair. She remembered spinach

And was going to ask Wimpy if he had bought any spinach.
"M'love," he intercepted, "the plains are decked out 
   in thunder
Today, and it shall be as you wish." He scratched
The part of his head under his hat. The apartment
Seemed to grow smaller. "But what if no pleasant
Inspiration plunge us now to the stars? For this is my 

Suddenly they remembered how it was cheaper in the country.
Wimpy was thoughtfully cutting open a number 2 can of spinach
When the door opened and Swee'pea crept in. "How pleasant!"
But Swee'pea looked morose. A note was pinned to his bib. 
And tears are unavailing," it read. "Henceforth shall
   Popeye's apartment
Be but remembered space, toxic or salubrious, whole or 

Olive came hurtling through the window; its geraniums scratched
Her long thigh. "I have news!" she gasped. "Popeye, forced as 
   you know to flee the country
One musty gusty evening, by the schemes of his wizened, 
   duplicate father, jealous of the apartment
And all that it contains, myself and spinach
In particular, heaves bolts of loving thunder
At his own astonished becoming, rupturing the pleasant

Arpeggio of our years. No more shall pleasant
Rays of the sun refresh your sense of growing old, nor the 
Tree-trunks and mossy foliage, only immaculate darkness and 
She grabbed Swee'pea. "I'm taking the brat to the country."
"But you can't do that--he hasn't even finished his spinach,"
Urged the Sea Hag, looking fearfully around at the apartment.

But Olive was already out of earshot. Now the apartment
Succumbed to a strange new hush. 
"Actually it's quite pleasant
Here," thought the Sea Hag. "If this is all we need fear from 
Then I don't mind so much. Perhaps we could invite Alice the Goon 
   over"--she scratched
One dug pensively--"but Wimpy is such a country
Bumpkin, always burping like that." 
Minute at first, the thunderSoon filled the apartment. It was domestic thunder,
The color of spinach. Popeye chuckled and scratched
His balls: it sure was pleasant to spend a day
 in the country.

Not ready to embrace the sestina struggle?


No matter. Whatever you’re writing these days ~ highbrow, lowbrow, eloquent or cheesy ~ let me kindly suggest that you write like nobody’s watching.  Go on…I dare ya.

Toni 6/7/13

Thoughts About a Kingfisher and What It Reminds Me Of: Another 420 Character, 9-Liner Where I Look at Life as If I Am a Stranger so As to See Something I May Have Missed.


(Thanks to Harry Ainsworth for this great photo of a perched–not hovering–Kingfisher as he peers into a nearby pool–no blinking, well, he could be blinking, but he’s very very still.)

Sight of a Belted Kingfisher hovering

before it plunges headfirst into the brook to catch a fish

triggers stillness in me.

This bird’s “origin” story: Halcyone jumps into the sea, turns into a kingfisher,

weaves a floating nest, and charms the waves into calmness.

But then I hear BK’s rattling cry

and watch it pound its prey to death on a bridge railing perch,

and I realize

deadly rip currents run under smooth waters.