Tag Archives: sonnet

Sonnet: ‘The Thief’

More than the actual loss, it’s helplessness
That we most loathe when suffering a theft:
The arbitrary way one daring, deft,
Brass act leaves careful order in a mess;
The knowledge the thief’s wilder and cares less;
The easy way he tears the warp and weft
Of dull security; the insight left
The cosmos can as quickly curse as bless.

Therefore the fears are mostly overblown-–
The thief himself causes no loss or strife
More than insurance or day’s work redeems.
But there’s a greater thief, and more unknown,
Who comes each night and steals one third your life,
Leaving no more than fingerprints, your dreams.

Sleep and dreams are so large a part of our existence that they seem to merit more attention than most people pay them. Sure, we need some rest, but we can get physical rest while awake during the day. So do we really need seven or eight hours every night to defrag our minds and delete unnecessary memories?

I like to think (this is close to “I believe”, but it isn’t belief) that there is something crucial going on that we are missing. The occasional “big dream” that resonates life-changingly. The dream of a distant loved one saying goodbye, before you get the news the next day of their death. The awareness that your unconscious is actually running your show, and that you better pay attention and assist where you can. All these reduce the apparent dominance of the waking mind, and open cans of existential worms. There are no certain answers. We are nowhere near understanding how our bodies, our minds or the universe works.

It’s all wonderful; but I still resent the amount of time I have to sleep. (And to those who say “It’s possible to sleep a lot less” I say “Yes, but at what cost? We have no idea.”)

I’m proud of this sonnet on a technical level. It is a true Petrarchan sonnet (iambic pentameter, and rhyming ABBAABBA CDECDE); the flow of words finds natural tiny pauses at the line breaks; only the volta, the twist to the exposition, is arguably in the wrong place, being strongest after the 11th line rather than after the eighth. But I feel it is all redeemed by a strong last line.

‘The Thief’ was originally published in ‘Candelabrum‘ – a magazine stolen by time.

Photo: “Thief Of Dreams” by Monica Blatton is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sonnet: ‘Maya’

When God took Time to spin a length of Matter,
And, nothing at each end, tied the ends together,
He held between his fingers and surveyed
The first cat’s-cradle, and since then has played.

Flames flicker, flare, re-form as a friend’s face;
Dogs mime all features of the human race;
The willow weaves a walker from the air;
All Nature helps us see things that aren’t there.

To read Life’s Meanings, we must write the text:
What’s Right one day is often Wrong the next –
I’m rich or poor only as I profess,
Must ask your love or hate, for you can’t guess.

If love’s illusion, so are hate and fear…
Why not choose love?, when it’s so great, and near?!

Reareading this poem after a number of years, I have my doubts about it. It seems to start strong, and ends weak. What to do about a poem like that? The stuff about Maya, the illusory nature of the universe, is OK; but maybe cut it off after eight lines, before it starts preaching. But then maybe it would be lacking an ending, and I’d have to come up with something better than what’s there now.

As it is, it was first published in the defunct ‘Rubies in the Darkness’, and republished in India’s ‘Metverse Muse’. But I’m not happy with the poem…

“Cat’s Cradle by N.O. Bonzo” by wiredforlego is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Sonnet: ‘Marion Campbell of Kilberry, 1919-2000’

In winter’s broken skies, in spring’s thin drizzle,
The gardens wall in sun to warm the ground,
Can still be worked: vegetables grow year-round.
Fingers are cold – but hearths will crackle, sizzle.
It’s drear – but through a week’s rain, and two fair
Days’ sun, daffodils flood the world with light.
Otters slide down rocks, lambs jump in delight,
Rooks tumble, jump and slide, in empty air…
You love their flight; but, grounded, here you stand.
The summer dry and hot, sea almost warm,
Unpeopled heather hills, long days, no storm.
And you, embodying castle and land:
Stone walls and floors, trophies and weaponed walls,
Books read, books written, haunting ancestral halls.

