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To Sonnet, to Son-net, Tuscon Net

By Sina Queyras

wershler sonnet

Recently Geist Magazine, one of the great Canadian magazines, announced a contest for the best “Jackpine Sonnet.” The Jackpine sonnet was named by Canadian poet Milton Acorn. It’s a fairly regular sonnet that aims for the traditional 14 lines, each line con­tain­ing 7 to 13 syl­la­bles, but, in Acorn’s words, “If your son­net cuts itself off—click!—at, say line 12, 18 or 20, leave it at that.” As for rhyme, “Acorn advised writ­ers to write inter­nal rhymes (rhymes within a line) or exter­nal rhymes (rhymes at the end of con­sec­u­tive lines) ‘to keep the flow.’ In the absence of rhyme, use asso­nance (the rep­e­ti­tion of vowel sounds), ‘to keep the rhyme alive in order to come up with a true rhyme fur­ther on’…”

I love the sonnet, and the many ways in which poets have handled the form and continue to handle the form. It’s a challenge to make it lively, to not feel you’ve handed yourself over and let its history have its way with you: are you writing the sonnet, or is the sonnet writing you? So many feel like ghosts of other sonnets, barely breathing, barely able to stand on their own two feet. Others snap, insist. Demand attention.

The sonnet can be overwhelming and liberating. A necessary exercise for a poet I think, at least at one point in one’s development. The form is pliable. Back before I realized that the sonnet could be so pliable I recall encountering Vikram Seth’s novel The Golden Gate, which, while impressive, I didn’t find particularly compelling (It’s hard to pull off so many…Shakespeare only did 154). Then I discovered Marilyn Hacker’s Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons and was quite taken by the energy she captures in those sequences. Hacker’s book isn’t only sonnets, but there are many, and Hacker certainly can claim to be both a master of the form, and a great reader of the form. Here she is on Gwendolyn Brooks’ “The Rites for Cousin Vit” which reminds me a little of the luge track in Vancouver the way she handles the corners and slides into the gold stretch.

When we discuss the form in an introductory setting we do so in several ways: from traditional to radically experimental. Recently a poem from Ken Babstock (more on him to come) and a crown of sonnets by Anne Simpson—both found in Open Field. Babstock’s handling of the form is full of swagger and precision. Here’s the beginning of “First Lesson in Unpopular Mechanics”:

As a boy, it was a scale-model Messerschmitt
pitched at the wall in a boy-scale rage–
Now? These grown-up middletones, wafflings, shit
flung deliberately wide of the fan. I remember the age
I began to ease off–thirteen, fourteen–
when busting one’s stick meant a five-minute major,
and there, in the sin bin, thinking, what did I mean
by two-handing the crossbar?

Simpson’s crown takes on ekphrastic poetry and mixes in a post 9/11 narrative with great condensed and moving language.

“Are you still there? Are you?” A voice falls. Stone,
Unbearable stone. It grinds. It tastes of grief.
Don’t watch. Go blind. Oh Lord, those moans
will haunt us. This one. That one there. Brief

There are many poets in North America working with the sonnet, and many in Canada. George Murray published a collection of sonnets not long ago. Here’s a couplet from “Collusion”

The crushed grass evidence of collusion:
the animals fuck themselves to bleeding.

And from The Corner:”

The child’s conception like a struck match,
an axe ringing off knots in trunk wood,
cloudy brains forming in the sky. The twin
of today is yesterday, or will

be tomorrow, yet each continues/follows,
different from the last/next. Like obstinate
math problems we line up, waiting, in effect,
for a dark age to pass; to be made public, fixed.

In Murray’s hands the sonnet becomes a comfortable vessel in which he offers playful, and often very insightful, knotty, stubborn, surprising, ruminations: “I’ve met my match in my son, the mirror/image of his face constantly separating/from mine…”

There are more unconventional turns—such as Mr. Acorn with his cut it at 12 if it wants. West coast poet Alfred Noyes, also known as Stephen Collis and author, most recently of The Commons, has also published poems called Compression Sonnets. Wee sonnets that consist of fourteen words:

What shall a
Book undo measure
And consign the
First act of
Alienation together


Dear anything with
Ears we are
Imbedded displeasures who
War as reporters
Shell images


A poem appearing
After Auschwitz dear
Unflappable ghost we
Must address a
Torn fragment

Noyes is interested in condensation. In his introduction he asks, “what might come of only fourteen words? What of the ‘sonnet’ remains? A turn after the eighth word? At the  thirteenth (a concluding ‘couplet’ of words)?”What remains is a good question, and one that poetics of erasure takes up (The Capilano Review did a brilliant job with this).

