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Just to recap: The rules of the sonnet.
1: Fourteen lines, traditionally divided into three, four-line ‘quatrains,’ and a final couplet.
An eight line ‘octave’, followed by two, three-line tercets.
2: Rhyme schemes vary:
English Rennaissance: A-B-A-B-C-D-C-D-E-F-E-F-G-G
3: Iambic Pentameter: Each line has ten syllables:
4: A sonnet is an argument (an essay of sorts), and it presents its argument in a specific way.
First Quatrain (four lines): An exposition of the main theme and main metaphor.
Second Quatrain: Theme and metaphor extended or complicated; often some imaginative example is given.
Third Quatrain: Peripeteia (dramatic reversal––thank you Aristotle––more about that later in the semester), often beginning with ‘but.’
Final Couplet (two lines with end-rhymes): Summarises and leaves the reader with a new, concluding image.
You are going to write a sonnet.
You must write at least 14 lines, and you must adhere to at least one of the rules above.
So, for example, you can write a 14-line poem that develops an argument, but does not use iambic pentameter or rhyme.
Or you could write an 18 line poem in iambic pentameter that doesn’t rhyme or develop an argument.
A couple of sonnet exercises suggest themselves here:
Begin a sonnet with the word “not” or “no” or another negation. Don’t worry too much about sticking with the exact meter, but do try for a strong sense of rhythm.
Write a poem in which the speaker addresses someone else directly. Ask questions. Don’t answer them.
Or begin your sonnet with the words: Shall I compare thee to…
Shall I compare thee to a submarine.
Thou art more shark-like, and made of steel…
Try to make the line work as iambic pentameter, which may mean adding or subtracting words, and perhaps shifting the order fo the words.
Iambic pentameter does not need to be recited with much emphasis on the stressed vowels, so you shouldn’t worry too much of the meter places stresses on your words in the wrong place.
Here are some sonnets to (hopefully) inspire you:
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (Sonnet XLIII)
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
[When the bed is empty … ]
When the bed is empty, we pull the shades to block light,
light of resemblance to remembery, long light of waiting,
an impatience in the glows of it. The here of the now and the glow
that days make in the room, without the body but with the stench
of it. So we say, vacancy and abject,against the was, against
a philosophy of once and then not. Not-being against.
A child once grew here. As lines on a wall. As
growing without knowing what would one day not be. A
gnawing grows. Grew and was. Protection is curled. Motion-
less. I envy her in her room. Hers with paint and dolls and hand-
prints. Great green and glowing under blankets with a hand
that nurtures the heart of the mouth, purrs into mouth, loves
the heart. Heart beating within another—blushing blood—
God, the beating, lit, and doing what it does.
Incandescent War Poem Sonnet
Even before I saw the chambered nautilus
I wanted to sail not in the us navy
Tonight I’m waiting for you, your letter
At the same time his letter, the view of you
By him and then by me in the park, no rhymes
I saw you, this is in prose, no it’s not
Sitting with the molluscs & anemones in an
Empty autumn enterprise baby you look pretty
With your long eventual hair, is love king?
What’s this? A sonnet? Love’s a babe we know that
I’m coming up, I’m coming, Shakespeare only stuck
To one subject but I’ll mention nobody said
You have to get young Americans some ice cream
In the artificial light in which she woke
The Hurt Sonnet
Dark days when I awaken so I slump
back to the swamp of his armpit, a whit
from the arachnid he inked to the stump
that’s left. So close to the vestige of it,
the danger he’s a reliquary of:
tattooed noose to venerate the fist
of a slug buried still in his butt above
a white cross for the men he didn’t miss.
If only I could strip off the black map
I sleep against and be his liniment,
gloss over the explosion, the mishap
phantom he feels in a forearm itch.
He won’t leave the long tale his tattoos read
for me, so I amend the story.
From Six Unrhymed Sonnets
I drove all the way to Cape Disappointment but didn’t
have the energy to get out of the car. Rental. Blue Ford
Focus. I had to stop in a semipublic place to pee
on the ground. Just squatted there on the roadside.
I don’t know what’s up with my bladder. I pee and then
I have to pee and pee again. Instead of sightseeing
I climbed into the back seat of the car and took a nap.
I’m a little like Frank O’Hara without the handsome
nose and penis and the New York School and Larry
Rivers. Paid for a day pass at Cape Disappointment
thinking hard about that long drop from the lighthouse
to the sea. Thought about going into the Ocean
Medical Center for a check-up but how do I explain
this restless search for beauty or relief?
Four Sonnets About Food
Words can’t do
what bird bones
to the stony
small soul, the spent
sacrifice boiled down
to the hard white
matter that nourishes
predator, who flourishes
on the slaughtered
animal and water.
another is like bones
to him who eats
(I say “him” only
because it is a man
in my house
who eats and a woman
who goes about
the matter of sustenance),
food being always
a matter of life and
death and each day’s
another small dying.
in hot iron
with grated ginger,
and a little oil
of sesame, served
jasmine rice, cures
of long, fluorescent
in the city
I am afraid
I can’t always be
here when you need
a warm body
or words; someday
into the red clay
I started with
who you are,
for now, here’s
my offering: baked red
fish, clear soup, bread.