Behind the Sestina: Steve Almond on “Sestina for Elton John”

Steve Almond is an American short story writer and essayist. He is the author of ten books, among them Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America (Mariner Books), Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life (Random House), and God Bless America: Stories (Lookout Books), as well as three books he has published himself.

We went Behind the Sestina with Almond to learn the history behind his poem “Sestina for Elton John,” which is featured in The Incredible Sestina Anthology.

When did you first discover the sestina?
I discovered the sestina in college. We slept together once, then she left me for some jock pontoon.

Have you written other sestinas, either before this one or since?
I believe this is my only sestina ever. There’s a court order about this, I think.

Can you describe writing this sestina? What is the Elton John connection? Does it derive from his classic, “Rocket Man”? I’m trying to think how horny people were in that song, and how much slurping.
I wrote the poem thinking about Elton John in soccer shorts, his sexy hairy little stubby legs and big sunglasses. I believe that constitutes slurping.

You are known for, among other things, for celebrating the worth of “bad poetry,” often using your own examples to demonstrate what makes bad poetry bad. Would you count “Sestina for Elton John” as a bad poem?
Yeah, I think it’s pretty bad. But not bad enough for Bad Poetry. For a poem to be truly Bad, the author has to be more or less blind to his own folly.

The first sestinas were always dedicated to someone—is that why you dedicated the poem to Elton John? Who else might you dedicate this poem to?
I believe the dedication is explained above and derives from my unwholesome obsession with Elton John’s hirsute lower regions. I considered dedicating the poem to Bono, who has similar lower regions. But the rights issues were a total bitch.

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