Fight Zone Sestina

A sea of students ebbs and flows through lanes.
Four minutes define time from class to class.
Frenzied, dramatic, intractable time.
Chatting, drinking, peeing, primping, passing.
Concealed smart phones spread rumors and pictures.
Pushing and shoving and venom and threats.

Not all of you students fall prey to threats,
principled young people flock through the lanes.
Contrasting shoves in live streaming pictures
cameras remember your kind decent class.
Orwell’s future is more than thoughts passing.
Since 2005, those cameras keep time.

Privacy’s squandered; recordings hold time.
Serving a purpose, Big Brother eyes threats.
Threatening you who cast them in passing,
threatening you with the truth of the lanes.
Evidence gathered on fighting’s dark class
indisputably fisted in pictures.

Cameras catch all the angles in pictures
stripping dishonesty, showing true time.
Fists with panache saving face with no class.
Status posts start to make good on your threats.
Teachers lose control of flow through the lanes.
Green tiles bisect white alleys for passing.

Last Monday, I monitored first passing.
Hands yanked hair in, as witnessed in pictures
students formed circles in clumps in the lanes,
I pulled at the girls, and screamed to stop time.
Heeding my call, aware of the fight threats,
Mr. Doans, like lightning ran from his class.

He shot down the hall a racer first class,
he rammed through the girls straight in one passing.
His movement so quick, exploded their threats.
Some students snapped it in cell phone pictures.
Down to the office, and not their first time,
we escorted them down separate lanes.

Beatings before class, fist moving pictures
lightning fast passing, made pewter in time.
Hair left like threats lines the alley’s scarred lanes.

Brenda Warren 2012

Process Notes:
I promised a piece about a fight at school, and offer this sestina. The form itself (along with 12 words from The Whirl) played a large role in the direction this piece took. While the form can be somewhat free, I followed a 10 syllable per line rule. While the piece is not what I set out to write, and doesn’t capture the essence of the fight, I like it. Forms open doors to content, it’s surprising. You never know where you’ll wind up.

Each fight at school has started due to public fights on Facebook. The kids then feel a need to save face, and do it publicly at school. I tried to pull these girls apart, and could not. They pulled each other’s heads into punches with their hair. When I yelled for help laughter rose among the ranks. I am grateful for that laughter, because it truly had to have been a spectacle, and it provided brevity for me all week. Students have named the area right outside of my classroom “The Fight Zone,” as they occur there, even though we have a schedule for monitoring. The initiators come from the bathroom at just the right time, and iump their target in the hall. These two girls were taken out of the building in handcuffs. Their faces were pummeled. Both of them.

Another piece of brevity. After each of the girl fights, hair has been left behind. The colleague who saved the day says, “We should collect the hair: To the victor go the spoils!”

Sorry for the long post. This sestina consumed my day. I’m posting it for NaPoWriMo 28. Which means I still need to write something for Sunday.

Go to The Sunday Whirl. Read what some amazing people did with these words.

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47 thoughts on “Fight Zone Sestina

  1. Oh, Brenda, this is so timely. This exact thing happened in a school near me just last week. School has become a jungle, where some dangerous animals roam. It’s all very scary. I wrote a piece about it a couple of years ago, when this came to it’s worst possible end.

    Portrait of a Tragedy

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  2. I went to a middle school in NYC – way before electronics were in vogue or a necessity (over 40 years ago). The stair wells were where most of the similar attacks as your verse took place as they were not monitored in this very public over crowded school. I was a victim for my lunch money once and had to look through yearbook photos to try and ID my nemesis’ – it amazes me how much things change, yet stay the same. Your students are very lucky to have you!
    My Wordle also went a bit dark you can find it here:
    http://julesgemsandstuff.blogspot.com/2012/04/lackluster-lackey-sunday-whirl-wordle.html

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    • Thank you, Jules. My high school had fights, too. Lucky I was never victim, but I did witness more than one. Only one came close to last week’s fight, but that’s a story for a different time. I’m glad we’ve met out here in the cyber world.

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  3. I think you are right. The form itself allowed you to really work through, almost dance, with your experience. That had to be relieving in many ways. Violence touches, and effects us, whether it is done to us or only watched from a distance. Perhaps the fighters should be made to write poetry as part of their discipline. Now wouldn’t that be an amazing sight? Back to reality. I like the poem and how you handled your own experience.Way to go Brenda,

    Ehttp://soulsmusic.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/the-dream/lizabeth

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    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Elizabeth. You know, this is why I’ve missed you. You get things and illuminate different ideas about my work tjat are good for me to hear. I so appreciate your presence, and love that your tree is appearing in my comments again. And what a good idea about having the fighters write poetry. Two fighters over the past several weeks are my very own students. 😉

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  4. Brenda, it’s wonderful, though of a dark subject. As soon as I started reading it, I remembered you mentioned in your email that you were going to try to write about that fight. You managed to use that as a vehicle for some interesting thoughts and observations. Your thoughts on Orwell really struck me, especially in light of how the fights got started through FB. The way we use cameras sure has changed. I love the way you used “class” and “passing”. The sestina form really works here, highlighting the varied meanings of those two words – in particular, for me. Brava!

