Sonnets are all the go, as they have been since the Italian sonnet (sonetto - ‘little song’) was introduced to English poets in the early sixteenth century and was to become gradually ‘anglicised' and altered and eventually known as ‘Shakespearean’. As poetry-reading visitors to the deletions already know (and so may wish now to skip straight to the poems and books I'm going to mention), sonnets used to be a neat lyrical form that used various rhyme schemes. (Italian sonnets had some repeated rhymes and used iambic pentameter). The final couplet usually functioned as an epigram, summarising the moral drift or giving some kind of twist to the poem. Rhyming has been ditched by many contemporary sonneteers, as has the epigram, and formal traditional rhythm. Now, with the sonnet form in mind, you can write a poem that turns out to be fourteen lines or two stanzas of seven lines and you can fracture and indent eccentrically and it can be a ‘sonnet’.
Two sonnets by Canadian poet Anne Carson in a recent edition of the London Review of Books stretches the form beyond the form. They seem clever but perhaps they’re over-clever, intense examples of dry dedicated experimentation? Then I guess if mainstream international journals like the LRB publish sonnets like this, then poetry readers might have caught up with poetry writers …
Sonnet of Addressing Gertrude Stein
Here is a pronoun to
(click on 'Drop't Sonnet' to enlarge for clearer reading)
cover art by Tallulah Knox
Some Sonnets was edited and published by Tim Wright in Melbourne
in Winter 2010 in an offset(?) or photocopied, hand-collated,
limited edition of 100.
It’s an unpaginated assortment of thirty six sonnets by a variety of
innovative Australian poets. The poems are ‘ordered by shuffling’ and
there are no author designations accompanying them. If you like, you
can figure out who wrote what by referring back to the contents page
and that’s random too, not following the order the poems appear in the
book. It’s interesting to read poetry without knowing or thinking
about the ‘poet’. Whether the sonnets work or not relies on your
particular tastes or poetic interests.
Not many of these twenty-first century sonneteers attempt high form -
embellished, lyrical sonnets - in earnest. Mostly, they fulfil Louis
Zukofsky’s desire, eighty years ago now, for innovation. In 1930 he
wrote “It is time someone resurrected the sonnet from a form that has
become an exercise.” Though some, like Claire Gaskin’s ‘looking into
the eye of my addiction’, Jill Jones’ ‘What Is Due’ and Ryan Scott’s
“The Suddenness of Spring” do look like traditional sonnets and are
lyrical. Cory Wakeling’s ‘Barrett’s Song For Hattie’s Detour’ also
looks conventional but it’s his sonnet’s curious ‘Australianness’ that
gives it a comic spark -
I look left, you look right, I look Nullarbor
you rush Bendigo. Decide: …
Duncan Hose contributes two complex (yet clearly written), kind of
metaphysical love sonnets - one in German,’O ein Liebes-Sonett’, that
introduces the wonderful word ‘Tweetyvögel’, and the other in English,
‘o a love sonnet’, that translates the earlier German poem where we
found the ‘tweety-birds’.
Some Sonnets also includes sonnets from Kate Fagan, Marc Jones,
Patrick Jones, Sam Langer, Caroline Williamson, Nick Whittock, Joel
Scott, the wildly varying innovator Peter Minter, Michael Farrell’s
ineluctably cryptic minimalisms include a nine line sonnet, Derek
Motion, the collection's editor Tim Wright, Jal Nicholl, Ella O’Keefe,
Tom Lee, the linguistically playful Chris Edwards presenting his own
renditions of Rilke, Brett Dionysius, Jessica L. Wilkinson, Peter
O’Mara (more conceptual minimalism), Stu Hatton, Astrid Lorange,
Stuart Cooke and Ted Nielsen.
Ted Nielsen has been writing a sonnet every week for a few years. He
publishes them on his blog magic dog vs tokyo as ‘Friday sonnet’.
Ted’s poems carry a tone and lightness of touch engaging with the everyday
that remind me of John Forbes and the 1960s sonnets of Ted Berrigan.
friday sonnet (#124: tedpapa pig)
old man getting older & weary today it’s
already tomorrow you’re still tired the
bags under your eyes have bags under
them & she says that’s a pig because you
like pigs & he says dad, you’re an idiot &
this is all in japanese & one dad is dead &
another dead drunk & if you were any
more sentimental it’d be an epidemic like
travel sickness so we joke around in the
bath singing some kind of monkey song &
stay up for hours past bedtime it’s all
good then for the next few days there are
pigs drawn on everything, that is, pigs,
hearts, tulips, occasionally a spiral pattern
Richard Lopez reviews 'Some Sonnets' in Galatea Resurrects here
Pete Spence's Sonnets, co-published by Karl-Friedrich Hacker's
Footura Black Edition, Germany & New South Press, Kyneton, Australia
in a limited edition of 50, in 2009, is a hand-made book of ten
sonnets, with an afterword, also a sonnet.
These light-hearted sonnets are like a mix of Shakespearean sonnets,
French modernist/cubist poetry and 60s New York School dailiness. Pete
Spence has Cendrarsian 'squares of green light' being thrown about,
Frank O’Hara's room for roaming variously, the Forbesian ‘stunned
mullet’ and other modern classic influences.
in the millenium of the pushbike
everyone must know of the worsening
weather? my shadow stretched forever
no Badoit? no money! it’s a day
of Perrier fever! this is all we need
another set of sonnets? deciduous
as a plum you eat it & it leaves
is there more roughage in eating books?
the wind jogs through the rainforest
squares of green light are thrown about
is there more air in daylight? I’m
a couple of steps from everywhere
somewhere in the shadows evening waits
is yesterday the subject of these poems?
walking Planck's constant in a red shift!
great day! upwind the day winds down
squares of light are thrown about
should i feel ok now that yesterday
is the subject of these poems? better
to be quick about it like a shadow
taking shade from today's sun! when
will i have room where there's room
where i can roam variously & hang
my tantrums & other guests?
the pushbike's 15 minutes in the frame!
its the end of the terror of Perrier fever!
a mullet sidles through the air
& i'm stunned by its flight!
hearts, tulips, occasionally a spiral pattern
(click to enlarge)
Jeff Hilson edited The Reality Street Book of Sonnets in 2008. This anthology
contains my own failure at writing sonnets which would only ever get
themselves to twelve rather than fourteen lines, called Eyes on potatoes.
This year Jeff Hilson has published an attractively designed square
book In the Assarts that, on first look, seems to be a book of
sonnets, but doesn’t always adhere to form. Yet, there are
sixty-eight, fourteen line poems. Apparently Jeff was given the notion
of sampling Sir Thomas Wyatt (who introduced the sonnet form to
England) from the Reality Street publisher Ken Edwards.
These sonnets are often very funny, riffing from the probably
to-be-expected Ted Berrigan, and from Petrarch (‘No one listens to
Petrarch’), Sonny & Cher, Donovan, Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees,
Tubular Bells (Mike Oldfield!),Thomas Wyatt (of course), Veronica
Forrest-Thomson, Oliver Cromwell and others. It’s great fun and
technically smart to boot. It looks great too - the square format is
pleasing, the cover drawing, clever and the typeface apt. In the
Assarts publisher, Veer Books, definitely looks like an
adventurous UK independent small press.
(click to enlarge)