Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Meditation on the Relationship of Love and Art by Guest Blogger Michael T. Young

This week, I’m especially happy to post an essay by Michael T. Young—a poet whose work I greatly respect and admire. Michael has published three poetry collections: Transcriptions of Daylight (Rattapallax Press), Because the Wind Has Questions (Somers Rocks Press), and Living in the Counterpoint (Finishing Line Press). His fourth collection, The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost, will be published in 2014 by Poets Wear Prada Press. He received a fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and was twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He was runner-up for a William Stafford Award and recipient of the Chaffin Poetry Award. His work has appeared in numerous journals including Fogged Clarity, Louisville Review, Off the Coast, The Potomac Review, and The Raintown Review. His work is also in the anthologies Phoenix Rising, Chance of a Ghost, In the Black/In the Red and forthcoming in Rabbit Ears: TV Poems. Michael lives with his wife and children in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Michael’s website:
Michael’s blog:

Margins: A Meditation on the Relationship of Love and Art 

By Michael T. Young

 I have always believed that love is, by definition, creative and that true creativity, likewise, is loving. This belief is conveniently circular, but then again, so are some symbols of love and eternal life like the wedding ring and the Ouroboros. Like the circle, love is what repeats itself because love is what we wouldn't want any other way. But what binds us into these circular love affairs are not seamless, hence the constant misunderstandings of love and art.

Generally, our relationship with art is as clumsy as our relationship with other people:  we trap ourselves in what we mean to each other. But love is not only defined by what someone means to us but by the freedom we grant them to be and become themselves.

To love is to pay attention to the highest degree. Such attention is what the lover gives to his beloved and what the artist gives to his creation. He willingly gives his time and energy, the substance of his life, to bring something into existence. Lack of attention is what renders a manufactured product meaningless. Invented for profit, pieced together by machines, our commodities posses function but not meaning.  Meaning is not a mechanism an artist puts into a work of art but arises through the love he invests in it.  The artist creates a vehicle through which something comes into a meaningful existence. Thus his attention is a kind of obedience to an inspiration, which he allows to define itself. Of course, the meaning of an artwork has limitations. No single work of art can mean everything at once. But then again, every single artwork tends to resist reduction to a singular meaning. If a poem or painting would impart its meaning to us it demands in return no less than that we live with it. It demands that we give it attention, the freedom to continually redefine or clarify itself.

So even for the reader of a poem or observer of a painting, it is the sustained attention he gives to it that will reveal its meaning. But it isn't something that once seen is fully had, like understanding the function of something, such as how a hammer works. For the one who experiences a work of art, meaning is the perspective he gains on himself and the world through transcendence in the work of art. It is what Shelley called, "morals" in his Defense of Poetry when he said:

The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own.

The moment one assumes full understanding of a work of art or a person, one has effectively locked them in the past. When you look at them, you will see them as they were but not as they are or as they are becoming. To pay attention to someone or something, to love someone or something is to continually extend to them the freedom to renew themselves in your eyes without jeopardizing what they have always meant to you. In this way one's perspective grows. It is what makes friendship and love profound. It is the depth perception of the mind's eye.

But the horizon sets limits even on perfect vision and nothing shrinks the world's horizons faster than pain. When Dante Gabriel Rossetti saw his wife in her coffin, he placed a collection of his poems into it with her. It was the only perfect copy of his poems and only existed because she had asked him to write them down. Silence followed him out of the room and through the next seven years. Through that time his friends, people like Swinburne, William Morris, and George Meredith became famous poets and novelists. Finally, Rossetti had his wife's coffin exhumed and the poems retrieved. They were published eight years after her death.  One could argue that Rossetti retrieved the poems to achieve fame. But that would require ignoring what inspired those poems: the love not just for his wife, Elizabeth, but for the life in her. What calls forth song is not just love but a love for life, whether it's the life one loves in another or in one's own day to day. When the life he loved died in Elizabeth, he felt it founder in himself. He felt a pain for the loss, a tear in the fabric of what he was. With that he threw the poems into the coffin with the spent life that inspired them. But he continued to feel pain and only the living feel pain. When life had stretched that pain thin over the years and Dante stared into it, what he saw was the blank page he was returning to life instead of the love he truly felt. He had to retrieve from the dead what belonged to the living.

