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Old 03-23-2003, 06:13 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Fargo ND, USA
Posts: 13,807

First, my thanks to the many members who sent work we hadn't world enough and time to discuss. Even so, we've seen sixteen sonnets since Rhina returned as Guest Lariat last weekend. I like all these poems, and a few of them are probably even good enough to endure. For the next two days, vote here for your favorites! Then Rhina will give us her decision, and I'll reveal the authors.

Because it is vastly ambitious, and because I think its ambition is fully realized, my own pick is Charlemagne's Vision. Here for everyone's convenience are all sixteen entries in this year's little anthology of the sonnet:

The Perfect Sonnet

I’ve been at this forever and I think
the perfect sonnet should consist of one
long sentence which will elegantly slink
around caesuras; have a little fun
with word-play as it sets its feet upon
good meter and an intertwining rhyme,
and then, just when it seems it will run on
and on without an insight worth a dime -
sublimely superficial, laced with wit
that sidesteps the realities of life -
shall open up a bit and half admit
concern about old age, finances, wife;
so that, instead of running out of gas,
it turns around and bites you in the ass.
--Michael Cantor


Thrown away at birth, he was recovered,
Plucked from the swaddling-shroud, and chafed and slapped,
The crone implacable. At last he shivered,
Drew the first breath, and howled, and lay there, trapped
In a world from which there is but one escape
And that forestalled now almost ninety years.
In such a scene as he himself might shape,
The maker of a thousand songs appears.

From this it follows, all the ironies
Life plays on one whose fate it is to follow
The way of things, the suffering one sees,
The many cups of bitterness he must swallow
Before he is permitted to be gone
Where he was headed in that early dawn.
--Bob Mezey

Crescenta Valley

We watch the white moon moving through the trees
And pray that there may be ten thousand times
To share again the drowsy, rippling breeze
That jangles through the overhanging chimes.

The reddish glint of Mars has dropped from sight.
Above the hills, remaining in its place,
The blinking of the radio tower light
Seems here the mighty city's only trace.

A final log is crackling orange and blue.
It breathes from time to time a gust of sparks
That lights the terrace. Hidden from our view
Far up the road, a stray coyote barks.

The evening nurtures tenderness unplanned,
The gentle, playful pressure of your hand.
--Bruce McBirney

Hard Winter

People call this kind of woman strong.
The weather of her life has not been fair;
Her face shows she’s been out in it too long.
A taxi’s on its way in the raw air.
She got a call, she tells me, from the vet,
Saying the cat is not responding well.
Though she speaks calmly, clearly she’s upset,
And clearly there’s too much she wants to tell.
“She sleeps in my bed. I...”––she’s nearing tears––
“Undo my shirt and hold her to my breast.
We’ve lived together now eleven years.”
I wince to hear such loneliness expressed.
And God forbid that I speak honestly:
“Turn, and look away. You frighten me.”
--Alfred Nicol

Visions of the Serengeti

When Mutual of Omaha supported
nature shows, it spared us sex and gore.
We stared as peacocks preened and rhinos courted,
then later saw the litters--nothing more.
The mother wombats would protect their young
(just as insurance agents do for you)
and Marlon would relax while Jim's life hung
in balance, for his dartgun's aim was true.
I watch new nature shows now with my spaniel.
She wags her tail as jackals disembowel
the wildebeest of The Discovery Channel,
then warns off flapping vultures with a growl.
Her rapture grows until the carnage stops,
then she considers me, and licks her chops.
--Mike Juster

To Gerard Manley Hopkins

Your spirit hovered quivering, poised on air
of sense and sound, charged like a lightning rod:
now flashing out to seize the grace of God,
now plummeting in darkness and despair -
despair! Did wisdom really bring you there,
where tired generations trod and trod,
where feet convey no feeling, iron-shod,
where hopelessness hangs heavy everywhere?

Sometimes I wonder, did you understand,
without the dark your candle could not glow?
Your soul was tortured by self-reprimand,
self-crucified, self-loathing; yet I know
the God you loved and hated took your hand
at last, and led you safe where no storms blow.
--David Anthony

Singing Bird

Christ's sake, poor Septimus, stop all this praise.
You make me seem a vase in some museum.
Goodbye the living poet, hello the mausoleum!
I haven¹t written an unselfconscious phrase
since you phoned in the small hours, raving
about my last sent verses, lyrical
sparrows daftly denying the empirical
hawk and its usual method of behaving.

