A look behind what inspired Laura’s F’n Sestina

Pirate Poetry

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 12:30pm

    It all started at a bar, as most good stories do. John Bullock, a.k.a Pirate John as he’s been known in Camden Harbor since the turn of the Millennium, was just finishing up working the sunset sail as a mate on the Appledore, when he walked into Gilbert’s bar one evening (when it was still Gilbert’s) and ran into a young woman who would become his sarcastic muse.

    Being a bit flirty, he quoted some line from Shakespeare to grab her attention.

    “You can do better than that,” she said. “Let’s see something original.”

    “Sure, I’ll write you a poem, what you want, a sonnet?”

    She laughed, looked him right in the eye and said: “You don’t get off that easy. I want a sestina.”

    Although he didn’t remember the exact details of the poem’s form, he knew a serious gauntlet had been thrown.

    A sestina is a complex French poetic form that follows a strict pattern of the repetition of the initial six end-words of the first stanza through the remaining five six-line stanzas, culminating in a three-line envoi.

    If you couldn’t follow that, imagine trying to impress a woman by writing one.

    For the next two months, Pirate John reflected on what six words would have the most nuances of meaning and provide the most flexibility. As a sailor, who has spent the last 14 years coming up to Camden from Maryland to periodically work on the schooner Appledore, he knew that this fair lady, who worked on the Grace Bailey, would appreciate a maritime theme.

    “It could have been about puppies and butterflies if I could have just found words that fit,” said Bullock.

    The following is the final effort of that gauntlet thrown.

    Laura’s F’n Sestina

    The lovely Laura proffered a challenge
    to write a sestina of lines amusing or tender.
    A bauble, a confection or words, an ornament,
    to adorn an inspiration fair.
    For what muse ever inhabited a vessel
    more deserving of such labor?

    And so, alone I do labor
    to rise to this casual challenge
    and strive to make this paper a vessel
    for suitable lines that I may tender
    and so hope she may be exacting but fair
    in judging the words with it I now ornament.

    She herself needs no ornament
    to cause admirers to labor
    to rise above the common fare.
    So it became my challenge
    for my words not to dwindle, like a tender
    drifting beside the Grace of her incomparable vessel.

    For she even dwelt on such a vessel
    itself of the Green Boat fleet, the ornament
    while I was on a seeming tender
    wherein I strove, through sore labor,
    to show such Grace-perhaps to challenge
    her and work the breeze as well or seem so fair.

    But how could my craft hope to fare
    against so well appointed a vessel?
    As well one could rival a Queen as challenge
    one that has good Laura as its ornament.
    Indeed the result of such foolish labor
    must be but wasted effort, leaving head and body tender.

    Now my scribblings I must tender
    and hope at least to amuse so that she be fair
    admitting that, though imperfect, there be great labor
    to craft on such rigid form a worthy vessel
    to adorn her Muse with suitable ornament.
    T'was indeed a daunting challenge.

    I have come fairly near to bursting a vessel
    laboring to fashion a suitable ornament
    not too glib, nor yet falsely tender to meet her challenge.

    [Can this paper vessel her native ornament challenge
    or, rising to the challenge, add ornament to beauty's vessel.]

    "In constructing what I thought was the final summation of the ‘envoi’ I misread the instructions and wrote this. But, I liked it so now it's tacked on to the sestina,” said Bullock.

    And how did Laura react once she was presented with her sestina?

    “I was supposed to give it to her on the southbound delivery to Key West in November and I forgot it. It was sitting on my desk, so I told her I’d finished it and her response was ‘Yeah, right.’ So, I had to mail it. Within a week, I got a phone call from her and she was suitably impressed. Now, whenever I see her, she makes me read it aloud for passengers on the boat.”

    Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com