One can’t think of the sonnet without considering Shakespeare, and all of the textual interventions and engagements his sonnets have evoked. Jen Bervin’s exquisite book Nets, for example. If you haven’t seen Nets, you must. For a little movie about Bervin’s book check out this link from Webdelsol and you can find an essay on Bervin here. What Bervin does can be compared to heightening or rubbing away. It’s a technique that I used in Teeth Marks—but with my own work. Chiseling away the dull bits from a conventional narrative poem to allow for a fragmented version of same poem to emerge. In Nets Bervin takes several dozen of Shakespeare’s sonnets and rubs away at them revealing her own poems. The result is exquisite. Here is one of my favourites:

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

It’s one of the best uses of erasure/intervention I have found, and partly because it actually builds to something, becomes more than the constraint though arguably no longer a sonnet?

There are many, many interventions. Chris Piuma’s Constellated Sonnets, Raymond Queneau’s “100,000,000,000 Poems,” Mr. Bok reminds us “a book of 10 sonnets, whose cognate lines can be permuted to create more sonnets than aspeedreading immortal can read in 3.5 million years…” Paul Hoover, in Sonnet 56, Les Figues 2009, takes up one of the homely sonnets–and rewrites/revisions in all the hip ways, from N+7 to digression, villanelle to ghazal, haibun to haiku, flarf to homophonic–translation that is.

In a similar turn, Gregory Betts, the author of the essay Plunderverse, recently published The Others Raisd in me, a little book that takes sonnet 154 and creates 154 poems by erasing, sort of as Jen Bervin did with Nets except he doesn’t leave the original poem in the background. Rather he takes words over and over again from the same sonnet, arranging them to create the different poems.

Along the same vein there are the anagrams from  K. Silem Mohammed. Elizabeth Bachinksy takes a close look at Mohammed’s sonnet 44, which begins:

Unwholesome leather flagpoles gross me out;
I never may endure their bulging mass.
Abjection hatches random nests of doubt
When I am reading Newsweek in the grass.

Bachinsky compares the Mohammed’s results with her own reworking of Milton’s “On His Blindness,” which turns into “She is Blond Sin” which I offer the first four lines as well, just for a teaser:

Dim, nephritic, yet single (whoosh!)
She’s a dandy kid. Why film her drear wilt and
Tease the wanton hidden clit? Oh had I that
Molten loadstone rebel—gum my thighs. She is down…

Bachinksy is one of the few poets who roam from conceptual and procedural into more formal realms, which has lead reviewers to ask will the real Bachinsky please stand up? I think she did stand up, in several fields, and with equal prowess.

There are also visual sonnets. Christian Bok blogged here on the Poetry Foundation about Darren Wershler’s “Sonnet for Bonnie” pictured above, a few years back.

Sonnet for Bonnie” is a provocative brand of occasional verse—a love-poem that comments upon the vaunted history of the love-poem itself. Wershler-Henry has written a kind of encoded message to a girlfriend named Bonnie, but he has revealed his feelings without resorting to the tropes of standard lyricism because, for him, the act of writing a sonnet in our contemporary, technological milieu must seem all too sentimentally anachronistic. His poem often causes my students much bewilderment when they first encounter it, and I go on to tell them that I always enjoy teaching this poem because, in my opinion, it represents one of the great limit-cases of sonnetry, since the poem is almost a miracle of concision, distilling all the traits of Petrarchan expression into a hieroglyph of four symbols.

Sonnet (for Bonnie),” Bok points out, is a Petrarchan sonnet using only four characters (probably the shortest possible sonnet so far created). Of his sonnet Wershler says, “If I remember correctly, my thinking was that the basic definition for a love poem of any sort was a question to which the answer was inevitably “you.” The sonnet diagrams that relationship (octave and sestet) in the most efficient way I could imagine at the time. In that respect, it’s more conceptual than visual — almost an algorithm that you could use to generate other work.”

