|My main studio table early in the process of creating The Seeds You Plant.|
By its very nature, a sestina is actually a rather convoluted type of poem, but the natural structure created by the six repeating words appeals to me. My first thought was to choose words that I associate with Florence―water/river, bridge/link, piazza/square, etc.―but somehow (I'm not ever sure exactly how this 'evolutionary' part of the process occurs, though it always does) I ended up building a sestina around a favorite quote by R. L. Stevenson. It may have been the quote's everyday presence in my studio for the past seven+ years―or maybe it was the desire to use a wooden spice box to house the poem; the box's six compartments seem like a good place to store seeds, which are evocative of growth.
Initially, I played around with small green 'pillow' boxes to hold mini-booklets with each of the poem's six stanzas. I also experimented with seed packet enclosures that contained cards printed with the stanzas, as well as hexagons and accordions that could be arranged into six-pointed stars. Then, as I was sifting through my collection of papers, I came across a marbled paper in shades of green, brown and black; not only did it contrast well with the box, it also made me think of the earth and things growing. I wasn't sure if I would use it to line the compartments or as the covers or endpapers for miniature books, but I knew that it would play a role in the finished piece.
Meanwhile, as I worked on the poem, I realized that Stevenson's quote could serve as the envol (a three-line stanza that concludes the sestina, in which the six chosen words also repeated in a certain order, this time with two per line). This meant the word order for the preceding six stanzas was now determined. Arranged as the envol, the quote, "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant" became:
Don't judge each day
by the harvest you reap,
but by the seeds you plant.
'Judge', 'day', 'harvest', 'reap', 'seeds' & 'plant' were therefore designated as the end-words that would alternate through the course of the six main stanzas.
At first, I didn't really care for the word 'judge'―it seemed harsh and out of place with the meditative gardening metaphor that I was using to describe my thoughts about the creative process―but then I found myself thinking about how important it is to trust yourself when it comes to such things. So, running through the poem is a thread of how only you can be the judge of what you wish to reap from the 'seeds' (dreams/ideas) you plant―not the voices of your childhood, not your neighbors, not society. I love to see how something that at first seems like an obstacle can instead become an integral element of a project.
To house the stanzas I finally settled on hard-covered accordions decorated with the marbled paper. But then I came across some cherished scraps of washi paper that my mother gave me years ago: one is black with tiny gold dots, and the other has little gold flowers scattered thickly across a mottled orange background. As the lines of the sestina began to take shape and the growth metaphor became more central to the poem, I decided to use the dotted paper to cover the first book, which represents the 'seed'. The flowered washi paper worked for the fifth book, which represents the 'flower', the marbled paper seemed appropriate to express 'roots', and I carved little stamps to create papers for the 'stem'- and 'leaf'-themed books. The sixth one, which alludes to the 'fruit', or the reward (and allows the cycle to repeat), has a pattern of foliage, flowers and fruits. Each phase in the growth cycle also repeats on the back of the accordion, taking the form of relevant words/phrases and simple images on a hand-colored background.
Since the sestina is very structured (and was actually quite a challenge to write!), I am hoping to spend some time simply exploring the fun of words in their purest form, to see where it leads. Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge's Poemcrazy, which is shown on the left of my studio table in the top image, is one catalyst in this quest. I have found a lot of inspiration in her short stories/meditations about words and poetry, and am looking forward to experimenting with her ideas one of these days soon...
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|The Seeds You Plant ( my latest artist's book)|