I cannot write a word now but I visualise
myself as object, in your aesthetic gallery
of plinth-set poets, caretaken for a salary,
whose golden dung brings tears to aesthetes' eyes.
I'm out into the day to let the rain
batter me back to dailiness again.
--Gerry Cambridge


This was the scar the old nurse recognized . . .
You are Odysseus! (trans. R. Fitzgerald)

Trying to prove the purity of gold,
Archimedes learned how in the bath;
his knees and shanks and soapy water told
him more than months of beakers, books and math—
specific gravity!
..........The unintended
gurgles up on you, surfacing where
you’re wringing out a sponge, your search suspended
for the nonce. Did anyone prepare
old Eurykleia? No; the basin rang
a high bronze peal, curvetting to the floor
amazed, and up the startled water sprang.
The thing you want discovers you when you’re
washing a thigh, and the phenomenon’s
a shock—a sudden flood—a clang of bronze.
--Deborah Warren


Abandoned where the grass grew lank and damp,
the antiquated grain drill seemed a toy
some Lilliputian farmer might employ
to plant a field small as a postage stamp.

Kelly opened a hopper filled with seed
nutty and sweet as Wheaties in the bag.
Where were the plowman and his plodding nag
to run that good grain through the metered feed?

Flushed from a pigweed patch, a pheasant sailed
over the leafless tree row flecked with red
where shrunken apples hung unharvested
or fallen to the stubble, lay impaled.

Squinting into the distance, Kelly said
“It was the farmer, not the seed what failed.”
--Tim Murphy

Millay's Child

Alkanet was the abortive Cora [her mother] was searching
for. Once she found it in flower in July, she was able to use
it to cause Vincent to miscarry.

--Savage Beauty, Nancy Milford

I speculate on why you poisoned him,
Or her (the it). You drank the alkanet
Your mother picked and brewed, not on a whim,
Or with lips forced apart by need, regret.
No, I suspect it had to do with beauty:
You feared--since Eros, your great muse, resigns
When Wednesday's play turns into Thursday's duty--
An interruption of your lovely lines;
You thought about that dressing table mirror
And saw your famous blush of hair defiled
With gray, a care-worn face, the wrinkles clearer--
Those mortal faults made glaring by a child.
You saw all ruined, the diminished stares,
And ended it, returned to your affairs.
--Bob Crawford

Charlemagne's Vision

Remembering his father's last campaign
To purge the south of Saracen and Moor
And how Grandfather stopped the tide from Spain,
Driving the Muslims from the fields of Tours,
King Charlemagne surveyed the scattered dead
At Roncesvalles, where Roland's ivory horn
Lay shattered on the ground beneath his head,
Then left his slaughtered Paladins, to mourn,
And saw, in troubled sleep, a second Rome
Encoiled by hydra heads--a living net
Encircling London, Paris, Amsterdam,
Each serpent-head poised like a minaret
Above the drowsy heart of Christendom--
Loud cries, bright shafts, red flames, a streaking jet,
Then bodies bowed down in a vast salaam.
--Paul Lake


I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.
—Mae West

Your shovel slicing, slicing through the snow,
the squeak of soles at seventeen below,
your breath freezing on reindeer cap and mask—
what more could a born blizzard-lover ask?
Only the strength to trench the ten-ton drift
dropped at your door like an early Christmas gift
and the crisp line of work precisely done—
the pristine path beneath a haloed sun.
You pause, panting, to drink with blinking eyes
a draught of sugared spruce and frosted skies;
you pat the puppy frisking at your feet,
then stamp indoors to savor the hearth’s heat
where cider tastes sweeter than vintage wine
and love pretends you still look thirty-nine.
--Alan Sullivan


We are not in the same place after all.
The only evidence of the disaster,
Mapping out across the bedroom wall,
Tiny cracks still fissuring the plaster—
A new cartography for us to master,
In whose legend we read where we are bound:
Terra infirma, a stranger land, and vaster.
Or have we always stood on shaky ground?
The moment keeps on happening: a sound.
The floor beneath us swings, a pendulum
That clocks the heart, the heart so tightly wound,
We fall mute, as when two lovers come
To the brink of the apology, and halt,
Each standing on the wrong side of the fault.
--Alicia Stallings

Lorenzo Lotto's Annunciation

Other approaching Gabriels offer the lily
In a ceremonial hush to humble girls
Who bow their heads or touch their breasts. She whirls
Away as the angel runs in willy-nilly
And sinks to one knee, hair streaming--as if he hurries
To get there ahead of God, who stretches His arm
From a cloud in the doorway, while the striped cat scurries
For shelter, its tail an elongated S of alarm.

