Tuesday, August 5, 2008
So I write sonnets more or less as aerobic poetic exercises and only rarely expect them to turn out as successful poems, and then from that very limited set, I might try to publish one. I think the main thing with sonnets and other traditional forms is knowing why you're writing them. Also, it's good, I think, to see yourself as participating in a long genre-tradition and exploring the tension between adhering to conventions and disrupting them, perfecting your engagement with a mode and improvising upon the mode.
With the following sonnet, a mere exercise, I decided to provide a play by play, line by line, just to show what sort of difficulty the form puts a poet it.
Sonnet: Hometown Paper
[the title/subject: so this is a fairly conventional Modernist move--take the love-poem form of the sonnet and use it to talk about something unrelated to love and otherwise unlyrical]
And shall it disappear, the local paper--
[The "And" is there to jump-start the iambic with an unstressed syllable, and I've presented myself a problem by asking a question; also, I've chose a two-syllable end-word and what's called a feminine rhyme; I've chosen to go with iambic pentameter, the conventional meter]
The hometown's daily, weekly digested
[More hot water--another two-syllable end word, meaning I have to think of rhymes now for both paper and digested]
Familiar fare of nearby news and safer
[So I went with a half-rhyme with paper--which I think worked out okay, but then I caused more problems by introducing a conceit--the newspaper or news as food--hard to continue, and likely to tempt me into a mixed metaphor]
Palatable small snacks, time-tested,
[I love putting multisyllabic words in an iambic line; it really speeds things up. "Time-tested" is a cliche--so I had to pay the price for "digested"; I'm depending on a pronunciation of palatable that stresses the second syllable]
Reliable desserts of gossip, sports,
[So now I'm stuck in that food-conceit, but at least I'm hanging with the subject]
Cooked up by ones who know the local fears?
[Still wearing out that conceit, making the editors cooks--I do like "local fears," however, and it may let me out of the conceit--we'll see; and I've finally sewed up the question--started in line 1!]
Already, so it seems, rags of all sorts
[Sports/sorts: basic rhyme; a shift of subject--papers going out of business--but by using "rags," I may have attached myself to another conceit]
Have been attached to quilts (one hears)
[So I decided to take "rags" literally; as rags are made into quilts, "rags" (newspapers) are attached to figurative quilts of . . . what?]
That make up media conglomerates,
[Conglomerates are quilts. Hmmm. But what will rhyme with conglomerates?! Oy.]
While others simply went, were buried with
[Still stuck on the rag-conceit, now treating rags more as clothes]
Their owner-editors. Moreover, what's
[So I rhymed "moreover, what's" with "conglomerate"--that's fun; some small newspapers perish when their old editors die]
The fate of reading? Yes, like Faith and Myth,]
[I rhymed Myth with With--amusing; more importantly, I'm experiencing what many sonnet-writers experience--the sudden, panicky realization that the poem's about to end; one gets lost in the meter, rhyming, conceits, and so on. Then: OMG! Only 14 lines, and I've written a dozen already--and I need to end with a couplet--and finish the poem! I mean, it's not cliff-diving, but it does create a virtual adrenaline rush, for nerds]
Our Literacy is ultra-local now--
[Now I leap to a Big Point--linking local papers to larger issues of literacy; the couplet is an opportunity to do this; I've played it safe in terms of rhyming by using "now"--lots of options]
Locked to a screen mere inches from the brow.
[Like the Shakemeister General, except not really, I've gone for a wicked little irony. In the age of the Internet, we feel we're superior to printed local, hickish papers, but then here we are peering at our various little personal screens, which in one sense are more insular, even solipcistic, than the local rag, or so I argue.
So there you have it--a not very good sonnet, but a great aerobic poetic workout, getting some work on rhyme, meter, conceits, getting out of trouble, having fun. And play by play, just like sports! Such a deal. Or, as John Madden would say, "And, boom, he finishes the couplet!" Maybe Madden will make a Sonnet Video Game. Uh, maybe not.