Marion Campbell was a truly remarkable archaeologist, author and cultural activist. Her enormous store of memory of history and lore blended with personal experience, together with her desire to share her knowledge through writing books and creating local museums, is summed up in a charming anecdote at the start of her obituary in The Herald:

Two days before her death, as she lay apparently unconscious in the hospital at Oban, I was telling someone in the same ward about a lost standing-stone at Ballymeanach and remarking that nobody knew when it had fallen. Suddenly a muffled voice from behind the oxygen mask said: ”Well, I know! It was in 1943, when a Shetland pony was sheltering against it from the storm. The poor beast was nearly scared to death.”

She was a cousin of my mother’s, and I was fortunate enough to spend weeks and months with her at Kilberry in my teens and 20s. This sonnet, written in fond tribute, was published in The Orchards Poetry Journal a couple of years ago.

Poem: ‘Nymph’

A mayfly nymph, in water for a year,
transforms into a beauty of the air
for just one day – one day to mate, breed, die.
The essence then’s the nymph, and not the fly
which we see only thronging in death throes,
death throes of riotous sex. Everyone knows,
though, that the fly’s the cycle’s pinnacle
to artists, if not to the clinical.
Though humans for long eons lived on land,
at Science’s Nietzschean precipice we stand,
transform to things that freely live in space,
or formless Cloud-based online lives embrace…
and may survive but briefly in that state,
but, dying, will seed new worlds as we mate.

Nature poem? Piece of science fiction? The observation of how nature works and a hypothetical extrapolation of human nature into the future are not really two different things – it’s all part of life, the universe and everything… though that future will be is anyone’s guess. The only thing for sure is that tomorrow is not going to be like today.

Is a 14-line poem in iambic pentameter a sonnet, if it just rhymes as couplets? I think not. This poem has a volta after the eighth line, but it still doesn’t feel like a sonnet to me. The feel comes from a couplet closing the poem out after a series of three quatrains, or from the shift from ABBAABBA to CDCDCD. That finalising shift, that sense of completion, is integral to the feel of the sonnet. This poem fails to meet that criterion.

‘Nymph’ was first published in the Orchards Poetry Journal, whose latest issue has just come out – free online, or available in print.

Photo: “mayfly” by ian boyd is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Sonnet: ‘Drifting’

Drifting and drifting in an eddying stream
The leaf cannot recall the maple tree;
Pieces fall off; it has nor plan nor scheme;
How could a leaf have sense of destiny?
Its work is done; tree-feeding fades like dream,
Tree-making’s not a possibility.
It drifts and rots, nibbled by perch and bream
Or reaches finally the endless sea.

The sea itself moves, rhythmical and blind:
Is calm, or sprays salt as the waves make foam.
Seas have no will, no parliament of mind,
To make directives like hives make bees roam
To pollinate the world, defend their kind,
And with their mind create their honeycomb.

This sonnet drifts in several ways. The rhythm of iambic pentameter is meditative, rambling. The rhyme scheme is slow, repetitive, changing between the octave and sestet: ABABABABCDCDCD. And the ideas drift: the leaf is left behind when it reaches the sea, and the sea is abandoned for bees. The form seems suitable for the content.

‘Drifting’ has just been published in this month’s Snakeskin, whose editor commented “I like the way it moves from one idea to another that you don’t expect.” Thanks, George Simmers!

Photo: “Like a Leaf in a Stream” by Referenceace – Working! is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Odd poem: William Faulkner, ‘After Fifty Years’

Her house is empty and her heart is old,
And filled with shades and echoes that deceive
No one save her, for still she tries to weave
With blind bent fingers, nets that cannot hold.
Once all men’s arms rose up to her, ‘tis told,
And hovered like white birds for her caress:
A crown she could have had to bind each tress
Of hair, and her sweet arms the Witches’ Gold.

Her mirrors know her witnesses, for there
She rose in dreams from other dreams that lent
Her softness as she stood, crowned with soft hair.
And with his bound heart and his young eyes bent
And blind, he feels her presence like shed scent,
Holding him body and life within its snare.

William Faulkner began writing poetry at an early age; and in his late 20s he published his first book, a collection of poems titled ‘The Marble Faun’. Though much of the fiction for which he won the 1949 Nobel Prize carries a heavy southern accent or is written in stream of consciousness, it is engaging to see that he could be meditative in the iambic pentameter of a regular sonnet if he chose.