Blake said, "Life delights in life." As many poems that have been written for the beloved, whether man or woman, there have also been many inspired by other art works: symphonies inspired by poems, poems inspired by paintings, paintings inspired by paintings, paintings inspired by poems or philosophy. It is life delighting in life, the motion of love, a circling of life back to itself creating a place for us to mean something to each other. It is also the frame around a painting, the margins around the poem. 

(Copyright © 2013 by Michael T. Young. 
All rights reserved.)

Note: When I asked Michael if he had a poem that expressed something of his essay’s spirit, his response was, It occurred to me that my poem “The Word ‘Anyway’” would make a perfect accompanying piece to the essay. This poem embodies and enacts the idea that the essay states as love and attention being a constant extension of the freedom of renewal without jeopardizing existing meaningfulness.

The Word “Anyway”

Every time I write it’s there at the end of my paragraphs,
so much so, my friends see it as a kind of signature word,
and I realize that whatever it means, it is, in any case,
like a ramp off the highway leading me somewhere else.
And where it takes me, regardless, turns and carries the letter,
the conversation, the e-mail, in another direction, though not,
necessarily, in a better one—the detour this time taken
to wrench the heart from its daily obsessions,
which is to say, I wasn’t trying to take us to our destination faster,
on the contrary, I was trying to spare you,
trying to take us both somewhere neither of us had been,
a place where the view over the valley
gives way to a lake reflecting late summer light
and the crisp air in our lungs expands
like a space we allow each other to become whatever we wish.

(From Living in the Counterpoint, copyright © 2012 by Michael T. Young. 
All rights reserved.)

Poems by Michael:

Essays by Michael:

Click on the Links to Order Michael's Books

Thanks so much, Michael!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and My Birthday

Here in the U.S., Thanksgiving Day takes place on November 28 this year, which also happens to be the first full day of Hanukkah, and my birthday. Thanksgiving, for me, has always been the unofficial start of the Christmas season, and my house is already decorated (including my giant Christmas tree and three smaller ones). Needless to say, it’s all wonderful, and after church in the early AM, I’ll be home cooking dinner and then feasting with friends. My birthday “cake” will be a large pumpkin pie! In lieu of a Thanksgiving/Hanukkah week prompt or essay, following are some lovely poems that speak to these special holidays. Even if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or Hanukkah this week, I hope you’ll enjoy the poems and keep in mind that it’s always a good time to remember the things, people, blessings, and gifts for which we’re thankful.

(Old Rhyme, Author Unknown)

The year has turned its circle,
The seasons come and go.
The harvest all is gathered in
And chilly north winds blow.
Orchards have shared their treasures,
The fields, their yellow grain,
So open wide the doorway—
Thanksgiving comes again!

Thanksgiving Day
By Lydia Maria Child

Over the river, and through the wood,
  To grandfather's house we go;
       The horse knows the way
       To carry the sleigh
  Through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood—
  Oh, how the wind does blow!
       It stings the toes
       And bites the nose
  As over the ground we go.

Over the river, and through the wood,
  To have a first-rate play.
       Hear the bells ring
  Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river, and through the wood
  Trot fast, my dapple-gray!
       Spring over the ground,
       Like a hunting-hound!
  For this is Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood,
  And straight through the barn-yard gate.
       We seem to go
       Extremely slow,—
  It is so hard to wait!

Over the river and through the wood—
  Now grandmother's cap I spy!
       Hurrah for the fun!
       Is the pudding done?
  Hurrah for the pumpkin-pie!

By Edgar Guest

Gettin’ together to smile an’ rejoice,
An’ eatin’ an’ laughin’ with folks of your choice;
An’ kissin’ the girls an’ declarin’ that they
Are growin’ more beautiful day after day;
Chattin’ an’ braggin’ a bit with the men,
Buildin’ the old family circle again;
Livin’ the wholesome an’ old-fashioned cheer,
Just for awhile at the end of the year.

Greetings fly fast as we crowd through the door
And under the old roof we gather once more
Just as we did when the youngsters were small;
Mother’s a little bit grayer, that’s all.
Father’s a little bit older, but still
Ready to romp an’ to laugh with a will.
Here we are back at the table again
Tellin’ our stories as women an’ men.

Bowed are our heads for a moment in prayer;
Oh, but we’re grateful an’ glad to be there.
Home from the east land an’ home from the west,
Home with the folks that are dearest an’ best.
Out of the sham of the cities afar
We’ve come for a time to be just what we are.
Here we can talk of ourselves an’ be frank,
Forgettin’ position an’ station an’ rank.

