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Old 03-26-2003, 08:08 AM
Rhina P. Espaillat Rhina P. Espaillat is offline
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This reading of sonnets by the 'Sphereans has been a delight, and one from which I've learned a lot, both from the sonnets themselves and from the comments on them. But as for choosing "winners," good grief, has that been hard!

But having told Tim I would choose winners, I have, despite the temptation to say "All of the above." And here they are, in two tiers ("One" being the "tops") of three sonnets each, with the sonnets in each tier roughly equivalent:

Tier One: Phenomenon; Aftershocks; Charlemagne's Vision
Tier Two: Hardy; Singing Bird; Lorenzo Lotto's Annunciation

And here are a few words about each, not to justify my choices, but by way of celebration and thanks for the astonishing quality of the poems it's been my privilege to read and think about during these two weeks or so:

"Phenomenon": What I love most about this poem in which there is nothing not to admire is its intelligence, the way it traces everything we know back to the most ordinary things that are with us all our lives: the body, the soapy water it needs, the sponge, the basin that contains them. I am enchanted by the reality of these things, the care they suggest, the way they do more than the people--even "old Eurykleia"--who use them, the energy with which water springs, "startled," and how the basin makes noise and is "amazed." I am persuaded by the way things "discover" us and usher us into whatever knowledge we achieve, so that even wisdom becomes--but only to someone listening as intently and intelligently as this poet--"a clang of bronze."


"Aftershocks": If this poet we all recognize had written nothing else so far but this poem, it would be enough by itself to indicate her place in American poetry, and suggest what can be expected from her. It's a glorious sonnet, perfectly contained by its central metaphor, sending out waves of meaning and implication. What this poem does with simple language used in complex ways--"where we are bound," "a stranger land," "the fault"--is miraculous.

"Charlemagne's Vision": This is an unusual choice for me; I am leery of poems whose point may be described as political, having found that many of them eventually bog down in the slough of polemics. But this poem is just that, an excellent poem, not polemics at all. It arrives at its political point via history, film-like narration, the imaginative assumption of a persona, powerful imagery and elegant language. It's a one-sentence voyage from troubled past to troubled present, unbroken, inexorable, weighted with people and events, traveling fast.

"Singing Bird": My suspicions about this sonnet's authorship point to Texas, because of its humor, its charm,
its tough-as-nails approach to what poets do, its healthy respect for "dailiness," its modesty, and its clear affection for "poor Septimus." And, of course, the skill and deftness of its execution!

"Hardy": This is such a good sonnet that it's a fitting tribute to a poet and novelist I admire greatly. It has the same gritty honesty as the work of the author it celebrates. It interprets his life as a response to the accident of survival, but without reducing him or simplifying him, or cleaning him up. It's compelling and profound; I think Hardy would have respected it and recognized himself in it.

"Lorenzo Lotto's Annunciation": What a gorgeous response to a work of art in another medium! This sonnet should be taught as an example of ekphrasis that works. The poem keeps its eye on the painting throughout, seeing through it to what it implies, not around it to what some other agenda could have embroidered upon it. The lines are jagged and "willy-nilly" in spots, and attention moves restlessly from one detail to another: the angel's hair, God's almost ominous arm in the doorway, the agitated cat, the Virgin's oddly calm expression. Nevertheless, the whole effect is somehow one of unity and serenity, both in the final images and in the language.


Thank you, Tim, for giving me such an interesting homework assignment! And my thanks and congratulations, also, to those poets whose sonnets I very much enjoyed but have not mentioned by title. This whole batch of entries could easily be the cream of an anthology on the sonnet. They illustrate beautifully the form's variety and resiliency, the way it can handle an inexhaustible list of themes and subjects, and handle them all in surprising ways, in the right hands, as these 16--no, 32--certainly are.
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Old 03-26-2003, 10:07 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Rhina! Texas? That will come as news to Gerry Cambridge who hails from Scotland. Gerry is the editor of The Dark Horse, the best poetry magazine we have. His newest collection is Madame Fi Fi's Farewell, just out from Luarth Press, and I am bending his arm to do a gig as our guest Lariat. Julie Stoner can now learn the identities of all these masked culprits on the Ballot thread. I would like to thank Rhina for taking on so Solomonic and impossible a task, to thank all our contestants and near-contestants, to thank all those who commented. Finally, I'd like to thank Alex and Carol and Mike for launching this wonderful site and bringing us all together from whatever ports we hail from. This Bake-off has surely been as good a showcase for our collective talents as was the batch of longer poems Mr. Parnassus recently commented on.
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Old 03-27-2003, 08:38 AM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
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I've been AWC (away from computer) for the ballot casting (also, perhaps, too nervous to look), and just want to say am thrilled to be in such fantastic company and to have made it into the upper echelons, no less. All the sonnets provoked pangs of envy (Emily gets the top of her head taken off; I turn green), though perhaps the image I most coveted was the cat's S tail in the Annunciation. Thank you, Rhina, for your generous and insightful remarks!

(By the by, I am particularly tickled to get so much positive feedback on Aftershocks as it provoked one of the bruskest acceptance letters I've ever gotten--the editor grumbled that he would take it "DESPITE the VERY Bishopian rhymes.")

