HISTORY OF THE SONNET
The first sonnet was penned by Giacomo da Lentini, an Italian, in the 12th Century, and he enjoyed the experience so much that he went on to write 300 of them. 100 years later Francesco Petrarcha reawakened the then dozing form, and his sonnets became quite popular in Europe. The Spanish fell in love with the form, and changed it. Then the French proclaimed their admiration for those 14 lines... and, yes, they changed it, too.
During the15th Century, as Sir Thomas Wyatt was traveling through Europe, he encountered the form, and became fully smitten. He changed it, yet again, into the English form. The English form fell into the hands of Chaucer. Chaucer, a linguist, added meter to the form. See, for over 200 years poets wrote sonnets without meter. YUPPERS.
Bouncing poet to poet, the sonnet moved from Spencer and then to Shakespeare.
But the sonnet continued its journey... traveled through the centuries, continuing to evolve while keeping its main frame. Byron, Burns, Keats and Shelley played with Rhyme schemes, felt comfort-able to experiment with the form. I'd say something about balls and walls, but this blog is rated G.
So, the sonnet moved around the world, invaded Germany, Malaysia, Vietnam, Trinidad.. and on and on. Each country grew to love the little song, its talent to say so much with so few words. Many of these countries removed meter from the form, returned the sonnet to its roots.
Poets who fell hard for the sonnet? Elizabeth Barrette Browning, Christina Rossetti, Edna St Vincent Millay, Sylvia Plath.
Decade after decade, the sonnet continues to woo scribes into its arms.
Let's take a closer look at the contemporary sonnets being published, lauded by readers and praised by literary critics. Please read the poet's biographies. These are poets in the know and with the times.
The following poems are being posted for educational purposes only. This blog is for the study by the poets on this site.
By Lorna Knowles Blake
Just as she'd have Cavaradossi change
his painted Magdalen's eyes to smoldering brown
from limpid blue, I mentally revise
a scene or two. This Sunday matinee
let orders not be given, let torture not
ensue, let lovers, secured by safe conduct
make their escape on the old village road.
And Scarpia! No merciful knife for him?
Face it: no one's here for happy endings.
Like citizens of Athens we're improved
by tragedy: the hero's sacrifice,
the dastard's end, the diva's harrowed pain.
O deadly promises! O cruel forgotten fan!
Act III: You clear your throat and squeeze my hand.
About Lorna Knowles Blake
Lorna Knowles Blake's poems have appeared in The Bellingham Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Hudson Review, and other journals. Her work also appears in Sonnets: 150 Contemporary Sonnets, edited by William Baer (University of Evansville Press, 2005). She lives and works in New York City.
November Morning, 1972
By Myrna Goodman
A blond boy with a bike in a hard rain,
sweating beneath the yellow poncho,
struggles to tie a French horn
to his Schwinn two-wheeler.
He's late for school again. A tired, angry
mother said pedal, rain or no rain.
The neighbor woman on her way
packs the boy, the bike, books and horn
into her car and drives two miles to school.
Between them, few words are spoken?
just the breathless breathing in and out of love.
For one, it's a miracle to watch the waters part;
for the other, a tonic that gently kneads the heart
About Myrna Goodman
Myrna Goodman, one of the publishers and editors of Toadlily Press, is an award-winning ceramic artist, has taught language and sculpture to disabled and gifted kids, senior citizens, and eager immigrants. She writes on and off the clay. Her poetry has appeared in many literary journals including Confrontation and Karamu. Her chapbook, Some Assembly Required, was included in Desire Path and published in 2005.
The Golden Years
By Billy Collins
All I do these drawn-out days
is sit in my kitchen at Pheasant Ridge
where there are no pheasant to be seen
and last time I looked, no ridge.
I could drive over to Quail Falls
and spend the day there playing bridge,
but the lack of a falls and the absence of quail
would just remind me of Pheasant Ridge.
I know a widow at Fox Run
nd another with a condo at Smokey Ledge.
One of them smokes, and neither can run,
so I'll stick to the pledge I made to Midge.