Hands raised protectively, she turns to look
Straight out at us--in shock, or mute appeal?
Forgotten behind her lies the open book.
In the tumult of the divine turned terribly real,
Only her face is strangely still, the eyes
Wide with apprehension and surmise.
--Catherine Tufariello

Homeric Simile

Landsmen pressed by war to serve at sea
sicken of the reeling deck and raw
salt winds that roll the waters endlessly.
On sky devoid of bird, with jib and yaw,
the masthead weaves a dizzy, ovaling track,
as prow-tall seas, upreaching, pitch and claw
the groaning ship across the ocean's back.

Then do they long for Ithaka: for breeze
perfumed by cedar groves, for surfaces
of stillness underfoot, where houses keep
an upright angle to the sky, and seas
enclosed in haven lie, at last, asleep.

—So do I long for you, and though I see
a gulf between us, bitter, broad and deep,
I hope, at last, to anchor in your quiet lee.
--wiley Clements

Sonnet for K.

The accusing finger points you out each morning.
The eager eye has watched you while you wake.
The wagging tongue has given you fair warning
That the cool head says there is no mistake.
The elbow to the ribs and the cold shoulder
Have indicated, while you duck and flinch,
That the warm smile has lastingly turned colder,
And the mailed fist has closed into a clench.
The noble brow has furrowed at your trouble,
The double chin has met the heaving chest,
And the sharp index nail has burst your bubble
While the greased palm has smeared the snowy breast.
The curled lip glistens, whispering to you how
The upper hand is reaching for you now.
--Sam Gwynn
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Old 03-23-2003, 09:45 AM
Bruce McBirney Bruce McBirney is offline
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: La Crescenta, California
Posts: 315

Hard to choose among so many fine poems, with such different approaches to filling 14 (or 15) lines. But I especially like "Lorenzo Lotto's Annunciation."
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Old 03-23-2003, 12:46 PM
Michael Cantor Michael Cantor is offline
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: Plum Island, MA
Posts: 10,407

Incapable of making a single choice, I'd pick Aftershocks, Singing Bird and Millay's Child in that order.

[This message has been edited by Michael Cantor (edited March 23, 2003).]
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Old 03-23-2003, 03:07 PM
Jim Hayes Jim Hayes is offline
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Kilkenny, Kilkenny, Ireland
Posts: 4,814

There are many beautiful sonnets here, compelled to make a choice I'm plumping for Homeric Simile.
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Old 03-23-2003, 03:29 PM
Chris Childers's Avatar
Chris Childers Chris Childers is offline
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: Middletown, DE
Posts: 3,062

This is too hard. The one I reacted to the most on first reading was Aftershocks, though, so I guess I'll go with that one. Charlemagne's Vision and Hardy follow for me.
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Old 03-23-2003, 08:23 PM
Alfred Nicol Alfred Nicol is offline
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Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Newburyport
Posts: 16

Singing Bird
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Old 03-23-2003, 10:30 PM
wendy v wendy v is offline
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: Western Colorado
Posts: 2,176

I've enjoyed so many of these, but if pressed I would have to say

1. Aftershocks
2. Millay's Child
3. Sonnet for K
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Old 03-24-2003, 07:33 AM
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Kate Benedict Kate Benedict is offline
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: New York, NY, USA
Posts: 2,186

Lorenzo Lotto's Annunciation

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Old 03-24-2003, 07:53 AM
Carol Taylor Carol Taylor is offline
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: Houston, TX, USA
Posts: 7,799

I like most of these sonnets very much for different reasons, so trying to compare them to each other is like comparing apples to oranges. While some of them are more perfectly constructed than others, some appeal strongly for their delivery and content. I guess if I had to choose (and I'm wishy-washy about the exact order, especially of the first three) I'd vote for:

Hard Winter
Millay's Child
Visions of the Serengeti
Charlemagne's Vision

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Old 03-24-2003, 10:01 AM
Richard Wakefield Richard Wakefield is offline
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: Federal Way, Washington, USA
Posts: 1,662

The nice thing about choosing among so many fine poems is that one can be utterly subjective -- no need to worry about which is better or best in any abstract, objective sense. So, which one makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up? "Aftershocks."
Richard Wakefield
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