Indeed. The form is generative on many levels: the constraint itself, the conventions, the history, the body of work…it’s probably our most durable and flexible form. The sonnet is a great tool, as Collis says, “so portable, and yet so conservative/constrained in origins.”

So yes, the Jackpine Sonnet. “The fiddle’s incomplete without the dance,” Acorn writes, “Let’s hook fingers to complete.” Without some kind of constraint, verse Acorn suggests lacks luster, and in general, I would agree. There is little sign of a struggle, perhaps. Form or constraint puts pressure on the idea behind the poem, on the original gesture. The sonnet form, Acorn argues, is “realisant.” It’s an organic, not fixed form. “It grows to any shape that suits the light, suits the winds, suits itself.” The Jackpine is a tree that grows in all sorts of conditions. It is resilient and as Acorn appreciates, each tree grows and looks very differently.

Of course each is a member of the same order of tree too, which might be problematic. In 2010 we might see a hybrid Jackpine, part cedar or with strands of tomato for fun. I am being facetious, but not only. I want to think Acorn’s enthusiasm for the form would include all of the above and interpretations we have not yet imagined.

But perhaps that is not so? I’ll end with a provocative little poem from Acorn, poet of the people, but also, it turns out, a poet quite savvy about the poetry biz.

The Craft of Poetry’s the Art of War

Attack! Don’t think yehr poetry aint war.
Them warbling noises be no kind of birds.
They zing—they fly—they smack. They’re bullets
And any minute one of them or something
Even rougher on your balls might score.
Put on your hardhat of proletarian scorn;
And when you throw roses—never mind how sweet;
For sweet life’s sake don’t omit the thorns.

Attack! Those clutching fingers of dawn
Will bundle themselves, soon enough into fists;
Punch you into gargage, put a lid on the can.
You’ll get dropped from this or that love-list
By reason of hate—by reason of fear…or another
But if you think this aint war you’re dead brother.

Comments (55)

  • On March 9, 2010 at 2:50 pm Daniel Zomparelli wrote:

    “Bachinksy is one of the few poets who roam from conceptual and procedural into more formal realms” Which is why she is one of my inspirations as a poet. I hope she never settles down.

    And Milton Acorn, his love of the formal sonnet never wavered even as he broke off into jackpine sonnets. Thanks for posting this!

  • On March 9, 2010 at 5:35 pm Mabool wrote:

    I try not to speak ill of other people’s stuff. I make an exception for porn. Until I saw the little porn piece above I had never heard of Elizabeth B. There is ( or was ) a better porn poet on the web.


  • On March 9, 2010 at 5:42 pm Don Share wrote:

    Here’s an almost literal jackpine sonnet by George Starbuck.

    And here are some “space saver” sonnets, writ well before Christian B.

    Care for a sonnet with a different letter at the end of every line? Click here.

  • On March 9, 2010 at 5:47 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Fourteen-word “sonnets,” seven-word “sonnets” by erasing an original sonnet, haikus after transforming a Shakespearean sonnet, “sonnets” rendered to three or four typographical symbols, and on…

    This is all fine and fun. But what do the results of experiments like these really have to do with the sonnet as form, if that form has any meaning, in the end? I ask because the post seems to imply there’s some kind of sonnet-essence left over after the experiments, some kind of remaining “sonnetness” in the experimental texts that would justify their classification under the formal name. Could be I need to move to Canada and take another class in the topic, but I don’t see the connection.

    True, in some “avant” cases there certainly is a sense or reasonable echo of the tradition: Berrigan, for obvious example, or the sadly ignored Jack Clarke, a few others. Even in more facile uses of the form, as in some of Hoover’s modest exercises, or Mohammad’s cobbled-nonsense-with-aid-of-a-web-anagram-engine, there is still some resonance, some credible nod in direction of the host. But in most of the examples offered here, I can see no relation, frankly, except in sense of somewhat dilettantish allusion and convenient leverage.

    I suppose one thing I’m asking is this: What difference does it make if one is experimenting with a sonnet, on the one hand, or experimenting with a sestina or a villanelle, say, on the other? Will poetic defenestrations of other forms necessarily reveal any meaningful, qualitative difference, generically speaking, next to “sonnet” experiments like these? I don’t think so. No difference of any matter, anyway.

    I have nothing at all against this kind of stuff. Bully for play. But what most of it has to do with the sonnet is perplexing to me!