Give me the end of the year an’ its fun
When most of the plannin’ an’ toilin’ is done;
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin’ with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An’ I’ll put soul in my Thanksgivin’ prayers.

More Poems:

The Thanksgiving by George Herbert

The Thanksgivings by Harriet Maxwell Converse (From an Iroquois Prayer)

A List of Praises by Anne Porter

Dusting by Marilyn Nelson

Starfish by Eleanor Lerman

by Rumi (Translated by Coleman Barks)

Thanks by W. S. Merwin

Saturday, November 16, 2013

An Interview with Charles Simic

Here we are in mid-November, approaching the most festive, celebratory, and busiest time of year. It occurs to me that many of us won’t have time to work with prompts or on our poems, so I thought I’d offer slightly different fare for a while—some poetry-related reading and then a short hiatus in December. For starters, I’d like to share an interview that I did with the great poet Charles Simic. This appeared in issue XXIII of Tiferet (autumn 2013) and is reprinted here with the permission of publisher Donna Baier Stein. There are some great tips for poets from Charles Simic at the end of the interview.

An Interview with Charles Simic

By Adele Kenny

TIFERET: Literature, Art, & The Creative Spirit, Issue XXIII
Copyright © 2013 By Tiferet. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by Permission

Dušan [Charles] Simić was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia on May 9, 1938. His memories, as he noted for this interview “… begin with April 6, 1941 when he was three years old, when a German bomb hit the building across the street from his and threw him out of bed at five o’clock in the morning …” During World War II, his father was arrested several times and in 1944 fled from Yugoslavia to Italy, where he was again imprisoned. At the end of the war, he went to Trieste where he lived for five years before making his way to the United States. Simic’s mother attempted to escape postwar Yugoslavia but was imprisoned with Charles and his younger brother by the Communists. Charles, his brother, and his mother ultimately moved to Paris, where they lived for a year before emigrating to the United States in 1954 where they joined Charles’s father after a decade apart.

The family lived in New York for a year before moving to the Chicago suburb of Oak Park where Simic graduated from the same high school as Ernest Hemingway. His first poems were published in the Chicago Review in 1959. Working nights at the Chicago Sun Times, he attended the University of Chicago but, in 1961, was drafted into the US Army and served until 1963. In 1964, he married fashion designer Helen Dubin, with whom he has a son and a daughter. He earned a bachelor’s degree from NYU in 1966, and his first poetry collection, What the Grass Says, was published in 1967. He became a US citizen in 1971 and taught at the University of New Hampshire for 34 years. He and his wife live in Strafford, New Hampshire.

Prolific as well as acclaimed, Charles Simic has published over sixty books in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to being a distinguished poet, he is also an eminent translator, essayist, critic, and editor. A 1990 Pulitzer Prize recipient, he was elected a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets in 2000. He has received numerous awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He served as the United States Poet Laureate from 2007–2008 and, among other honors and awards, he has received the PEN Translation Prize, the International Griffin Poetry Prize, the Wallace Stevens Award, and the Frost Medal.

Imagistic and terse, Charles Simic’s poetry is characterized by dark imagery and incongruity—a stunning blend of originality and genius that produces a style unmatched in contemporary poetry. A post-modernist and a surrealist, Simic is also a minimalist who trims away everything “extra” to create a streamlined effect intensified by surprising concurrences of language and imagery. His poetry is like waking in a darkened room and unexpectedly recognizing the strangeness in familiar furniture forms.

Adele Kenny: My mother’s family came from Eastern Europe and suffered greatly during the First World War. (My grandfather spent six and a half years in a Siberian prison camp.) When they came to this country, my grandparents and my uncles (who were children) felt an enormous sense of displacement. Did you feel similarly when you came to this country and, if so, did that make itself felt in your poetry?

Charles Simic: Not in my case. I was sixteen years old when I came in 1954 with my mother and younger brother to join my father, whom we had not seen since 1944, so it was a happy occasion. Plus, everything that I was in love with, American literature, jazz, movies and girls, were waiting for me in New York City. Neither then, nor now, have I had any nostalgia for Europe.

AK: How have the darknesses of your childhood in Belgrade, such experiences as being a drafted into the U.S. army and serving as a military policeman in France and Germany, and Eastern Europe’s past impacted your poetry?