Photo: “William Faulkner’s Typewriter 2” by visitmississippi is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Daniel Galef, ‘Proverbs for Engraving onto Imperial Monuments’

War is the price of freedom. Depths bewilder.
The blow aimed at the beast hits him who shields it.
The sword of Justice best serves him who wields it.
The gibbet’s final victim is its builder.
A round coin rolls to him who most deserves it.
A tree outlives its leaves; an age, its fashions.
A carthorse needs its blinders; man, his passions.
The word of Justice best shields him who serves it.
The ardent spirit breaks the firm retort.
Power bears scrutiny like the sun the gaze.
God speaks His queer commands one thousand ways.
The worm awaits. The butterfly is dreaming.
The price of peace is bondage. Chains support.
Persuasion is a proof. Seeing is seeming.

Daniel Galef writes: “I majored in philosophy in college, and it’s very rare that I get a chance to use my degree in any way! (Even everyday critical thinking I engage in not without a little self-conscious embarrassment to be reliving those madcap cogitating days of my youth.) This sonnet began as an un-metrical list of aphorisms, vaguely inspired by Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell, but with an eye less to individual ideas and more to “ideology.” I’m very interested in how philosophy is appropriated by the state, in the form of slogans or anthems or little red books—it’s all fine and dandy to debate competing theories of morality until it’s time to order the transplant waiting list, or convene the board of censors.

“I don’t always do a lot of surgical revision on a poem, but it was after about two years of lying in a drawer [a digital drawer] that I took the loose collection of prose sentences and started pruning, finding and inserting rhymes, and arranging them into pentameter. I’m a poor free verse poet, and verses that start off free end up in metrical shackles much more often than the reverse, even though logically it ought to be tougher to turn prose into verse than vice-verse-a.

“I could write a page on every line in this sonnet, which says much more about my own pretentiousness than about the poem, but will limit myself to saying I chucked in snips and snatches from Plato, Maimonides, Zhuangzi, Lucullus, David Hume, Thomas Jefferson, Aesop, W. H. Auden, Slavoj Žižek, Wernher von Braun, George Orwell, and Groucho Marx. Just about every maxim in the poem has certain levels, interpretations, or applications that I agree with and others which lead to perverse, abhorrent, or outright dangerous positions—which is of course what makes them so useful.

“The poem was published in Philosophy Now, a glossy magazine with a specialized readership but a glossy magazine nonetheless, and one of the highlights of the first summer after I graduated was driving to the Barnes and Noble in Clifton Commons and finding myself there on the shelf along with the movie tie-in reprints and tote bags with snarky quotations on them. It’s probably normal for most poems published, even in larger or well-respected publications, to go essentially unnoticed. I don’t hear back from strangers about the majority of poems I send out into the world and my meager stream of fanfiction is archived in an email folder I dip into when depths start to bewilder. Yet this is the poem that keeps coming back—and the comments I receive on it indicate that different readers draw very different conclusions from it. The year after it was published it was awarded second place in the “Best Poems of 2020” list at the Society of Classical Poets Journal. Someone sent me a Chinese blog where it had been translated into Mandarin, with (Google Translate revealed) a spirited discussion in the comments section as to whether the “blinders” were the same device whether the line was translated as “horse” or as “donkey” (the verdict: they are distinct: the blindfold put on a donkey driving a wheel totally blocks its vision, whereas the blinders put on a horse drawing a vehicle do so only selectively).”

Daniel Galef is a graduate instructor of English at Florida State University and Associate Poetry Editor of Able Muse. His poetry has appeared in Atlanta Review, Able Muse, Measure, The Lyric, Light, First Things, The Christian Century, and Philosophy Now. He is listed in Webster’s dictionary under the entry for “interfaculty (adj.),” which means “brilliant and handsome.” Besides poems he also writes short fiction, humor, and plays, with a story published last year in Juked just awarded a spot in the 2020 Best Small Fictions anthology. He is currently searching for a publisher for a debut poetry collection, Imaginary Sonnets.

