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Trenta-Sei: Poetic Forms

Learn how to write the trenta-sei, a poetic form created by poet John Ciardi. It's a fun 36-line poem with a fun set of rhymes and refrains.

I'm still in the mood to explore new forms (after looking at skeltonic verse last week), so let’s take a stab at the trenta-sei!

Trenta-Sei Poems

The trenta-sei form was created by the poet John Ciardi. It's a 36-line poem (the word "trenta-sei" is Italian for 36) that has a rhyme pattern and refrains. In other words, it's a lot of fun.

Here are the basic guidelines:

  • Six sestets (or 6-line stanzas).
  • Each sestet has the following rhyme pattern: ababcc.
  • Each line in the first stanza makes the first line in its corresponding stanza. So line 1 is the first line of the first stanza; line 2 is the first line of the second stanza; etc. (So a little like the cascade poem.)

Ciardi's "A Trenta-Sei of the Pleasure We Take in the Early Death of Keats" was first published after Ciardi's own death. Poet John Stone wrote "A Trenta-Sei for John Ciardi (1916-1986)" as a memorial to the poet. That said, I do not believe topics of life and death necessarily have to be the subject of trenta-sei poems.

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The Complete Guide of Poetic Forms

Play with poetic forms!

Poetic forms are fun poetic games, and this digital guide collects more than 100 poetic forms, including more established poetic forms (like sestinas and sonnets) and newer invented forms (like golden shovels and fibs).

Click to continue.

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Here’s my attempt at a Trenta-Sei:

a trenta-sei for the future, by Robert Lee Brewer

while children pine for better days
adults rejoice that they're alive
as they traverse the modern maze
of ways to live and to survive
and in their hearts they long to see
their children reach for victory

adults rejoice that they're alive
and seek out ways to keep it so
those who leave someday may arrive
only to find they wish to go
because this life bends left and right
before it fades into the night

as they traverse the modern maze
adults believe they've seen it all
but in an endless set of days
an endless set of kings may fall
for every ruler rules alone
and children grow to seek the throne

of ways to live and to survive
the many rush to lift the few
along a lane on which they drive
before they bid the great adieu
as if they could fend off the end
or bow without a knee to bend

and in their hearts they long to see
the lack of giving anything
for no one wants to pay a fee
to hear another singer sing
deep in the darkness of the night
the prayer of parents will alight

their children reach for victory
without fear of what they might lose
and they will write our history
revising us the ways they choose
perhaps to place upon their shelves
though we can only blame ourselves

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