Dear Poets,

We here at Wag’s Revue, the online literary quarterly, would like to put a challenge to you. The sextine syllabique, or “syllable sestina,” is a form that—as far as I can tell—was invented by Gilles Esposito-Farres, and made its debut on the Oulipo listserv on 8 May 2009. Here is the original, by Mr. Esposito-Farres:

Je l'ai seul en son Mai :
mes jeux, on les lance, eux.
Se mélangent les sons ;
sont celés mes gelants
lents songes ; se mêlait
l'élan... Mais sont-ce jeux ?

The constraint, which may not be immediately apparent, is that the poem only contains six syllables, which are repeated in the latin-square pattern of end-words in a sestina:


So the sixth syllable of the first line, "Mai", becomes the first syllable of the second line (the homophone "mes") and the second syllable of the third line ("mé" of "mélangent," also a homophone), and so on.

Now it's possible that the French language is more inherently conducive to this kind of form, because of its abundance of spellings of a given sound (e.g.: -ez, -er, -et, -é, -ai, -ais, etc., all very common endings, and all roughly the same sound).

But why not English? Take the following example:

sign-thumbing ass-baiter–
turbine ate the masting’s
tincture. assign them bay
baitings. the turbine mass
massed, bay tining: stir them.

And now the challenge: better the example. For our anniversary issue of Wag's Revue, set for release in Spring 2010, I'd like to feature a showcase of syllable sestinas in English. It's not an easy task (trust me), but it should be fun.

Rules are few. Abide by the form as closely as possible, but be flexible: in the original example the fourth syllable in the first line ("en" in the phrase "seul en son mai") takes some adjacent consonants for the second line (the "l" from "seul" and the "s" from "son" to become "lance"). The title can be a line of the poem, as in the English example, or not. Otherwise, be inventive. And please reply by March 1.

Good luck!

Will Guzzardi
Poetry Editor, Wag’s Revue