I loved doing the April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge, but this year I’m taking part in The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly’s 30 Days of the 5-2 Blog Tour in honor of National Poetry Month. The 5-2 is a site of poetry about crime.
Now, you might think that crime poetry is all: “I hit her head/And now she’s dead,” but you would be wrong. Take, for example, the delicate, horrible, and moving poem I chose to feature, “Broken Sestina for Mary Bell” by Cassandra de Alba. Take a few minutes to follow the link and read it. I’ll wait.
First, let me say that I love the way de Alba juxtaposes the child committed for the crime with the adult whose life is overturned by her being identified as that child criminal. Mary Bell was a real person who really murdered two younger children. de Alba simply shows a girl who is as sickened and baffled as anyone else at what she has done, then shows a loving mother faced with the necessity of explaining to her own child why their lives are being disrupted. de Alba saves Bell’s only insight for the last line.
The poem is brilliantly constructed, including the “broken” part of the sestina.
A sestina is a poem using an intricate pattern of six recurring end words. The words de Alba chooses are: hands, home, boys, mirrors, face, girl.
She “breaks” the pattern in two ways: Until the envoi (the final three lines), she consistently puts “boys” where “mirrors” should be and vice-versa; she sometimes substitutes another word for the end word (“I” and “daughter” for “girl”, “reporter” for “mirror”, “house” for “home”).
The envoi pulls it all together. In the envoi, de Alba uses all six words, as the form requires, but not in the way the form designates. That, too, pulls the poem together.
It takes a broken sestina to touch broken lives: the boys’, their mothers’, the girl’s, the girl-as-woman’s, her daughter’s. Most important and, I think, most meaningful, the broken pattern of the poem mirrors (yes, I used that word intentionally) the broken pattern of the girl’s life. She says she never had a home, she calls her adult home a “house”, but she has seen to it that her daughter thinks of it as a “home”. At some point between the time she did the unthinkable and the time her adult self was identified as a “monster”, she found a way to create normalcy and security.
One is not asked to pity Mary Bell, to forgive her, or even to understand her. One is asked only to look at her. Then to look in a mirror, perhaps.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Read the poem again.
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