Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sonnet Sunday

I don't know if my comrade in the conspiracy of poetic form, Rob Mackenzie, is going to post a sonnet today, but I'm hopeful. Poetry Thursday has shown no interest in the humble pseudopod that sprouted from its more massive protoplasm, which may cause a queue of poets to de-link to the site, but what would they care?

I promise to organize a movement if one evolves. Poetry Thursday is great; it's not about craft but therapy. "Here's this wee topic: The guilt of a pregnant mother over sneaking cigarettes." With that kind of freedom, who can fail to succeed? I'm happy to play because smart people come to read my poetry. Some don't even watch TV, which speaks for itself.

If I solo write a sonnet, all sonnets are alone no matter how much they pretend to a sequence. That's the great thing about form; it delimits the quantum of sound and sense being slung.

Don't you love it when a poem weds a great musical line to a great thought? You have to listen to one or the other for a moment before truly combining them in your head, much like you might listen to a tune on the radio before remembering the words. In the best the two are inseparable, as in the Beatles' "(Money) Can't Buy Me Love."

What is it about "The young in one another's arms, The mackerel-crowded seas?" Or "When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall?" "My love is a red, red rose?" "Bloody but unbowed?" "A violet by a mossy stone?"

I'm fond of saying that the most successful poems become part of the language just like more current fare: "life in the fast lane" or "so five minutes ago." In turn an apt metaphor, "hung like a horse," in becoming part of the language, becomes a cliche'. Yet if the trope is good enough, even when transformed into cliche', it continues to function well if vivid enough: "tighter than a well digger's ass." That still works for me.

Poets commit cliche' when using cliche' unawares, the sign one has not read enough poetry. Yet even the well-read can screw up, especially if the originally poetic figure of speech has already joined the language and one uses it like language, not antiquated verse.

To use cliche' knowledgeably for an effect within a poem is the sign of an accomplished poet. I had to name this rhetorical effect for the Melic Poetry Tutorial, (still available for the modest price of $300 and the best bargain on the net, if a poet can swallow his pride). I named it because I couldn't find a rhetorical term for it. It's important for a poet to know rhetoric, but that's just the beginning of the course.

I called the poetic effect in question "reverse cliche', that is when you knowingly embed a cliche' in a poem and it takes on new power from its surroundings. Eliot uses the technique sardonically at the beginning of "The Waste Land" by reversing Chaucer: "April is the cruelest month." Anyway, I advise using this figure of speech to increase the broadness of a poem's power, since invoking a cliche' can rope in almost every reader. In other words, if you're writing a poem and find a cliche' in your verse, try twisting it.

After all that prologue, here's this week's sonnet:

The Better Fisherman

I cast the pearly squid into the cove
Hoping for a bite. I saw its white
Beneath the jade-blue waters as it dove
And drifted through the kelp and out of sight.
A seagull landed on a nearby rock
Dressed in his gray suit and white vest.
His movements were like movements of a clock
(For the rocks I thought him overdressed.)
Swiveling his head the scavenger eyed me
With eons of evolutionary power.
I felt as if the bird could look inside me—
(I was depressed, my world had gone sour).
Always unlucky, I quit and tossed the bait.
The seagull swooped and caught and flew and ate.

Rodent Neutral,


(I'm going to have to be a firm two kilobunnies before I dare rise above neutral publicly)


  1. Anonymous5:27 PM PDT


    Your tendency to modulate the meter is interesting. Mine sometimes sound like electric cans as I strive to perfect the beats.


  2. I'm a punk rocker when it comes to sonnets, I think they have to be thrashed to get any attention. I follow the pentameter the way Richard Wilbur does in "Advice to a Prophet." Post-modern Formalism has progressed as well as free verse. There's a common style in place, in fact, of hiding the sonnet the way e.e. cummings did. The more invisible the form, the more one has mastered it.

    It's all good.

  3. Anonymous3:03 AM PDT

    I was busy baking biscuits with my daughter, then a bout of church, then a live poetry performance - the whole of Sunday gone in a flash, and no sonnet in sight. Maybe next Sunday.
    Goint points about clichés.


  4. Anonymous3:05 AM PDT


    I mean "good" of course. "Goint point" may someday be a cliché, so remember where you read it first.

  5. You are exonerated, Rob, especially with your young family and a live poetry reading. I'm encouraged that you attend church. In Scotland I suppose that's more common than England. I try to make it when I overcome my Sunday sloth.

  6. Anonymous12:16 PM PST

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