NaPoWriMo 2016: day nineteen


Day nineteen!

OK, let's get Shakespearean today with the sonnet!

If your High School English teacher (or your teenage self/ parent/ grandparent if you were homeschooled) was doing their job, you probably already know a little bit about the sonnet.

But if you're now middle aged (as I am), you might have forgotten the basics, so let's review!

I am just going to focus on a generic "English" sonnet (with a sort of nonce sonnet as our example). If you feel like writing a specific type of sonnet, here is an awesome list for you to choose from.

The basic sonnet has:

* Fourteen lines
* Iambic pentameter
* A rhyme scheme (ABABCDCDEFEFGG is the standard Shakespearean, but there's bunches of different rhyme schemes employeed, including nonce or made up schemes).

* A "turn" (either at the very end in the last couplet or in the middle of the sonnet after line 8).

Last week we talked about metrics a little, and I had you write a poem where you counted syllables.

Iambic pentameter is different, in that only the stressed syllables are counted (pentameter has five stresses in each line). I'm not going to get into the differences between iambs and trochees and spondees (oh my!) but just note that the "norm" of a iambic pentameter sonnet is to have five stressed syllables in each line. (And that iambs are considered the normal foot of English meter, so you're probably writing in iambs regularly, even if you're not thinking about it.)

Note: you definitely don't need to write your sonnet in iambic pentameter, but you can if you'd like.

The turn is, to me, one of the most important parts of a sonnet (and also of poetry in general - I happen to love poems with a turn).

The turn serves as an answer - or an unexpected counterpoint - to the beginning of a poem.

Let's look at the poem "Anger Sweetened" by Molly Peacock (who I am proud to say I took a poetry workshop with during my university days). This is a "nonce sonnet" because the rhyme scheme is rather crazy: ABBCAADDBEECCC


What we don’t forget is what we don’t say.
I mourn the leaps of anger covered
by quizzical looks, grasshoppers covered
by coagulating chocolate. Each word,
like a leggy thing that would have sprung away,
we caught and candified so it would stay
spindly and alarmed, poised in our presence,
dead, but in the shape of its old essence.
We must eat them now. We must eat the words
we should have let go but preserved, thinking
to hide them. They were as small as insects blinking
in our hands, but now they are stiff and shirred
with sweet to twice their size, so what we gagged
will gag us now that we are so enraged.

The reason I picked this sonnet to look at is that the turn(s) are awesome. And the imagery is just crazy-delightful! (This is probably one of my top five favorite poems, if I was forced to choose.)

She sets up this image of words as grasshoppers and then exhorts the reader to "eat them now" (which is just kinda gross, in North American food culture). And then finally, the final turn lays it all out, bare: "what we gagged/ will gag us now" just the plain truth of being so enraged that you can't even speak.

So, your mission today, should you choose to accept it, is: write a sonnet. (A rhyming sonnet. Or even a fractured, unrhyming sonnet.)

And if you have no interest in writing a sonnet, write a poem with imagery that terrifies (and thus delights) you. Or a poem with a strong turn (either in the middle or at the end).

Happy poeming!