  • On March 9, 2010 at 7:14 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Interesting quote in this regard from Wallace Stevens, over at John Latta’s blog (http://isola-di-rifiuti.blogspot.com) yesterday :

    “…the experience is central and experiment is the struggle with the experience and here experiment, also, is central. But often there is little, even no, experience and here experiment is merely experiment. The opinion that, unlike the twenties, this is not a period of experiment seems to be right in respect to experience in both senses. In respect to central experiment, the experience of the poet as poet may be too much or too little for him to record as yet: too much and too immediate or too little and not near enough; and so it may never be recorded at all. In respect to experiment that is merely experiment, this seems, in the circumstances, to be a pastime proper for Nero’s children’s children.”

    Here’s my sonnet experiment…

  • On March 9, 2010 at 7:17 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    p.s. by “in the circumstances” I think he means WW 2, basically.

  • On March 9, 2010 at 8:25 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    >Will poetic defenestrations of other forms necessarily reveal any meaningful, qualitative difference, generically speaking, next to “sonnet” experiments like these?

    My god, what a terrible sentence!

    But take out the “any” and it makes a bit better sense (even if the overall formulation is still in the “totally sucks” category).

  • On March 9, 2010 at 10:43 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Thanks for the comments, all. Love the Starbuck, Don, particularly that “Sonnet with a Different letter…” And Henry, thanks, I wasn’t aware of you project, which is quite extensive. They are very different, the sections, or so they seemed in my go through. Is it also in print?

    This is a very brief post, and doing double-duty to cover a bit of Canadian content and introduce a new voice or two I hope. So yes, it could be more expansive on what remains of the form, and what is lost. I think that’s more for an essay though, to be honest, than a blog post.

    Many of the interventions are not so successful, or not remarkable in any case. Many do not rise out of their conceit, but then so much poetry, sonnet, or otherwise, does not.

  • On March 10, 2010 at 10:06 am Henry Gould wrote:

    Island Road is in print, Sina – thank you for asking.


    Yes, some of them are closer to true sonnets than others. As an “experiment”, I was less interested in tinkering with the sonnet-form itself, & more interested in what I could do with the sequence. Ie., there are 99 sonnets. So there are various patterns woven into a numerical structure…

  • On March 10, 2010 at 10:18 am Jason Crane | jasoncrane.org wrote:

    Great post, Sina. And thanks for the link to Nets. I hadn’t heard of it, but I just bought a copy.

  • On March 10, 2010 at 12:32 pm Don Share wrote:

    The obvious question is…. what constitutes “dilettantish” allusion and “convenient” leverage; after all, there wouldn’t be much poetry around without allusion and leverage.

  • On March 10, 2010 at 12:49 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Also obvious that there wouldn’t be much fruitful argument about poetry without a few suggestive terms thrown into the mix, here and there…

  • On March 10, 2010 at 12:50 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Any convenient dilettantes in the house (besides me) who can answer Don’s query?

  • On March 10, 2010 at 1:09 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Not a different letter at the end of every line. But since we’re linking to examples, and in the spirit of what these so-called experiments actually mean, I wrote an “experimental sestina” once, with the name of a different NY School poet at the end of each line of each stanza.

    A few months ago, I wrote about the history of this poem, in relation to McSweeney’s and The Believer, here:


  • On March 10, 2010 at 1:38 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Wondering if one reason the sonnet became so popular, & has drawn so many poets into its orbit over time, is because its form is so stripped-down & efficient. It has a concise logic (statement/counter-statement/resolution/conclusion-or-reversal); & it has variety (quatrains, triplets, couplets) – but relatively terse & simple.

    So all this makes me wonder if the baroque tinkering might be difficult to pull off… Because the simple clarity of the form helps toward a synthesis, a blending, of lyricism & meaning, song & statement. Whereas the tinkering perhaps sort of trips that up. Some of the major sonnet experimenters (Keats, Hopkins) don’t wander too far from the original pattern… or do they?

  • On March 10, 2010 at 1:52 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Well, but that’s what makes the sonnet so intriguing. What other form do we endlessly revisit and innovate? What other form so constantly refreshes itself? Not the sestina, or villanelle, though they have their lovely challenges.

    I remember Nester’s call, but I don’t recall the winning poem, or any of the attendant bruhaha surrounding it.

