Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sonnet: More of the Same?

A while back I was reading one of John Ashbery's books of poems, Where Shall I Wander [no question mark], and in there is a poem that alludes to sonnets as "more of the same"; of course, Ashbery's poem's in free verse, and, as I guessed would be the case when I began reading it, he ends it at the 13th, not the 14th line--one final passive-aggressive insult to the fair sonnet-form. Ashbery is very clever.

And he does have a point. The ever-increasing number on the sonnetometer, which began ticking in the Renaissance, must be in the billions now, and perhaps this suggests that the form is a formula with which to beat poetry over the head. Another way to look at the issue, however, is to view the form as ever-adaptable, as only an illusory formula, rather like the rules of baseball, with its phantom strike-zone, its phantom tagging of the bag at second base, the four illusory "pitches" in an intentional walk, the trench the pitcher digs next to "the rubber," the third- and first-base coaches' "boxes," from which the coaches routinely wander, the "foul pole," which is really the "fair pole," and on and on, ad infinitum.

In honor of the sonnet's mercurial form and in response to Ashbery's 13-line non-sonnet, I have, unfortunately, made the sonnetometer tick once again.

Sonnet: Less of the Different

(after Ashbery)

A sonnet's "just more of the same"? Uh, no.
It's rather like less of the different.
There is no formula involved, you know.
True, syllables and lines and rhymes get spent
At predetermined intervals: mirage
Of order. Inside, sonnets are a mess
Of words, a slew of syntax, a barrage
Linguistically set off; are nonetheless
Provisionally impish--and as free
As freest verse to chat up any ear
Or signal any eye. The form, you see,
Is just a well mapped route from which to veer.
A sonnet is a disobedience
Of sounds, a flaunt of form, a tease of sense.

Hans Ostrom

Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom
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