MD Kerr

An Irritated Sestina Featuring 6 Words Shakespeare Supposedly Invented

Sestina

Text of the poem

They keep banging on about Shakespeare, bump
his name to the top of every list, embrace
his dreadful puns, make his work-for-hire a fixture
on every syllabus and insist that if you howl
the WORDS right THEN they ARE iAMbic. Lonely
teenage me swallowed it all, made a resolve

to learn The Balcony Scene by heart – a resolve
I kept, studious, silent, secretly aching for the bump
n grind scholarly girls don’t do. But how lonely
was Juliet, that paragon? Fucking quick to embrace
that lad from the party, and ending the play with a howl
doesn’t make her any more demure. That fixture

of girlhood: wanting to be Juliet, with every light fixture
on the school stage pointing your way, annual resolve
to be thinner for next year’s try-outs, annual howl
at being the priest. Again. He invented ‘bump’,
our teachers cooed, exhorting us girls to embrace
his ‘rich tapesty of words’ and eschew the lonely

scraps of our own casual lingo. Was he lonely,
with his made-up words before they’d become a fixture?
The secret linguistic truth underlying our girlish embrace
of all the slang we swapped like letters was: that would resolve
the language’s future, faster and farther than any bump
of playwright invention. Language leaps with the howl

of teenage girls across streets – not the howl
of the male geius sat in his attic, brilliant and lonely
with words no-one shares, but the daily first-bump
of our fresh argot. But we were good. I was a fixture
on the school stage, receiving badges, my resolve
to be Juliet, all spot-lit, a failure, but I could embrace

this shallow sun of prizes for knowing stuff. “Embrace”
I learnt to say, not knowing “fuck”, my lust a howl
of ignorant silence, suppressed by my resolve
to be one of those heroines – wan, chaste, lonely
but in a thin, pretty, windswept way – that were the fixture
of all the novels and plays we read, by men. What a bump

to embrace fucking instead of being soulfully lonely,
to howl my gleeful slang – there, Shakespeare, fixed yer
unholy iambic – and resolve to let me living language bump.

Thanks ‐ I think! – to Robert Lee Brewer at the Writers' Digest for the prompt to write a sestina using 6 words Shakespeare supposedly invented.

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