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Old 03-27-2003, 09:58 AM
Alan Sullivan Alan Sullivan is offline
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Thank you, Rhina, for bravely winnowing these sonnets and making your difficult choice. I'm glad you deemed "Hardy" worthy of mention; I too thought it one of the standouts.

On the other hand I also liked "Millay's Child" and the Hopkins poem, which garnered little mention from anyone.

I guess "Aftershocks" is the overall winnner among the membership, and I certainly concur with placing it (co-equally) in the top three. Congratulations, Alicia!

Alan
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Old 03-27-2003, 10:33 AM
Paul Lake Paul Lake is offline
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Thanks, Rhina, for your kind attention to and good words about my poem. I feel honored to be among such accomplished poets--and to be selected by a poet I admire for inclusion in such a strong batch of sonnets.
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Old 03-27-2003, 11:08 AM
Michael Cantor Michael Cantor is offline
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Thank you, Tim, for including my sonnet, Tim and Rhina for your input and advice, and all the others who commented on the poem.

Tim, some unsolicited advice and opinion for the future - on the assumption we continue this excellent feature.

When the sonnets first started appearing without attribution I thought it was a great idea. Response was not slanted by the author's identity, and it was fun playing "name that writer". However, I've changed my mind.

I think we gave up more than we gained by not identifying the poets. Most notably, the writers were not part of the give-and-take of commentary, so I think we lost the very helpful and vital dimension of the author's thinking. (The only writer who was identified and responded during the course of this year's postings was Robert Mezey, and it led to some interesting exchanges.) In addition, there was no possibility to evaluate that particular sonnet in the context of the writer's overall work, which could sometimes be very interesting.

Interestingly, I checked back and we seem to have had more than twice as many responses last year, even with (my opinion) a stronger group of sonnets this year. I recognize there's a war on, and am sure that preoccupation and depression had something to do with the reduced response, but also question whether the lack of writer's identity was a damper.

Finally, I would be delighted and interested if any of the authors cared to reopen their threads and comment on the commentaries (it's an old Talmudic tradition).

Michael Cantor



[This message has been edited by Michael Cantor (edited March 27, 2003).]
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Old 03-27-2003, 12:11 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Michael, I think you're spot on, dead right. Rhina asked that the authors not be identified, but that is a mistake. Oh sure, a few of the authors, Paul Lake and Gerry Cambridge, for instance, were unknown to judge and jury, but they were the exception. Your Lariat is pretty disappointed by the lack of comment, the lack of traffic, and the paucity of even graceful thank you's to our judge. It may be attributable to the overwhelming response to Dick Wilbur's appearance, which came too close to Rhina's. It may be that we should have no further Bake-Offs, for unless our authors are extraordinarily fecund, I shall never be able to present our judge a crown of sonnets as good as these.
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Old 03-27-2003, 12:47 PM
RCrawford RCrawford is offline
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I agree with Michael. I held off engaging in comments on my sonnet because I thought it would give up the game. I also noted that a fair number of comments on the poems were directly related to guessing the authorship and didn't focus on the poetry itself (but this is just an impression--Kevin, if you're reading this, please don't ask me to back up my assertion with facts!

Many, many thanks to Rhina and Tim for putting this together. I enjoyed reading all of them and now I hope the poets jump in and comment on the comments.

--Robert Crawford
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Old 03-27-2003, 01:38 PM
Deborah Warren Deborah Warren is offline
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This is from an e-mail I sent Rhina this morning. I don't know why I didn't post it, but I'll repeat it here:
------------------
Dear Rhina,

With what surprise I saw that you named my sonnet in your top tier! I had assumed you would simply ratify the results of the poll, where I made a poor [non-]showing.

Truth to tell, although I like the end of 'Phenomenon', I dislike lines 1-4, which are leaden. I consider 'Aftershocks' a 'Great' poem. The closing couplet of Gerry's energetic sonnet are firmly lodged in my mind as lines I NEED (it's what I want a poem to be--something to help me go through life.) I love Catherine's, and that 'drowsy Christendom' and final 'salaam' are magnificent.
-------------------
P.S. I enjoyed the secret-author set-up, and I didn't miss authors' comments about their own poems; but in some of these the author was known (inevitably, in our tiny world), so on balance I agree with Michael (and Tim, to whom we all owe innumerable thanks for the time and patience he put into this, as well as other things Spheroid).

Deborah
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Old 03-27-2003, 01:40 PM
wendy v wendy v is offline
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I always think the minority voice ought to be in a smaller squeakier font or something. I don't think presenting the poems blind was a mistake. I rather enjoyed guessing from the sidelines and discovering how right or wrong I was.

Though I'm just a quiet observer most of the time, I wouldn't underestimate the effect war has on (normally chatty) folks and their sense of priorities or enjoyment of things.

Many congratulations to all the sonnet makers, for all the sonnets were indeed impressive, and a special thanks to Rhina, whose comments and energy and wisdom are always an inspiration here.
Big thanks to you, too, Tim, for much the same reasons.

wendy



[This message has been edited by wendy v (edited March 27, 2003).]
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