Monday, July 15, 2013

Flying the Sonnet Flag?

This summer I've been doing a lot of revisions. Some of it is work that I'm just making, some of it the avalanche of poems from my poem-a-day experiment. I've noticed that shorter poems--12 lines, 13 lines, 15 lines, I'm thinking I could make that a sonnet. Why?

Of course, I know it's because it will indicate that I understand traditional forms, that I embrace traditional forms, that I'm informed. It will give me the appearance of propriety--proper poem-ness. When did I start to care about that?

Can I say that there are certain ways I think the poem should not be groomed? And maybe this is one of them. It's the shape of the poem's throat I should be wondering about, the utterance unspooling from that mysterious dark interior, what I coax (co-ax like a threat?) like an animal out of a cave. (And suddenly it rushes you.)

One of the ways I work as a poet is through refusal. I began in free verse. I refused early lukewarm estimations of my work. I refuse my own bad writing. I refuse writers block. I refuse the low rung of the ladder I'm standing on. I'm thinking I should refuse this, too.  

This is not the same as setting out to write a sonnet or a crown of sonnets, or a ghazal (which is the form that interests me the most right now). Shapeliness is an important element in poetry. But should a poem be trimmed to an expectation unrelated to its being?


  1. Susan, The paragraph on refusal tickled me. I remember you coming to Pitt a couple of years after you left there. You said you wanted to see if you had made a mistake or not, and you definitely had made the right decision to leave there. I think you were probably on the low rung then and eager to climb, and already had a balance of refusal and embrace. You did make the right decision and I admire your refusals, though would like to hear some more fully explained.
    Regarding your question about expectation and form, we both know that it's fun to play with the shapeliness, but it's the content and sound that determine the "poem's throat."

  2. Hey, Sue Ann. Refusal--I think it's maybe related to the necessary hubris of the poet who goes on even when there's no particular encouragement to do so. Maybe it's part of the creative person's make-up? I was just reading The Art of Recklessness by Dean Young in which he says, "What may seem like a mistake may in fact be the most important point in the poem, where the poet is trying to discover new territory, new methods and materials. 'A man [and woman] of genius makes no errors. His [her] errors are . . . portals of discover'(James Joyce)." I'm not suggesting myself as genius, but I like the idea of the "wrongness" being a portal of discovery. I don't know that I would say this out loud in a poetry workshop I'm teaching, however.