Mary Cresswell


I hear the dreaded word sestina
slope casually across the room
Someone says, Cool, I’ll write three tonight
someone smirks, You bet, piece of cake.
My heart sinks down
my soul shrivels up a little more.

There’s still hope. They haven’t locked the door.
But stop! Within a
second, they do. It’s too late.
Here I stay and here I write
(last time I tried this, it was gloom and bloody doom
and wishing I was miles away from town).

My better judgement says, put the pencil down
go far away from here – farther, even more
to days of wine and roses, souvlaki and retsina
where no one cares what poetry I make.
I wouldn’t write at all, if I were really bright
and not so ready to presume

skill with villanelle, rondeau redoublé, pantoum
or other verse forms sent to skim
the human heart, to make it cry encore
and dance discreetly its own tarantina
instead of being always on the ache.
What I write tonight

should raise the spirit to a wondrous height
not wallow in existential gloom
not have rhymes like a dog’s dinner
not tempt my friends to show me the door
and never let me come back in
till I ingratiate

myself by writing what the rule book says is great.
Is that what I am destined for tonight?
Damn. Am I the author of my doom?
I never should have touched a pencil or a pen
without knowing more
about the art of the sestina.

But I have never met a verse form that I truly hate
so perhaps I should assume I’ve finally gotten something right –
and this will be the last time I sit down and try once more.


If it rattles on like hell
it’s not a ballad or a verse
it’s a villanelle

What’s that silly smell
coming from my purse?
it rattles on like hell

And drives me up the wall
or maybe even worse
yes, it’s a villanelle

I always know to tell
to rant and rave and curse
that which rattles on like hell

And leaves me but a shell
and panting for divorce
from the dreaded villanelle

Will it save me? yes, it shall
preserve me from the monster’s curse
It will rattle on its way to hell
that misbegotten villanelle.

Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast. Her most recent book is Field Notes, a satiric miscellany published by Mākaro Press (2017). For more information, see www.bookcouncil.org.nz/Writers/Profiles/Cresswell,%20Mary.
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