Who frightened the fox and bulldozed the ledge?
I ask in my kitchen at Pheasant Ridge.
About Billy Collins
Billy Collins has published nine collections of poetry, including Questions About Angels, The Art of Drowning, and Picnic, Lightning. In May 2000, Picador in the UK published his collection of poems, Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes. In September 2001, Random House published Sailing Alone Around the Room: New & Selected Poems. In the fall of 2002, Random House also published his latest collection of poems,Nine Horses, and, in spring 2003, published Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, an anthology of poems selected and with an introduction by Billy Collins. The United States Poet Laureate 2001-2003, he was, in January 2004, named New York State Poet Laureate 2004-2006. He has just retired as Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York. He lives in Somers, New York
By Susan Gubernat
The woman, wool-capped, filthy, knelt beside
a man asleep at the curb, so tenderly?
well, what can I say but that I envied
them in my full belly. I've never wrapped
my chest in newspaper or begged for change
with a Styrofoam cup, or slept on the street.
And I welled up with self-pity. I'm safe,
I'm warm, I'm alone. My donor's card reads:
Take the whole body, the body entire,
leave nothing behind for burial. The stone couples
lean against each other, and in the tomb
a queen's dust merges with her king's the sweet,
the bitter, an apothecary's mixture
to salve the horror of eternity.
About Susan Gubernat:
Susan Gubernat is the author of Flesh (Helicon Nine Press, 1999) which won the Marianne Moore Prize. Her book-length manuscript, Shaggy Parasol, was a finalist for the National Poetry Series and Oberlin's Field Prize, as well as runner-up for this year's Dorset Prize. Individual poems are in or forthcoming in Pleiades,McSweeney's, Texas Review, and The Michigan Quarterly Review. She is an associate professor of English at California State University, East Bay.
Sunday Night in Santa Rosa
By Dana Gioia
The carnival is over. The high tents,
the palaces of light, are folded flat
and trucked away. A three-time loser yanks
the Wheel of Fortune off the wall. Mice
pick through the garbage by the popcorn stand.
A drunken giant falls asleep beside
the juggler, and the Dog-Faced Boy sneaks off
to join the Serpent Lady for the night.
Wind sweeps ticket stubs along the walk.
The Dead Man loads his coffin on a truck.
Off in a trailer by the parking lot
the radio predicts tomorrow's weather
while a clown stares in a dressing mirror,
takes out a box, and peels away his face.
About Dana Gioia
Dana Gioia is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning poet. Former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Gioia is a native Californian of Italian and Mexican descent. He received a B.A. and a M.B.A. from Stanford University and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. (Gioia is pronounced JOY-uh.)
Gioia has published four full-length collections of poetry, as well as eight chapbooks. His poetry collection, Interrogations at Noon, won the 2002 American Book Award. An influential critic as well, Gioia's 1991 volume Can Poetry Matter?, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award, is credited with helping to revive the role of poetry in American public culture?
Now, all these poets are recognized by their peers for outstanding work, unique voices ...
And I like em. Yup, I like em a lot. And guess what? So do other readers!
WHAT IS A CONTEMPORARY SONNET AND HOW DO I WRITE ONE?
The first poems I read as a young girl were sonnets...
Most contemporary sonneteers were/are passionate consumers of classic and modern sonnets.
(I took the above picture tonight. I've had this book since I was 13. The gild and velvet long ago wore off; I've cherished this book for 30 years. I have many other books in the same sad, overly loved, condition. )
The freshest sonnets do not adhere to meter, and the syllable count is relaxed. Each line has (usually) between 9 -11 syllables, with some room for play.
An overly rigid adherence to 10 syllables can lead to stilted language which is seen in horrid syntax (I go market with money in pocket?NO!
You went to THE market with money in YOUR pocket) or just as awful, an overuse of modifiers. (the big,big brown dog showed his big big teeth)
Contemporary sonnets do not sound wooden, limp or in any way artificial. They keep their tone and are fearless with imagery. The mood is in your face, unapologetic. It?s the right word, the perfect word being used, not the two syllable word you were forced to cram into a line.
