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Samuel Peralta here!

In 1998, at 77 years of age, one of my favourite poets, Marie Ponsot, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for her book “The Bird Catcher”, proving that there may still be hope for us all. Now 91, she continues her advocacy for poetry as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets… and continues to write.

Although she’d been writing since she was a girl, she had a long hiatus from poetry. Her first book “True Minds” was published in 1957, following Alan Ginsberg’s “Howl”. Both books were released by same publisher, and in the spotlight that followed the Beat poets, Ponsot’s work was overlooked.

Instead, she focussed on raising seven children – mostly on her own, as she’d divorced her husband – and on her other avocation, translation. Twenty-five years after her first book of poetry, she published “Admit Impediment”, “The Green Dark”, gaining further acclaim until “The Bird Catcher” put her on the map.

Ponsot’s poems are complex and elegant, mostly structured using classic poetic forms – sonnets, sestinas, villanelles. Even her free verse compositions are coupled with a craftsman’s love for other poetic tools – assonance, rhyme, alliteration.

Marie Ponsot in a plane over Vancouver, 1999. Photo: Rosemary Deen via BombSite.

Along with her long-spanning career, Ponsot is credited with creating the formal poetic form known as the tritina.

The tritina is the little sister of the sestina – a variation made up of three tercets and a one-line envoy. In other words, it’s composed of ten lines, starting with three stanzas of three lines each, and then a single line to conclude the poem. So if you are a whiz with sestinas (and two of my favourite contemporary poets, Sandra Beasley and Shaindel Beers, are amazing with the form) then tritinas should be a cinch.

The line-ending words of the tritina follow a pattern similar to that of the sestina, appearing thus: ABC, CAB, BCA with the envoy as ABC.

The most straightforward way to write a tritina is to choose a theme (I’ll choose avocados) and think of three specific end words related to that theme (I’ve chosen love, sweet, heart) or however you wish to choose them. Then the tritina form requires the end-words for each line to be

A – love
B – sweet
C – heart

C – heart
A – love
B – sweet

B – sweet
C – heart
A – love

ABC – love, sweet, heart

Once you get to that point, the tritina practically writes itself. (That, for me, would be a few hours.)


There are really no metrical requirements, but to maintain the effect of the line-ending words, it is best to keep the meter uniform throughout the poem. I try to use some form of tetrameter or pentameter.

Like the sestina, there are no rhyming requirements – unless you want another challenge – but the repeated words provide a musicality throughout the verses.

Because the tritina is relatively short, it avoids the responsibility of the sestina for engaging a subject of great complexity and depth. It’s also able to sound more natural, with the repetition of only three, rather than six, words.

Here’s the start of my tritina:

You bear to me your avocado love
That I may taste of tenderness and sweet.
Your bliss of flesh, your fragrant heart

I’ll let you read the rest at the link to the full poem “Tritina for an Avocado”.


Tonight, as a tribute to Marie Ponsot – to her legacy of work, her inventiveness, and her long-lasting love for poetry – I’d love to see as many tritinas as we can muster.

As usual, share your work via the link button below, and please, visit your fellow writers to see what they’ve come up with. I know I’m looking forward to it!


Samuel Peralta – on Twitter as @Semaphore – is the author of Sonata Vampirica; Sonnets from the Labrador; How More Beautiful You Are; and Tango Desolado, all of which hit #1 on the Amazon Kindle List of Hot New Releases in Poetry on their debut.

Copyright (c) Samuel Peralta. All rights reserved.
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