    It’s always something…

    I’ll order your book, Henry. I am gathering texts for a course on the sonnet. A creative writing craft course. I can presently overfill a syllabus, but what would folks put on theirs if they could teach a class in the sonnet AND all of the interventions to the form? Favorite books of sonnets? Favorite essays on the sonnet?

  • On March 10, 2010 at 1:56 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    See my reply above, Henry.

    What do you mean by baroque tinkering? Do you mean excess? Overly condensing? I actually think Collis’ sonnets–I linked to his project above–speak to those earlier forms of the sonnet. He is of course, using some of the conventional language of the sonnet.

    As for why the form persists? It’s close to breath, to what one can utter–as Wershler says–the attention of the address to the beloved. Rhetorically it’s a genius little nugget. You build, build, turn, pirouette, and you’re out!

  • On March 10, 2010 at 2:16 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    I mean excess, yes, in the way of tinkering-for-its-own-sake (Wallace Stevens’ sense, above). But it’s just a bias, on my part. You get too far from speech when you treat words like stuff that comes out of a word-processor. But I’d have to read the individual examples more carefully, to make this more than bias.

    Thank you(!) for offering to consider my book for your syllabus. Now that would be a pioneering experiment : poetry by H.Gould actually taught in a classroom. You should get a major award for that (a Gould Star).

    & while I’m on a self-promo kick, a more recent book of mine, called DOVE STREET, has a sequence of 29 double-sonnets, titled “India Point”. In these, the ending couplet of the 1st sonnet is mirrored (& rhymed) to an opening couplet of the 2nd, paired sonnet. Here is that book :


    You can see a few of those at this link, by clicking on the book image.

  • On March 10, 2010 at 2:18 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Hey, & Sina, guess what… a few of the sonnets in “India Point” feature C*A*N*A*D*A, and QUEBEC !

  • On March 10, 2010 at 2:28 pm Don Share wrote:

    Well, let’s be more emphatic that it’s a form that shapes and creates an argument. Not a turn for the turn’s sake, but an acutal fulcrum in the poem. That turn might be experimentally shifted or evaded (a technical choice perhaps a bit analagous to moving a caesura around from line to line) – but it haunts even the most minimal sonnet-version.

    BTW, Mike Theune is the expert on “turns” – see his blog – so maybe he’ll… turn up… here!

  • On March 10, 2010 at 2:56 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Yes, that’s what I meant by no-frills. There’s a balance between argument & ornament. Arrghnument. Elegant simplicity.

  • On March 10, 2010 at 3:08 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    It does haunt. And can’t be underestimated. But again, what about Collis’ sonnets above? Can we find the argument? The turn?

  • On March 10, 2010 at 3:09 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Thanks, Jason. Look forward to your thoughts on Nets.

  • On March 10, 2010 at 3:12 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Our own Thom Donovan has a post that speaks to this as well.

  • On March 10, 2010 at 3:12 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Some would argue that without the logical design (the argument, turn, etc.), you don’t have a sonnet at all. This would disqualify a LOT of experimental “sonnets” (including the majority of my own).

  • On March 10, 2010 at 3:15 pm Matt wrote:

    what is “stuff that comes out of a word-processor”? don’t you only get out what you put in?

  • On March 10, 2010 at 3:25 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Exactly. Which is why it’s important to recognize the flexibility of the design, as well as the content. I think Bervin’s poem above has a an argument and a turn…and now I am off to write a paper and will not be able to respond until it’s finished. Looking forward to hearing more thoughts though, and again, what would you put on a syllabus?

  • On March 10, 2010 at 3:27 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    An erudite & imaginative peroration (thanks for pointing this out).

    I must say, however, that I dislike the snake-like twist into politico-historical pontification. & I don’t accept the one-to-one equivalence of poetic form & social structure. It sets up poetry as ideological avant-garde, as Enlightenment Force. It puts poetry on a pedestal, while issuing condemnations of the status quo (these two – the pedestal & the condemnations – are necessarily symbiotic).

  • On March 10, 2010 at 3:32 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    We are in agreement about disliking pontification…which I will attempt not to do in my paper…


  • On March 10, 2010 at 3:32 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    Moabit Sonnets


    Written in a Nazi prison camp. Recovered from the executed body of their author, Albrecht Haushofer.