Enjambment seems to be the tool of choice. Flow, baby, go with the flow!
Contemporary sonnets often use variances of rhyme such as near rhyme, slant rhyme, internal rhyme, eye rhyme or semi-rhyme. Actually, they don't need to rhyme.
A soup-chum recently asked me, so then what is the difference between free verse and a sonnet if a sonnet doesn't even need to rhyme?
And a contemporary sonnet is.... well.....
My view: Free verse can be anything. It can wander at will.. It can walk away from where it began, run for the hills, strip naked, jump bones and then have an after-sex nap. (oops blog moved into PG territory... lol) It can leave you wanting more, uncertain if the poem is really finished, even angry because there were too many questions left unanswered. I'd go so far as to say that if I read a free verse poem written as above it would be awesome free verse.
See, I believe I gravitate towards sonnets because I am a storyteller.
Here, let me show you something.
How to write a story (explained in less than 20 words)
Start with a bang
expand on theme
Build towards a climax
Finish with denouement
How to write a contemporary sonnet (explained in less than 20 words)
Start with a bang
expand on theme
Build towards a climax
Finish with denouement
HUH??? SAY AGAIN???
Simple as pie
Between lines 1 -2 (or later) introduce your theme or subject.
Between lines 2 (or 3) to lines 9 elaborate on your theme or subject.
Between lines 9 to 12 insert a volta
Lines 13 and 14 - Summarize. This should be powerful, the most significant lines in your sonnet. They should resound.
A volta is a turn, a shift in the poems direction, usually unexpected.
You ever think to yourself... I am going to eat salad; I will make a nice salad. You envision crisp lettuce and ripe tomatoes. You make a dressing for the salad, even take out the croutons. You are thinking to yourself, yum, healthy food. Then you open the fridge door to start to make your salad. OH SWEET MERCY, CHEESECAKE! To hell with salad. Come to my hips, oh decadent one, I surrender. Screw salad.
THAT SHIFT TO CHEESECAKE?
That is the volta. A 180! If you write about sitting in a hot bath, your thoughts grow cold. If you write about daydreaming about Provence, you mention suddenly that you're stuck in a traffic jam in New York....
In contemporary sonnets a volta can be dramatic, melodramatic or so very subtle it may take four readings to even sense the turn.
Finally, you may come to the closing couplet which usually takes everything you just said and summarizes it in some kind of profound way.
Contemporary sonnets are popping up everywhere, creating a whirl, leaving us breathless for more more more!
PART 4- A POETIC RANT
BECAUSE THEY BELONG TO OUR TIME
Its voice is as natural as if you were talking to your best friend. Yes, figurative, of course. And with all the intonations which sets poetry apart from everyday language. When we speak to others, our friends, our family, we do not speak in poetry. If we did, they'd slap us upside the head and say something like, now cut that out! I've tried. I know.
Poets have been trying to pinpoint the perimeters of poetry (oh Heck, did I just write that? LOL) since the first poem was drawn in sand. A thousand quotes I could post on what poetry is or should be. Pointless. Poetry is felt more than read or interpreted.
And those who read sonnets UNDERSTAND that a contemporary sonnet is still a sonnet.
No, it isn't a Hybronnet pretending to be a sonnet ( Seriously?!)
No, It is not free verse putting on airs.
And no, those who write it are not desecrating the form; They are singing their little songs their way!
And today's sonneteers do not need to be re-educated. They are neither know-nothings nor fools.
What IS foolish? Pretending to be Keats and posturing in pantaloons while wearing blinders.
If you have never written a sonnet then the contemporary sonnet is THE place to START. They are fun. They are real. And They are HERE TO STAY, FOLKS.
Write a sonnet about that sexy poker game, your embarrassment at being strapped for cash, something from the news. Or start a sonnet with Dear Mister President and see where it goes.
But warning, the contemporary sonnet can be addictive.YAH BABY!
TRY ONE TODAY! Here, take a small sample, on the house!
Signed, Cyndi the unapologetic mod-sonnet-pusher