CS: Growing up in wartime, being bombed, seeing atrocities, going hungry and spending a little time in prison shaped my outlook on life. My poems are full of allusions to such experiences, not just mine, but to those of many other human beings in other wars and other times.

AK: How are you “the last Napoleonic soldier?”
CS: I and my family belong to the great masses of defeated humanity who fought in every war in history without wanting to and came back home either in a coffin or without an arm or a leg. When I wrote that poem this destiny of ours struck me as very funny.

AK: As a Post-Modernist poet, you successfully avoid the obsessive biographical preoccupation with “I” and “me” that has dominated poetry in recent years. How do nonrepresentational awareness and personal experience co-exist in your poetry?

CS: A poem is a work of art made up of imagination and reality. I’m more interested in writing a good poem then telling the reader about myself. Of course, I use my own experiences, but I also make up things.

AK: It has been remarked that your style is characterized by simplicity and strangeness with an unsettling quality. Dark imagery and irony are seen in many of your poems, along with nods to the surreal and to the farcical. How do you view these elements as characteristic of your work?

CS: This is how I see the world. As someone whose memories begin with April 6, 1941 when he was three years old, when a German bomb hit the building across the street from his and threw him out of bed at five o’clock in the morning, this is an inevitable condition. My parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts were the same way. History has made us into a family of cheerful pessimists.

AK: Your book The World Doesn’t End: Prose Poems (1990), received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. What is it about prose poems that appeals to you?

CS: Because they’re not like any other kind of writing and thus impossible to anticipate how they will turn out. I never sit down to write a “prose poem.” I scribble in my notebooks and some of these scribbles every once in a while strike me as being able to stand alone and are worth keeping. What shall we call them? I asked my editor. Let’s call them prose poems, she said, so that’s what they became.

AK: Is there anything in your poems that has surprised or startled you?

CS: My returning again and again over the years to certain moods and images like Edward Hopper whose paintings share the same limited subject matter and the same atmosphere.

AK: How do you see poetry as a place in which the poet can achieve freedom?

CS: Poetry is freedom. The best poems never imitate, never worry what other people think. That’s why there’s so much poetry in the world. Where else would human beings find a place where they can let their feelings and their imagination run free? That’s what attracted me to poetry when I first started reading it and writing it fifty-five years ago, and it still does today.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind While Sitting Down to Write a Poem
from Charles Simic

1. Don't tell the readers what they already know about life.

2. Don't assume you're the only one in the world who suffers.

3. Some of the greatest poems in the language are sonnets and poems not many lines longer than that, so don't overwrite.

4. The use of images, similes and metaphors make poems concise. Close your eyes, and let your imagination tell you what to do.

5. Say the words you are writing aloud and let your ear decide what word comes next.

6. What you are writing down is a draft that will need additional tinkering, perhaps many months, and even years of tinkering.

7. Remember, a poem is a time machine you are constructing, a vehicle that will allow someone to travel in their own mind, so don't be surprised if it takes a while to get all its engine parts properly working.

Acknowledgment: “A Few Things to Keep in Mind …” is reprinted with the permission of Charles Simic and the Library of Congress

Poems by Charles Simic:

Tiferet offers five digital issues and one print issue every year.  Each issue is packed with high quality fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, interviews, reviews, and visual art.

Contributors have included Robert Bly, Ray Bradbury, Gerald Stern, Nikki Giovanni, Ilan Stavans, Stephen Dunn, Alicia Ostriker, Robert Pinsky, Ed Hirsch, Jane Hirshfield, Dorianne Laux, Renée Ashley, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Laura Boss, Robert Carnevale, and Joe Weil (among many, many others).

Be Sure to Visit Tiferet Online

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Prompt #171 –The Personal Narrative

Narrative poetry is poetry that tells a story and is a long-time favorite among poets and readers. When I was in fifth grade, everyone in the class was required to memorize and recite “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” a historical narrative by Longfellow. I can remember memorizing a stanza each week and then, after much practicing with my parents, getting up in front of the class to recite the whole poem. I still remember the first few stanzas! Narrative poems can vary in length from very long to short. Sometimes the stories they tell are quite complex and include the voices of characters and narrators. Narrative poems from the past, for the most part, were written in metered verse and include ballads, idylls, lays, epics

The personal narrative, however, is different and is popular today among many free verse poets. Often misunderstood, personal narratives sometimes fail to move beyond the anecdotal and simply recount an experience that the poet has had. A great personal narrative, though, has to be larger and more meaningful than an anecdotal poem. In other words, a great personal narrative can’t rest on its anecdotal laurels and must do more than simply tell a story. It needs to approach the universal through the personal, it needs to mean more than the story it tells, and the old rule “show, don’t tell” definitely applies.

