Tag Archives: workshop

How to Write a Sestina

The Sestina


Unrhymed iambic pentameter

Invented by Arnaud Daniel -end of thirteenth century

Six stanzas of six lines each and a three line envoi

Uses word repetition instead of rhyme, but repeated in a different order


Stanza 1: 1-2-3-4-5-6

Stanza 2 : 6-1-5-2-4-3

Stanza 3 : 3-6-4-1-2-5

Stanza 4 : 5-3-2-6-1-4

Stanza 5 : 4-5-1-3-6-4

Stanza 6 : 2-4-6-5-3-1

Envoi : 1st Line : word 2 in middle and 5 at the end

2nd line : word 4 in middle and 3 at the end

3rd line : word 6 in middle and 1 at end


Method for workshop:


1) Give each student an iambic pentameter at random, or let them find their own.

2) Each student produces a six line stanza using the same rhythm but not rhyming.

3) Arrange the end words according to the pattern above and attempt to fill in the lines, keeping the iambic rhythm.

4) Repeat until each stanza is complete

5) Envoi template to be given

6) Complete envoi.

7) Read out finished results

8) The original line could be replaced if not the student’s own.










Lines to be used:

These are taken from Shakespeare

1) Her blood is settled and her joints are stiff

2) Who can impress the forest, bid the tree?

3) We have scorched the snake, not killed it

4) Let every man be master of his time

5) For by the sacred radiance of the sun

6) Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say

7) Mad as the sea and wind, when both contend

8) ‘Tis now the very witching time of night

9) Oh, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out?

10) Show me your image in some antique book

11) When wasteful war shall statues overturn

12) Let this sad interim like the ocean be

13) I summon up remembrance of things past

14) If I could write the beauty of your eyes

15) A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass

16) When yellow leaves, or none, do hang

17) Earth-treading stars that make dark Heaven bright

18) When our sea-walled garden, the whole land

19) And they shall fetch the jewels from the deep

20) Come gentle night, come, loving, black-browed night

21) Take him and cut him out in little stars

22) Night’s candles are burnt out and jocund day

23) The vaulty heaven so high above our heads

24) For women are as roses, whose fair flower

25) The clock upbraids me with the waste of time





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Whitby Folk Week: The Poetry Workshops

This was my first year of being a ‘performer’ at Whitby, stepping in to the big boots of the lovely Jay McShane, to do the poetry workshops. It was wonderful to get such a great turnout, particularly since the events did not happen last year.There were lots of new people, as well as the loyal regulars. It was particularly good to see Cynthia, Roger and retired pirate Gordon Jackson again.

The first day I took a theme of memories, with the hot penning exercise taken from Michael Frayn’s novel ‘Spies’, ‘even here, even now’. This was interpreted in a variety of ways – the test of a good prompt. An exercise to describe an old toy also proved very stimulating and produced some superb work. We read poems by Elma Mitchell and Li Young Lee, and had a fascinating discussion about line breaks.

Day two was all about the seaside, and Whitby in particular. Typicall, this was the day it chose to rain! We had great fun mentally owning our own beach huts. It was lovely for me that my friend Gordon Tyrrall came to lend his support and do some writing.

Writing an instructional poem based on my own ‘How to Capture a Poem’ and ‘How to Build a Sandcastle’ and Jacques Prevert ‘How to Paint a Picture of a Bird’ resulted in some lovely work. Ann wrote about how to make a patchwork quilt, using it as a metaphor. She illustrated this in the readaround by bringing her quilt; not a scrap of material in it had been purchased, so it literally was made of memories, in the shape of bits of her daughter’s skirt, and other fabrics from the fabric of her life.

Day three was about Special Places and Special things.  We designed a garden for a famous person, using an idea of Dave Calder’s, a wonderful Scottish poet who is based in Liverpool and works, like me, with The Windows Project, a charity which puts writers into community venues. We also looked at Pablo Neruda’s wonderful odes and as usual, these beautiful lyrics produced some inspired work from my happy group of blooming writers. They have all promised to send me poems I can upload and share.

After the three sessions, I handed over to Roger and Gordon, affable hosts of the readarounds which take up the final three days of the festival. We sit on a circle for this, and welcome an audience as well as anyone who wants to read or recite a favourite poem or indeed one they have written in the last few days. We chat a lot as well, but everyone gets two goes at reading. It’s really a ‘Do it from There’ for poetry. The spoken word thread is of vital importance at Whitby and it seems to be thiving.

There was much hugging as we all parted, to meet again next year. I hope our new recruits stay with us. Thanks to all for the wonderful participation. And thanks to Jay McShane for starting the wokshops, our lovely steward and Esther Ferry-Kennington (the workshop organiser) for getting us a great venue and for being so approachable. Here’s to next year!


Filed under Education, poetry, Writing challenges