Category Archives: sonnets

Sonnet: “Out Island Town in the Early Morning”

Harbour reflection

Harbour reflection

Before the sun is up, the people are.
Fishermen have gone out, for noon’s fierce light
Will punish them, and their desires are slight:
To sell their catch, drink cold beer by a bar.
The workers hitch rides with some early car
That will go fairly near their building site.
Women prep kids’ meals, feeling it’s not right
To have to leave to clean some tourist spa.

Only the unemployed and office staff
Still sleep while roosters crow and seagulls laugh,
And the light rising in its eastern glow
Shows Harbour houses in a double row,
One on the Cay, the other upside down
Painted on windless glass, a mirror town.

This sonnet was first published in The Hypertexts, the massive poetry collection assembled by Michael R. Burch. There’s not much to say about the poem… it’s a love poem to Governor’s Harbour, my home town.

But sonnets in general have a charm for many people. They seem just the right size both to hold a description or a complex thought that has tendrils in various directions, and to be small enough to be memorised. They are a good tool for high school classrooms, containing a richness of thought for analysis and an opportunity to develop memory skills. They allow a learner to absorb and express the power of the language’s potential for rhythm and rhyme. A good education will have made you familiar with dozens of sonnets, and they and their organising principles remain deeply embedded somewhere within you all your life.

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Sonnet: “Driving Rain”

We drive through West Virginia’s driving rain
And even I turn down the cruise control
And stay below the limit. At the toll
We count coins, ask how many tolls remain.
One sleeps, one drives, to get back home tonight.
Wendy’s is closed “because of rain”? That sucks.
The waterfalls look lovely on the rocks.
A bridge has lots of people, flashing lights.
We’ll reach home 1 a.m. if Google’s right.
The wipers go full speed; fog-free a/c.
You have to watch for mud – what’s that, a tree?
Oblivious to all but road, all night.
We make it home and fall into our bed.
And next day hear about the dozens dead.

This sonnet was originally published in Better Than Starbucks in the formal poetry section that Vera Ignatowitsch edits. I wrote it after Eliza and I drove from Toronto to Chapel Hill, NC, on 23 June 2016. It’s a 12-hour haul, a little under 800 miles, but doable in a day. The weather wasn’t great when we started out, and got worse as we came down the I-79 past Pittsburgh. By early evening in West Virginia it was really pouring, but we made it home that night. How dangerous and disastrous the night had been, we didn’t know at the time.

Technically, the sonnet is passable but not perfect. It rhymes abba cddc effe gg, which is neither Petrarchan nor Shakespearean but a hybrid. This structure is referred to as a Bowlesian or Australian sonnet, but giving it a name doesn’t elevate it to the level of the other two. However, as after the intro each line is a separate thought and a separate sentence (mimicking the bitty thought process when having to concentrate in difficult driving conditions), the structures of octet and sestet, or of three quatrains and a closing couplet, are irrelevant and the rhyming is sufficient. Even if one of the rhyme pairs is poor.

Sonnet: “And Then You Die”

And then you die. So what have you achieved?
Your house, your place of work, both turn to dust.
You’re honoured? But who’s on a marble bust
none knows or cares, or if the honour’s thieved.
You cheated? Centuries later, none’s aggrieved.
You fought for Freedom? But in history’s dust
no war is seen as necessary or just.
You were a saint? None cares what you believed.
Why all this striving, more than to survive?
Millennia hence a random rubbish heap
will be more studied than your claimed success.
So find a sunny sea, be calm, alive,
swim, then float on your back and fall asleep.
Life can be no more perfect; death no less.

This sonnet was published in Snakeskin a couple of weeks ago. I was very happy with its formal Petrarchan rhyme scheme, until I suddenly noticed, reading it for the umpteenth time, that I had used the word “dust” twice in the rhymes. Given the enormous number of alternatives I could have chosen from, I’m a little embarrassed. All I can say is, the word just seemed so natural, in both places…

But, in the spirit of the poem, so what? The swimming is lovely today!

Poem: “Carefree Youths”

Carefree Youths

Like fishing boats sailing a landless sea,
an edgeless game-board for an endless game,
hauling their random catch from wide-spread nets,
hunting without the hunter’s hunt and aim,
but sailing, drifting, without cares or frets,
so carefree youths under the bowl of sky
will chance their drifting lives on random lips.
And then the Kraken rises, sinking ships.

“Carefree Youths” was published a couple of days ago in Bewildering Stories. It is in iambic pentameter with irregular rhyme. After the meandering start to the poem (about the youths’ meandering lifestyle), the last line is a hard punchline (reflecting the brutal ending of that lifestyle). There are no sequential rhymes until the last two lines, which thereby become the clear ending of the poem. The form of the poem accentuates the poem’s meaning. That is what form should do.