  • On March 10, 2010 at 4:02 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    I mean that words in poetry are more than Play-Doh. You can use words like Play-Doh but that in itself doesn’t make it poetry. There’s something profound involved here… because words are very CLOSE to clay (see Bible on this). But the poetic Word is breath AND clay, not simply word-processing.

    Stanza from an old poem called “In the Clay” :

    Adam, under the rain.
    Under the somber branches.
    To soften, to cross out
    the scrawl in the clay –
    evening in summer,
    buried, sleeping.


    Or this opening line of “Stubborn Grew” :

    Time flowers on the lips of whispered clay.

  • On March 10, 2010 at 4:19 pm Matt wrote:

    i think “Time flowers on the lips of whispered clay” is no more or less poetry than “clay flowers of lips on the whispered time” (which i like a lot better!), or “the of time clay lips flowers on whispered”, or “ioruw safiguhsf oij w riohwrgwr ijwrgwg wrgih”.

    i mean, who gets to be the judge of what’s “poetic”?

  • On March 10, 2010 at 4:25 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    I do, if it’s my poem. Others are free to disagree!

  • On March 10, 2010 at 5:39 pm Amanda wrote:

    a great book of sonnets where the writers push and play with the form is the Reality Street Book of Sonnets:

  • On March 10, 2010 at 10:34 pm Edmond Caldwell wrote:

    A conceptual take on the sonnet tradition:


  • On March 11, 2010 at 11:41 am Daniel Nester wrote:

    Cool article and useful, too. I’d point people gto Ernest Hilbert’s book of sonnets, 60 Sonnets, as well as Karen Volkman’s Nomina, both excellent uses of the sonnet form.

  • On March 11, 2010 at 7:07 pm Mary Meriam wrote:



  • On March 11, 2010 at 7:59 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Agreed, Amanda. It’s on my list. I’m looking for good concrete & visual sonnets as well.

    Thanks for the suggestions.

  • On March 12, 2010 at 3:50 pm Zachariah Wells wrote:

    Not least among the jettisoned innovations would be the Miltonic turnless sonnet. That guy was a pole volta.

  • On March 12, 2010 at 3:59 pm Don Share wrote:

    That’s a very good point. I imagine that Milton is about as popular as Robert Lowell at the moment, however.

  • On March 12, 2010 at 4:01 pm Zachariah Wells wrote:

    Thanks for the plug, Mary. Jailbreaks, if I might be so bold and shameless, was recently referenced in this fascinating essay on the sonnet:


  • On March 12, 2010 at 4:11 pm Zachariah Wells wrote:

    Aye, all the more reason to point it out, Don. A lot of ‘innovations’ in sonnetry–and elsewhere–amount to redos. (This isn’t a criticism, just an observation; I think ‘originality’ is highly overrated as an intrinsic quality.) I’m a big fan of Acorn and the jackpine sonnet, but he fails to acknowledge most of its precedents (Milton, Clare, Hopkins to name a few prominent cases) and surprisingly doesn’t talk about how the original English sonnet was a kind of jackpining of the Petrarchan model. The jackpine principle predates Acorn by ages.

  • On March 12, 2010 at 8:38 pm Eric Landon wrote:


    For Leanne O’Sullivan

    What O’Watts imagines is, she may fly
    as Fiontan flew, if she attempts to launch
    like the old Irish poet flock, who thought
    themselves as birds and made her realise
    how wings are crucial to succeed in flight
    as a shapeshifter.

    So now she knows all
    her slim options, she decides to try
    out her wings – with no cutting quips or wry
    observations – by flying in the form
    of an elegy to the dark one who caught
    her imagination’s ember alight.


    Western star gathers with the druid spawn
    in full blather-wear, making well worn
    anecdotes of one another, and lies
    before their surety in tongue, to find
    hanging from a mythical branch were the pure
    milk fruit of a poet’s toil are torn,
    an oak-harp raiment in ancient straight cry

    ‘You’ve now found your soul, so sing all
    your song, for fear and doubt cannot haunt
    where you belong. Your flesh fits and my
    measure’s this gift: go weave the thread of life’s
    ageless truth twining timeless within your
    spirit, and tell of what is to all
    those yet to cross your ever wide
    path from this moment onward.’

    And in tall
    dreams with future high hopes for all
    those men and women who urge their love
    not to hide
    O’Watts imagines.

