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Friday, June 3, 2022


So, I have taught the poem by Jaime Gil de Biedma, "Apología y petición," in graduate classes several times. The poem is a sestina, and invariably, no student will notice this (or know what a sestina is). They will notice that the poem is a bit repetitive... It's kind of a banal political poem, when read straight, but when read as a provencal tour de force, it becomes something else, a postmodern parody of a certain political discourse. You can't understand the poem unless you know that it is a clever variation on a fixed form. There are various ways of understanding the relationship between "form" and "content," here, but to understand this you must first understand what the form is.  

Since I knew what the rules of the sestina were when I was 15 years old, it seems strange to me.  But then, thinking better of it, I realize that it was very easy for me to become an expert on Spanish poetry, because most people ending up in the field didn't know what a sestina was. Not knowing that one thing is not important, but if you don't know that, there are probably other things you don't know, as well. I'm just using that as an example.     

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