Final rhyming couplets were used extensively by Shakespeare in various ways. In his sonnets they provide a very strong ending after four quatrains, and is a reason for preferring the Shakespearean sonnet’s ABAB CDCD EFEF GG over the Petrarchan sonnet’s more mannered but less forceful ABBA ABBA CDE CDE. Many of his final couplets are well known – such as:

If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

Shakespeare did the same sort of thing throughout his plays, in which a scene or a soliloquy will be in blank verse but often terminate in a rhyme. Some of the best-known examples being:

the play ‘s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. (Hamlet)

Fair is foul and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air. (Macbeth)

Good night! Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow
That I shall say goodnight till it be morrow. (Romeo and Juliet)

The rhymed sentence helps sum up the scene, and signals that the scene is ending and that a new scene is about to begin – particularly useful since in Shakespeare’s time there were no stage curtains and no real sets to speak of.

Ah, formal verse! So many uses!

Poem: Sonnet: “From Cavemen to Post-Human”

This sonnet looks at the way humans have deliberately explored into challenging new

Girl on Log.jpg

“Mary, river daredevil” by magnetbox

environments, and suggests we will keep doing this until we’re human no longer. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, any more than our past changes appear bad to us now.

The poem was published last week in Bewildering Stories, the online science fiction (or speculative fiction) magazine which has been running for some 18 years. And with poetry, of course!

The link that I have given to the poem takes you to a further link where the editor solicits opinions about the meaning of some of the poem’s statements. The Challenge questions are an interesting addition.

 

From Cavemen to Post-Human

From the first cavemen clinging to some logs,
escaping with their lives from flood or slaughter,
to mega-palaces that cruise the water,
humans became amphibious as frogs.
Then into space: hostile environment,
no barrier to ways to stay alive,
no worse in Mars domes, modules at L5
than in an igloo or a desert tent.
Next, thought balloons by tech cut free of place,
drifting connecting through ethereal skies,
where we upload ourselves as thought and rise
into the cloud as a post-human race
in new non-human landscapes without land,
pure energy as a new tribal band.

Poem: Sonnet?: “The Antikythera Mechanism”

In 1900, sponge divers found a shipwreck in 150 feet (45 m) of sea off the Greek island of Antikythera. It proved to be a Roman cargo ship from the first century BC. Among the objects subsequently retrieved was a mechanism for calculating astronomical positions and eclipses decades in advance, generally considered to be the world’s earliest known analogue computer.

This poem was originally published in Snakeskin in June 2017

ANTIKYTHERA MECHANISM

The Antikythera Mechanism fits
Comfortably in no category I know;
A thing of Metal, from the Earth below,
For studying the heavens (Fire or Air)
While trapped in Water for two thousand years.
This ancient artefact from cultures past,
Designed to calculate future events,
Has a contemporary feel at last –
Making allowance for its steampunk look.
Not a computer, less whole than distressed,
It sits anomalously, missing bits,
But speaks loud of that loss much more intense
When the religious dogmas of The Book
Destroyed the nascent scientific quest.

This is a Sunday blog post, so I put a bit of religion in it. I recognise pros and cons to religion. (“All religions united with government are more or less inimical to liberty. All, separated from government, are compatible with liberty.”) It’s nice for people to use religions to explore their relationship with the universe, but I hold the inherent intolerance of monotheism responsible for setting civilisation back a thousand years.

On the use of form: well, the poem has aspects of form – it’s in iambic pentameter, like a regular sonnet; it has 14 lines, ditto; it rhymes… but there’s no structure to the rhyme. The combination of structure and chaos suits the mood of the poem, the odd position in history of this mechanism, and its odd state of semi-survival. Reconstructions of the Antikythera Mechanism have been made confidently, and put on display next to its fragments in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

Poem: Sonnet: “The Unconscious Gets No Respect”

Today’s poem is about the unconscious, again. It was paired with the “Thunder-Galloping” one when published in Snakeskin, November 2016.

THE UNCONSCIOUS GETS NO RESPECT

The unconscious is a melancholy drunk
It prattles on in dreams with brutal truth.
“I’m getting ugly and I’ve lost my youth.”
“In useless youth I was a stupid punk.”
It evilly summons loved ghosts from the past –
Bobs this one’s hair and dyes it a rich red –
Conflating one who’d never shred their head
With unrelated one who lives life fast.
It sings its nonsense songs like Lear’s poor fool,
Nonsense that turns out sane in retrospect;
Is treated with contempt, or else neglect;
Unrecognized for what it is: a tool,
A genius program for decoding life,
A mental multi-blade Swiss Army knife.

This poem was written four weeks after “My Thunder-Galloping Unconscious Mind”. It repeats my attitude towards the unconscious: that it is powerful, deserves respect, and when respected provides health, direction and inspiration. I go through periods of writing about the same subject, just as an artist may do several versions of the same landscape either to try to capture the ineffable or simply to experiment with different weathers and lights and moods.

The structure of the poem – well, it is in reasonable iambic pentameter, but I’d say it’s a technically weaker sonnet than its twin, with a regular but less admirable rhyme scheme. The octet breaks satisfactorily into two quatrains and the volta is acceptable; but though the sestet has a concluding couplet, it’s actually a bit scrappy.

Be all that as it may, I like the poem; and publication in Snakeskin is always a good seal of approval.