    Richard

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    • Thank you, Richard. This was a difficult write. Thank you for mentioning class and passing. Half the battle in a sestina is selecting those final words. Better choices could have been made for some of them, but once I had a few stanzas going, I just couldn’t change them any more. I’m happy for the Brava!

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  5. “Hair left like threats lines the alley’s scarred lanes”. Since I was not familiar with the sestina – I took a brief moment to “google” it and see that you incorporated the hallmark intricate repetition. And while your piece is filled with chaos, I see here in your comments, that you seem filled with calm and a touch of humor. Kudos to both your piece and your strong character.

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    • Thank you Teri, for mentioning my calm. My stepson’s mother is a yeller, as is a nemesis teacher down the hall. It does nothing to calm students. That is what they need, an even-handed example. It does not mean that I don’t emote, but I don’t emote with disrespect. And if I do, I apologise if it is pointed out, or if I realize it myself upon reflection. The calm is something I work on with intention, so to have you notice it matters.

      I appreciate your support, and am so happy that you’ve found us. I think we met during January’s river, which I petered out of before the end of the month… I made it this month! Caw! Caw!

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      • You have made it through this month indeed… amazing woman! Caw caw! … right back to you. (speaking of have I sent you the link to the eagles nest – and the three eaglets? I apologize if I have already— but it is so cool! http://www.decoraheaglecamalerts.com/ ) Also I grew up with a screaming mother… and am fully aware how her lack of calm affected the whole family. xo teri

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  6. Form does take us to surprising places sometimes. So sad that FB fights become real life fights at your school. You did a good job with the sestina here and the wordle words!

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  7. Holy cow. Not only did you take those gorgeously joyful words and weave them into a fight poem, you did so in a form that stutters, shudders and baffles me silly. (I have written two, ever, both utter messes.) Brilliant. This piece takes us there.

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  8. cudos on the sestina, have yet to brave one myself. The topic is timely and frightening. My son is in middle school, daughter will be in two years. We have not allowed either of them to have a FB page. Rarely even use my own and my wife is fighting daily to avoid getting one. We are not in a high poverty area, but there have still been multiple lock downs this year due to fighting and drugs. Sad.

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    • My stepson goes to the affluent high school in our city. The drug use by his count, is more intense there than it is that the high school where I coach speech and debate, and it is the Title school. I think it is prevalent at both schools.

      The best we can do for our kids is to talk with them with little judgement in our tone. Good luck with your schools. Some years are tougher than others.

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  9. Brenda, your sestina works perfectly with this subject. You have blended in the words with great skill. I have never seen a fight amongst children in the school system here. In Oaxaca I taught junior high school and they were very immature compared to children in the states. My husband taught high school and he never witnessed any violence either.

    Puebla is a bit more advanced with its technology, I wonder if this may start occurring here. Many of my sixth graders are on FB. However, I see no inclination toward violence, some jealousy or envy, but violence, no. This is a different day and age we live in.

    When I was in junior high there were after school fights between the girls, but then I did grow up in New York 🙂 and I was always a spectator.

    Pamela

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    • Most of the girls who fight come from poverty. We have a large free and reduced lunch population at our school. We have an inhouse food pantry that provides food to students on Fridays to take home to their families. These operate through teacher and community donations. Our PTA president started it, and one of our teacher’s husbands made shelves for the pantry items. Good things happen in my school.

      I was always a bystander at the fights in my school, too. We had them. It is interesting that a different level of respect is demonstrated in the schools in Mexico. Did you or your husband teach at public schools?

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      • No, Brenda, we have only taught at private schools. It is near to impossible for a foreigner to get in the public school system. Besides the classes are huge in those schools, somewhere between 35 to 55 students.
        The school I am in now is for the ultra rich and let me tell you it has many drawbacks. Some of my students have chauffeurs picking them up in the afternoons. These kids don’t know the word “no”, but with me they are quickly learning it. I am sure that some of think I am witch, lol.

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  10. I was wondering how you were going to manage the fight. What you’ve done is pretty darn amazing. With such a structured form you have given an immediate, almost visceral, sense of the suffocating crush of the halls. Wow.

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    • Thank you Barbara. I’m glad you liked it. I tried to handle the fight through emotion, but quickly realized I needed the structure form brings. That, and I wanted to do at least one sestina for NaPo.

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    • FB is scary, the things they say about each other are unbelievable.