  • On March 12, 2010 at 9:24 pm Mabool wrote:

    Milton’s sonnet on his blindness, When I consider how my light is spent, contains not a single instance of the article – definite ( the ) or indefinite ( a, an ). I have run into trouble on the web for saying that stuff like this is important. What’s it got to do with true confession, major message, noble sentiment, soul searching self expression?

  • On March 13, 2010 at 2:51 am Sina Queyras wrote:

    Thanks Dan, I’ll add those to my ever growing list.

  • On March 13, 2010 at 5:04 pm Zachariah Wells wrote:

    A great deal, methinks.

  • On March 14, 2010 at 11:00 am Mabool wrote:

    Yes indeedy. Below is the first half of the sonnet. It is one sentence w/ past, present and future tenses. The result is major message, nobel sentiment etc.

    When I consider how my light is spent
    Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
    And that one talent which is death to hide
    Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
    To serve therewith my Maker, and present
    My true account, lest he returning chide,
    “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
    I fondly ask.

  • On March 15, 2010 at 9:24 pm Michael Theune wrote:


    I like (and teach) Phillis Levin’s The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, and Levin’s introductory essay is really good. You might also like to peek at Ed Hirsch and Eavan Boland’s The Making of a Sonnet. In particular, you might like the section called “The Sonnet Goes to Different Lengths,” a section featuring variations on the sonnet. For a book that reveals, according to the publisher, “the myriad ways poets have stretched, deconstructed and re-composed the venerable form,” check out The Reality Street Book of Sonnets, edited by Jeff Hilson.

    Of course, if I may, I would also hope that you’d take some time to discuss the poetic turn in a course on the sonnet, as the turn is so central to the sonnet. If this intrigues, I hope you’ll check out Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns.


  • On March 15, 2010 at 9:25 pm Michael Theune wrote:

    Turn, indeed!

  • On March 15, 2010 at 9:34 pm Michael Theune wrote:

    Cheers for this, Don!

    I’m just showing up now, and so peppering the conversation with all kinds of references to turns…!

    I’m glad the turn turned up (forgive me) in this conversation. On September 30, 2008, Silliman wrote a post about Hilson’s The Reality Street Book of Sonnets, and what intrigued me about this conversation (as I noted in comment) was that no one in a fairly extended conversation about the sonnet, had yet mentioned the turn. Such a major omission was odd, to say the least.

  • On March 16, 2010 at 11:37 am Sina Queyras wrote:

    Thanks Michael. Phillis’ book is definitely on my list. And I’ll take a look at Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns, absolutely. I trust that the poems looked at are diverse? The turn after all is not limited to formal poetries.

  • On March 16, 2010 at 11:57 am Mark wrote:

    Gerald Burns wrote some excellent, interesting sonnets. You can find them in his SHORTER POEMS, published by Dalkey Archive (Creeley chose this volume for the National Poetry Foundation series).

  • On March 16, 2010 at 12:34 pm Michael Theune wrote:

    Indeed! Structure & Surprise (which includes poems by poets as diverse as Jorie Graham, Charles Bernstein, Rachel Zucker, Thomas Sayers Ellis, John Ashbery, etc, etc) tries to differentiate the structural turn from more strictly formal qualities.

    I love this quote from Randall Jarrell’s “Levels and Opposites: Structure in Poetry”:

    “I shall have to disregard the musical structure of poetry: metre, stanza-form, rhyme, alliteration, quantity, and so on. I neglect these without too much regret: criticism has paid them an altogether disproportionate amount of attention….I am going to talk, primarily, about other sorts of structure in lyrical poetry.”

    Structure & Surprise tries to talk about some of those “other sorts of structure in lyrical poetry” by paying attention to turns.

  • On March 16, 2010 at 1:22 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Good, good, because texts that don’t acknowledge the field as it is are of little use to me in general.

  • On March 19, 2010 at 7:46 am Jeff Hilson wrote:

    Sina –

    If you want a copy of The Reality Street Book of Sonnets you can get it at:


    Reality Street has a US printer so postage will be within-US rate only.

    US Amazon doesn’t currently stock it. Any problems if you do try and can’t get hold of it just let me know

    There’s some great stuff in it, including Edwin Denby, Ted Berrigan, Jack Clarke, Stephen Rodefer, Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, Tim Atkins, Sophie Robinson…



Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, March 9th, 2010 by Sina Queyras.