How To Write The Vonnegut Sestet
In a letter to a high school class Kurt Vonnegut once gave this assignment:
“Write a six-line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever…Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash receptacles. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.”
The Kurt Vonnegut Sestet is a simple form. It is a 6 line poem. It must rhyme, but the author gets to choose the rhyme scheme. The only requirements are that you must make it as good as you possibly can, and when it’s finished, it must be destroyed.
Rules of the Vonnegut Sestet
- It is a poem of 6 lines
- It must rhyme in some way
- There is no set rhyme scheme or meter, so get creative!
- Try your best!
- Throw it away when you’re done
Advantages of the Vonnegut Sestet
For starters, you are creating something. You are helping your soul grow. That’s one of the biggest advantages to writing anything I could think of. In terms of content, it is short and sweet. 6 lines is something you can do before bed, with your coffee or tea in the morning, waiting in line at the DMV–it’s easy and fun. Throwing it away seems like it should be a challenge. Trust the process, the beauty of poetry as a writer doesn’t lie in the words you write. It lies in the act of creation.
Challenges of the Vonnegut Sestet
The conciseness of the poem can be hard to work with, similar to the shadorma except this time you have to rhyme! If the open rhyme scheme is scary or distracting, just make one up. I’ll do it for you AABBAB. The importance of this poem isn’t for it to be hard, but to encourage you to write. Whatever metrics work for you, use those! Perhaps the most challenging of all is throwing it away. It seems silly and stupid, but just give it a shot! If you don’t like it, don’t do it again. At least once, however, try creating just for the sake of creating.
Vonnegut Sestet Writing Prompts
Prompt 1 – Hocus Pocus
Everyone knows spells only work if they rhyme. Make up your own working spell.
I found a book of ancient spells
It’s hard to read and it smells
I found it at a German bookstore
“My current meal is such a bore,
so this spell I scream and shout
give me a heaping wad of sauerkraut”
Prompt 2 – Sirens of Titan
Aliens and alien planets. You met them and you’re on one.
I wave to all the creatures here
They’re scared of me, it appears
Their 6 eyes are full of fear
Because to them I look queer
So no wonder that they shriek
When they see the 2 eyed freak!
Prompt 3 – Cat’s Cradle
Hopscotch, hoop and a stick, video games. We all had different childhood games, write about your favorite.
kick a rock
on a walk
with a friend
around the bend
a day we spend
on the mend
the rock we tend
until the end
Prompt 4 – We Are What We Pretend to Be
You’re going after your dream job but first you must look the part. What do you change about your behavior or appearance to land that gig?
First, there’s just one thing I need
It’s a dusty jacket made of tweed
Funky pattern and elbow pad
There’s no way that’s just a fad
I know I look like a 70s creature
That’s what it takes to be a poetry teacher
Prompt 5 – Happy Birthday, Wanda June
Money’s tight this year so you’re making a card for your friend’s birthday. You gave them a watch last year, so this card better be really good or they’ll be pissed.
I thought about getting you another watch
But I noticed you never wear it
So then I thought I’d get you some scotch
And maybe we could share it
Instead I just got you this card
The next gift will be better I swear it
Prompt 6 – So It Goes
Life’s too long to sweat the little things, write about something that annoys you and how you’re learning to let it go.
Left the house today
Traffic caused a delay
I want so bad to yell
But oh well
I’ll get there when I get there
Just breathe in some fresh air
Prompt 7 – Breakfast of Champions
It’s hard to imagine winning the Olympics and just waking up the next day and eating a bowl of Wheaties. What are you really eating after a gold medal?
Bacon, egg, and cheese
a side of hashbrowns please
what else can you make
maybe I’ll get a cake
or a shake just in case
wait do I have another race?