      Kudos to your daughter for reading 1984. It has a high lexile for a 12 year old. She must be a strong reader. Good for you there, Mom. Your love of text certainly impacts your children’s lives as readers.

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  11. I can only say Wow! Times have changed since I was in school. I wonder…. can I see myself spinging from the bathroom or being sprung upon… I can see this takes great thought. Wow!

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    • Thanks for stopping, Nan. I love my job, and although last week was rough, I need to be there. Students need guidance, they need discussion, they need to be themselves and feel safe to learn. At least they know that I’ll intervene if they go after each other. I may not have been able to part them, but I gave it a try. Kids respect that, and it will help those rougher kids respect me more, too. I’m a tough old broad. LOL

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      • I totally get and appreciate what you have to say. Your students and their parents are lucky you are doing the work you do. For 20 years I worked with college students and their problems… slightly different set, but probably much the same, and I loved being able to make a difference, as you do. You are as special as you are tough! 🙂

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  12. My granddaughter is only a few weeks old, but my son and his wife are considering home schooling once middle school arrives…

    Forms open doors to content — yes, they do and because we don’t know what doors will open, form is exciting. The sestina fits your topic. It would be interesting to see what would happen with a different form.

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    • Home schooling can be quite successful. I applaud those who do it well. Middle school is a frightening place. Read read read to that little one, so books have value for her. I know I’m just preaching to the choir… 🙂

      I also considered a different form….free verse that explores the emotions of the incident. Thank you Margo, for your support.

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  13. Facebook has a lot to answer to for all of this type of thing. I only allow Chloe on it to catch up for a few minutes and make a status update. When she first got on there she wanted to spend hours on it chatting to friends she would be seeing at school. I soon realised how addictive it can be and stopped it. But this must be such a scare for you to have to get in the middle of too. It’s a crazy world we live in now, isn’t it.
    Hope writing about it has helped (somewhat) to get it out of your system and you can use the weekend to wind down. Teaching is sometimes a mine field now. I think you are very brave to have done what you did, not knowing if anyone had any type of weapons either. Good grief.

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    • It is a crazy world. You know, it didn’t scare me to get involved. I could see that they were going for each other’s faces. I barely blipped on their radar trying to pull them apart. I just wanted to “save their faces.” LOL

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  14. Excellent capture of an experience. I like poems that are grounded in reality. You brought it alive for us vividly. I felt as if I was right there on the ‘lanes.’ Yes, the age of Facebook and smartphones – so much different than when we were in school. Smartphones record evidence instantly. For better, for worse. And Facebook, a new battleground.

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  15. Yes, I echo Viv’s sentiments … all … Unfortunately FB in the hands of too many teens is an free zone for impulse loosed with no consequences- never a good idea for most – a recipe for disaster teens. The poem was powerful – hopefully cathartic – enjoy the day and let this fade to memory 🙂

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    • It is a recipe for disaster, Pearl. As teachers our hands are tied. Our students have cell phones with them all day, AS LONG AS THEY ARE NOT SEEN or turned on. This creates sneaky hands behind books texting, hands under desks texting. The second time someone is caught texting, a parent must come in to retrieve the phone from the office. I imagine that test questions are leaked on phones, too. I think we should have them keep cell phones in their lockers, and allow them to have them out at lunch. It would change the face of the cafeteria, but they wouldn’t have to hide them. Give and take….it’s a dance with these new rules…

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  16. I believe writing is cathartic. In the process of venting, you have captured the essence of a shocking week that will always remain in your memory. You must be exhausted. I hope things turn around soon. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for all of you who are a part of this. Good luck.

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    • Thank you, Marianne. Lucky for me, I didn’t know these two girls. Last week, one of them was a student of mine. Seeing kids go at it is intense, and when my heart lives with one of them, it cuts to the core. My student truly did not see that she had any other choice than to fight. To save face (and punch in someone else’s…)

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  17. Brenda, you’ve recreated the scene vividly. Everything seems to be captured evidence in public domain nowadays, a new spin on public fights.

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    • True, Irene. Cameras everywhere have changed police work, too. It’s interesting to watch all of the ramifications of recording our lives unfold. We’re living in a strange era.

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  18. You prepared us for this earlier in the week, and the skilful sestina – shocking though it is – filled in the gaps. An appalling story, and the more I read of Facebook, the less I like it.

    The wordle words were lost, showing even more skill.

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    • Thank you, Viv. The sestina is like a puzzle. It takes some time, but I enjoy writing them. I had to do one before the end of NaPo. Facebook and Smartphones are rumor spreading machines. The public conversation on FB that precipitated this fight is shocking. It’s no longer visible… The advent of FB and phones has given rise to anxiety and school policy. That policy will be revisited, but I can’t see things changing that much. It’s out of our control.

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