More of his work is listed at http://goo.gl/mpRUrs

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Marilyn L. Taylor, ‘Reading the Obituaries’

Now the Barbaras have begun to die,
trailing their older sisters to the grave,
the Helens, Margies, Nans—who said goodbye
just days ago, it seems, taking their leave
a step or two behind the hooded girls
who bloomed and withered with the century—
the Dorotheas, Eleanors and Pearls
now swaying on the edge of memory.
Soon, soon, the scythe will sweep for Jeanne
and Angela, Patricia and Diane—
pause, and return for Karen and Christine
while Nancy spends a sleepless night again.
Ah, Debra, how can you be growing old?
Jennifer, Michelle, your hands are cold.

Marilyn Taylor writes: “The older I get, the more my poems seem to turn to thoughts of mortality, especially when I find myself reading the obituary pages in the Sunday paper. After having indulged this habit for several years (it’s something old people do, kids), I discovered that a reader-of-obits can often tell approximately how old the deceased was—especially in the case of a woman—at the end of her life, simply by noting her name. Women’s names have a strong tendency to go in and out of fashion over the course of several decades, albeit with a few exceptions—think “Catherine,” and the ever-popular “Elizabeth” and its many offshoots (although, oddly, “Betty,” now seems dated). I mulled over it for a few months and came up with the sonnet below. Sorry if your name is included; I have no dark motives.”

Marilyn Taylor, former Poet Laureate of the state of Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee, is the author of six poetry collections. Her work has appeared in many anthologies and journals, including Poetry, Light, American Scholar, and Measure. She was recently awarded the Margaret Reid Prize for verse in forms. http://www.mltpoet.com/

Sonnet: ‘Irritated Muse’

My muse is angered by my Covid cares –
“You worry if the shops have food and beer,
and what a Zoom attendee rightly wears!
You’re just as mortal as you were last year,
and wrote of life and death, sickness and health.
Well, now’s an actual existential crisis!
Think family and friends, the world, your self…
forget the shopping and the product prices!
You’ll die; the question’s When. The only tool
for immortality is me, that clear?
You should be writing poetry, you fool!
This is your chance. Focus on me.” (Yes, dear.)
“Respect me as your muse: I’m not your shill.
If you can’t write a poem, write your will.”

This sonnet has just been published in Allegro in the UK, edited by Sally Long. The magazine comes out twice a year, one issue themed and the other open. It focuses on formal verse, but on a long continuum between fully formal and free.

Photo: “Thalia, Muse of comedy.” by Egisto Sani is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

(Loosely) Anapestic Sonnet: ‘A Run’

Over the island from beaches this side where it’s blowing,
it’s only a mile to the side where today it’s flat calm;
so over the hill’s potholed tarmac, to tracks of sand going
along under southern pine, seagrape, gum elemi, palm;
and then between sea-oats and cocoplums over the dunes
and down to the beach where the sand is as dusty as powder,
then lower across the high tide mark that seaweed festoons,
to harder packed sand under sun hot as bird-pepper chowder —
the sand at the ocean low tide, flat and hard as a ledge,
so flat you don’t feel that you’re running the side of a slope
where the ocean runs up inches deep and you splash through its edge,
one more mile to the end, where the sand is as pink as fresh hope,
is as pink as a conch shell, as pink as the still morning skies —
and you rest on the rocks in the shade while the southern pine sighs.

Eleuthera, the island where I was raised and where I live, is long and skinny like many of the Bahama Islands. A hundred and ten miles long, mostly a mile or two wide. I live on the south side (local name), the west side (tourist name), the sea side, the Sound side, the Caribbean side. It’s a great run of a mile over a 60 foot hill to the north side (or east side, ocean side, Atlantic side). On the south side the sand is white, and all the way out to the horizon the water is only 20 feet deep or so. On the north side the sand varies from powdery white to coarse pink, and long before you got to the horizon you would be in 8,000 feet of water. You can tell immediately from a photo which side you’re looking at: vegetation, beach, colour of the water, they’re all different.

This poem was published this month in Snakeskin, edited for 25 years by George Simmers. He is receptive to both traditional and free verse, everything depending on what appeals to him at the time. This is good for me, because I am inconsistent with what I produce. With this one, I went for the rhythm, the da-da-dum, da-da-dum which may not be the sound one person makes when running, but for me captures the mood of running. I can’t define it more than that. And so long as that rhythm is in the heart of each line, I don’t have a problem with being a syllable short at the beginning, or having an extra one at the end, so long as it all flows from one line to the next without a big hiccup.