Behind the Sestina: Jason Schneiderman on “The Buffy Sestina”

Jason

Jason Schneiderman, essayist and poet, is the author of Sublimation Point and Striking Surface. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry, Poetry London, Grand Street, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, Story Quarterly, and Tin House. Michael Montlack included Jason’s essay about Liza Minnelli in his book, My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them. Schneiderman has received fellowships from Yaddo, The Fine Arts Work Center, and The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He won the 2009 Richard Snyder Prize from Ashland Poetry Press. He was also the recipient of the Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America in 2004. He is an Assistant Professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.

We went Behind the Sestina with Schneiderman to discuss his “The Buffy Sestina,” featured in The Incredible Sestina Anthology.
When did you first discover the sestina?
My first semester at college, my best friend was taking a poetry workshop, and he had to write a sestina. I was kind of blown away.

Have you written sestinas before this one or since?
I’m not sure I’ve written one since. I wrote a lot of sestinas when I was an undergrad, but the first one I kept, I wrote in Russia. I was in a workshop, and we were supposed to write sestinas, so I wrote one and I didn’t think much of it. Then after the class, my friends were like, “No fair bringing in older and polished work.” I realized it was a keeper.

Can you describe writing this sestina? 
My husband and I were watching seasons of Buffy as they came out on DVD, and we’d watch almost an entire season in a weekend. I got very used to the rhythm of the seasons… the arc that never included summer, and it felt a bit sestina like– to cycle through the same events, but with endless variation. I wanted to capture the pleasure of the repetition, to enjoy the formal play of the season’s arc, and the sestina seemed like the best container.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer has developed a cult following. What is significance of Buffy to you?
Buffy is all about consequences. Everything that happens matters. The worst part of watching TV is the extent to which plots are dropped or forgotten or ignored. On Buffy, everything that happened had repercussions. I was teaching a lot of fiction at the time, and I remember wishing that all my students would watch Buffy– see, I could say– nothing’s extraneous or gratituous– it all leads somewhere. Buffy also understood loss; Joyce’s death continued to reverberate across the entire series.

Buffy calibrated tonal shifts in a way that I’ve never really seen before or since. Buffy could veer between agony and joy while making pit stops at snark, fear, and cute. I still think of Buffy saying to Dawn (at the end of season 6), “I don’t want to protect you from the world; I want to show it to you.” That’s the foundation of my pedagogy. I can’t say that on a job interview, but I can say it here.

The first sestinas were always dedicated to someone—who would you dedicate your sestina to?
Michael Broder. I know I should say Sarah Michelle Gellar or Joss Whedon, but watching the show with Michael was half the joy.

–Interview conducted by Jessica Furiani

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