sonnets, busyness, influence, and macaronics (not in that order)

Normally critics, scholars and reviewers (even those who are also poets, such as [coughs] me) are supposed to spend more time reading than they do writing: you read a book, you read it again if you like it enough, you read some books about the book or maybe (if it's a "popular" piece) some author interviews and background articles, and then you start to write.
The danger in blogging, for critics, scholars and reviewers (though not perhaps for other kinds of writers, who have the "notebook" form as an excuse) is that you'll spend more time writing than you do reading, bringing all too close the dreadful day when you realize you've run out of things you've recently read about which you want to write (or at least about which you have something to say). It's a risk on Harriet, just as it's a risk-- in theory-- for such good general book-critic blogs as the NBCC's, and the Valve, and Jenny, though in practice Jenny never runs out of things to say.
Now that day hasn't come for me, though I occasionally fear that it's coming soon (if it seems truly imminent, I'll stop blogging). A related day, however, has come: the day when, rather than pursuing one extended polemic or heartfelt Internet-only paean here, I mention some things I've been reading for writing elsewhere, raise some questions I've had to ask myself, and implore you-all, Gentle Readers, for suggestions, related works and answers. Linkage and open-ended questions, as you might expect, below the fold.


Thanks partly to Rigoberto, partly to how much I liked some of his earlier books, I'm now reading 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can't Cross the Border, not quite a new book of verse by J. F. Herrera but a compilation of earlier poetic texts, many composed with live performance in mind. So far- -and that means "not very far"; I'm not halfway through, and it's long!-- it's stunningly good, a little like Howl, and not much like anything else in English. Of course, some of it isn't in English, which is part of what's neat about it: there should be macaronic or multilingual verse by and about U.S. Latinos, verse dense enough to work on the page rather than only in performance, and Herrera-- among others--- is inventing it.
I've been thinking for a piece that will appear elsewhere not just about how good Laura Kasischke's poetry is, but about what other poets can learn from it: just in time, then, comes a first book from Pittsburgh where Kasischke seems to be the major stylistic influence.
It's that time of the term when academics feel (even more than usual, and perhaps with no more justification) that we have too much to do, no time to do it, and will inevitably let somebody down. Some of my favorite rock songs describe just this feeling. What poems, what poets, describe it well?
For a larger project I shouldn't much talk about yet, I'm collecting sonnets. Lots of sonnets. What are your favorite sonnets that few other people have read? I seek, especially, sonnets from outside the modern period; either very recent work (say, after the death of Merrill, in 1995) or work from before modernism began (in English language poetry, that means before 1913 or so). Expansive definitions of "sonnet" apply. Translations of poems originally written in other languages are welcome; as some of you know, a few of the most famous Renaissance sonnets in English are close adaptations from Italian, Spanish or French.
Speaking of sonnets: I, too, am excited about Karen Volkman's next book. Here is another sonnet taken from that book, and here is news of a forthcoming chapbook, and here is another sonnet, this one with a nod to Garcia Lorca, who (as Karen does) throws any simple contrast between tradition and innovation into a cocked hat, where such contrasts belong.

Originally Published: December 10th, 2007

Stephanie (also Steph; formerly Stephen) Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor. In 2012, the New York Times called Burt “one of the most influential poetry critics of [her] generation.” Burt grew up around Washington, DC and earned a BA from Harvard and PhD from Yale. She has published four collections of poems: Advice...

  1. December 11, 2007
     Tom Thompson

    I'm curious that you're looking for everything "except" the modern period. Louise Bogan's sonnets are pivotal to my thinking about the form -- for their awareness of the sonnet's historical content and style and her reactions within it/against it. I sure wouldn't call her a modernist, but she wrote before the death of Merrill and after the death of Swinburne. -Tom T.

  2. December 11, 2007
     James Hoch

    Of course, there's a sonnet or two by Bill Knott that demand attention,
    "The Sculpture" for one, but there is also this poem I remember hearing
    in Russia of all places. "Performance Art" I think it's called.
    Phillis Levin's book of Sonnets feature some real good ones.
    Dan Gutstein's has one there that I enjoy.
    Also, Hirsh and Boland are doing one with Norton.
    Check too poems by Erin Belieu and Greg Williamson.
    I don't know if these poets would interest you,
    but there you have it.
    JH
    ps. thanks for blogging. I enjoy your posts.

  3. December 12, 2007
     yesandno

    This doesn't fit your preferred dates of composition, but it is my favorite sonnet in the world. And part of it's because of the last line--that "think"-- she doesn't say "I wouldn't." But "I do not *think* I would." I love the (both poignant and harsh) honesty of that word in that moment--it feels very human.
    LOVE IS NOT ALL
    Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
    Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
    Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
    And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
    Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
    Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
    Yet many a man is making friends with death
    Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
    It well may be that in a difficult hour,
    Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
    Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
    I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
    Or trade the memory of this night for food.
    It well may be. I do not think I would.
    --Edna St. Vincent Millay

  4. December 12, 2007
     Alicia (AE)

    He's hardly under-read (except maybe in the US), and I'm sure you're already on the case, but I'd put in a big vote for Don Paterson, his own sonnets and his exciting new adaptations of Rilke.

  5. December 12, 2007
     Matt

    I haven't read much Don Paterson, but the sonnet of his I found on Poets.org, "The Thread", seems pretty hokey. I'm not an anti-sonnet person, but I think that's an example of the bad kind.
    The good kind would be more like those written by Frank O'Hara, who isn't really known for his sonnets, but they're pretty good. "Sonnet for Jane Freilicher" is probably one of those O'Hara poems people think is too trivial or something, but whatever, it's fun to read.

  6. December 12, 2007
     Don Share

    Ah, Don Paterson! As has been mentioned in a few places elsewhere on Harriet, he's done quite an interesting version of Rilke's "Sonnets to Orpheus," published in book form as Orpheus.
    Here's one of eight that originally appeared in the June 2004 issue of Poetry:
    The Dead
    by Don Paterson
    Our business is with fruit and leaf and bloom.
    Though they speak with more than just the season's tongue–
    the colours that they blaze from the dark loam
    all have something of the jealous tang
    of the dead about them. What do we know of their part
    in this, those secret brothers of the harrow,
    invigorators of the soil–oiling the dirt
    so liberally with their essence, their black marrow?
    But here's the question. Are the flower and fruit
    held out to us in love, or merely thrust
    up at us, their masters, like a fist?
    Or are they the lords, asleep amongst the roots,
    granting to us in their great largesse
    this hybrid thing–part brute force, part mute kiss?

  7. December 23, 2007
     Ben Friedlander

    Steve:
    Here's a tidbit for your editing project, from Sidney Lanier's The Science of English Verse (1880):
    "It is in fact a disgrace to our tongue that we have no collection of the English sonnets which is even tolerable, although the sonnet is really the primordial form of modern English lyric poetry; and it is a result of this circumstance that the prodigious wealth of our language in beautiful works of this genre is almost unknown except to the professional worker among books."