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Unread 06-24-2020, 12:06 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 8,535

I usually find it tiresome when someone identifies the form of a poem in its title. Those who know sonnets can recognize one without identification, and those who don't are not going to care what the author calls it. However, in Spence's case, the point of naming his poem a sonnet is to focus the reader's attention on those qualities it shares with a sonnet and those it does not. Without the title, many might miss that it is commenting on the sonnet form by departing from it, yet claiming a kinship to it. If writers have such an agenda, they often need to announce it.

I often like to bury in-jokes about a form, for instance by not identifying something as a sonnet when it is not one, but comes close. For instance, I wrote a 13-line rhymed poem called "Brief Lives of the Poets" that was about why female poets often have short lives. Stopping one line short of a sonnet was a way of reinforcing the argument of the poem, but if the reader doesn't notice, that is okay, too. I also like to mess with the expectation of a turn, by using a slow build instead of a sudden shift. It seems to me that if the poem has crescendoed by the end, that too is a change, but a less expected one. Anyway, I won't be arrested by the sonnet police, whether or not readers think the poem doesn't deserve to be called a sonnet.

Forms gain much of their appeal by playing off expectation against surprise. What surprise could be greater than a deliberate change to the form itself? On the other hand, many poems that have no form at all but are labeled sonnets run the risk that the surprise the reader experiences will be disappointment, not revelation. I love the pleasures of form, so if a poem seems to hold out that promise and then reneges on it, I usually am not thrilled by it.

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Unread 06-24-2020, 12:32 PM
Martin Elster Martin Elster is offline
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: Connecticut, USA
Posts: 6,487

Well, if I feel like being an egghead, I could simply give my computer’s dictionary definition. Notice that the Origin states that it’s from the phrase “a sound” (not “a song”):

son·net | ˈsänət |

a poem of fourteen lines using any of a number of formal rhyme schemes, in English typically having ten syllables per line.

verb (sonnets, sonneting, sonneted) [no object] archaic
compose sonnets: and in delightful Tones sit sonneting.
• [with object] celebrate in a sonnet: he sonneted his hostess now.

mid 16th century: from French, or from Italian sonetto, diminutive of suono ‘a sound’.
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Unread 06-24-2020, 01:41 PM
Ann Drysdale's Avatar
Ann Drysdale Ann Drysdale is online now
Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: Old South Wales (UK)
Posts: 5,124

Ah, sonnet me, Martin, you silver-tongued tempter. I'm yours for a song...
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Unread 06-24-2020, 01:50 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
Join Date: Mar 2009
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Posts: 1,999

The old bake offs really turned me on to the sonnet. I wouldn't rush to criticize those who want to call something a sonnet. In a sense, it's an ideal that begs to be challenged. And that's another reason I like the sonnet.
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Unread 06-29-2020, 10:06 PM
Vera Ignatowitsch Vera Ignatowitsch is offline
Join Date: Aug 2017
Location: Canada
Posts: 275

We're having this discussion about our upcoming annual sonnet contest.

At this point, I've read thousands of would be sonnets, between regular BTS entries and the contest submissions.

We've had contenders which stretch the form, deliberately diverging from the traditional, but almost every one of those I have read has ultimately struck me as some sort of exercise, a virtuoso pianist having fun with scales. None of them have overcome their 'anti-form' focus to deliver a poem that transcends form.

The ones which are a metrical mess sometimes come closer.

Whether writing a sonnet or any other form, I personally believe that the poem should make the form entirely secondary. That said, writing transcendent poetry in form does, I think, require full mastery of the form.

Form poetry, to me, is similar different genres of music or dance. A master taking creative license within any genre can result in something breathtaking, but it's very rare. Dancing flamenco and calling it ballet is not creative, just confusing.

This desire of artists and poets to either 'break the rules' or 'throw the rules away' isn't new. It has existed for centuries. Yet we still have teachable skills in all the arts. It is talent and inspiration which transcend skill. Whether they can succeed without the skill remains the eternally debated question.
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Unread 06-30-2020, 08:59 AM
Jan Iwaszkiewicz's Avatar
Jan Iwaszkiewicz Jan Iwaszkiewicz is offline
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia
Posts: 2,752

I am with you Jayne.

I believe that there are SONNOTS.
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Unread 06-30-2020, 09:25 AM
Jayne Osborn's Avatar
Jayne Osborn Jayne Osborn is offline
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Middle England
Posts: 6,149

Originally Posted by Jan Iwaszkiewicz View Post
I am with you Jayne.

I believe that there are SONNOTS.
(I would love you to be with me )

Thanks, Jan. I never believed I was alone in my opinion...

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Unread 06-30-2020, 01:29 PM
John Riley John Riley is online now
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 4,232

I hesitate to enter this discussion because everyone here knows I have at best a rudimentary grasp of meter. The reason I am pitching in is that the sonnet, for me, is most of all a grouping of an idea or image or sensation that, for some reason, fits into a thought's length. Yes, the "little song," because the length of a sonnet, give or take a couple of lines, is intuitive to how we think and dream. For me, that is fundamental. All the other arguments about meter and rhyme scheme and how the thought should turn are interesting and worthy but they are ultimately the way the sonnet is decorated. Perhaps the form and decoration are essential for carrying the sonnet, perhaps none of that is necessary. Berryman's Dream Songs are better sonnets than the poems he called sonnets. While I imagine few here would agree, many of free-form sonnets in Gerald Stern's American Sonnets accomplish what the sonnet inherently does. I know it when I see it is about the most insightful thing I can say.
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Unread 06-30-2020, 03:56 PM
Kevin Rainbow's Avatar
Kevin Rainbow Kevin Rainbow is offline
Join Date: Jan 2014
Location: Regina, SK; Canada
Posts: 183

I would say any poem that lives up to any of the traditions of Sonnets established by the great poets of the past, "Petrarchan" "Shakespearean" "Spenserian", etc.. is a sonnet. In other words, it needs to have a meter, line-length, and rhyme-scheme and volta according to the tradition it follows. You can't write a "Shakespearean Sonnet" if you don't follow the form that makes it "Shakespearean".

The best options for the sonnet are already, for the most part, established. Do you really think you can come up with something better than the traditions established by the best poets of the past? If you don't follow the established forms, you will most likely come up with something that looks like unintentional ignorance about them or failure to follow the traditions well, or else an intentional, lazy disregard, or gimmicky freeversy, fiddling-around.

Of course many people may accept anything that vaguely resembles any form of the sonnet as a sonnet. But what kind of achievement is that? Your sonnet gets to be a sonnet because it vaguely resembles a sonnet. Great. That's not much better than any 15 syllable threeliner winning the label "Haiku", or any example of prose with line breaks being "free verse".
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Unread 06-30-2020, 04:55 PM
Jayne Osborn's Avatar
Jayne Osborn Jayne Osborn is offline
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Middle England
Posts: 6,149

Bravo, Kevin!

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