This week let’s try a personal narrative poem, but right from the get go, let’s set a limit of no more than 30 lines. this may help avoid the pitfall of superfluous details.

1. For starters, decide what true story from your life you’d like to tell. Think about why you want to write a poem about this event in your life. Joy down some ideas about the sequence of the story, the people concerned, and the emotions involved.

2. Plan on writing in the first person singular, but know that you’re fee to change that later on.

3. Consider the approach you’d like to take in your personal narrative: chronological, flashback, or reflective. In chronological, you structure your poem around a time-ordered sequence of events; in flashback, you write from a perspective of looking back; and in reflective, you write thoughtfully or “philosophically” about the story you tell.

4. Don’t simply relate your narrative or tell your readers what they should feel. Your job is to show and not to tell. Avoid “emotion words” such as “anger”—bear in mind that when someone is angry he or she is more likely to slam a door than to say, “Hey, I’m angry.” You can show anger or any other emotion without ever using the words. Let actions and sensory images lead your readers to understand the emotions in the poem. As the writer of a personal narrative poem, it’s your job to include revealing details, not to interpret or explain them for your readers. You may want to avoid the passive voice, “to be” verbs, and “ing” endings as these can inhibit the process of showing rather than telling.

5. Set a tone for your personal narrative. Tone in poetry is an overall feeling that inhabits every corner of your poem. Think about your story and the feeling with which you want your readers to leave the poem.

6. Think about the perspective from which you want to tell your story. Do you want to tell the story as if it were happening in the present (using the present tense)? Do you want to write from a perspective of looking back (past tense)? This is, of course, up to you and you will need to think about how use of the past or of the present tense will impact your poem.

7. Just as a short story includes rising action, a climax, and denouement or resolution, so should a personal narrative poem. Use of stanzas can be helpful in emphasizing the sequence of your poem. Be acutely aware that you’re writing a poem and not prose. Narrative poetry often springs from a prose impulse and becomes mired in prose-like details. Remember that you’re writing a poem and should be focused on imagery, figurative language, and the sound quality (alliteration, assonance, dissonance) of your work. Don’t become so engrossed in the story that you forget about the elements of good poetry!


Following is the title poem from Catherine Doty’s book, Momentum. Cat was last week's guest prompter.

Read the poem carefully two or three times. What makes this such an effective personal narrative?

What has Cat done in the poem to invite the reader into her experience?

How did you feel when reading the poem? What do you think Cat wanted you to feel?

How does Cat show without telling?

How does this personal narrative that describes a childhood experience take you back to your own childhood? What’s the “universal” message that Cat conveys through her personal experience?

How do the language and imagery enhance meaning?

How does this poem grow so much larger than the simply anecdotal?

Think about how Cat brought the poem to closure. What does Cat's “dismount” do for the poem? What did it do for your understanding of the poem. 

By Catherine Doty

Your friends won’t try to talk you out of the barrel,
or your brag to go first, which has nothing to do with bravery.
And you’re so hungry to earn their love you forget
to claim first your, perhaps, last look at this mountain—
crab apples hanging sour in the sun, abandoned Buick,
a favorite place to play, dismantled and weathered
and delicate as a voting booth. Instead you dive straight away
and headfirst into darkness, the steel drum that dusts you,
like a chicken part, with rust. Looking out, there’s nothing
to see of your friends but their calves, which are scabby,
and below them the filthy sneakers, shifting, shifting,
every foot aching to kick you off this cliff.
Their faces, you know, are blank with anticipation,
the look you see when they watch TV eating popcorn.
They’re already talking about you as if you’re gone,
as if you boarded a bus and roared out of earshot,
when one foot flashes forward and launches you.

You know as you feel that first solid slam you are lost.
The barrel changes shape with each crash to earth,
as you will later, assuming and losing lives, but this
is so true now: ankles flayed to the bone, cracked ribs
and crushed mint, the brittle, pissy sumac. Right now
the pin oaks are popping in their sockets, the hillside
wears your shoes, clouds pleat and buck. You know, of course,
that no one’s going second, and friends who tell this story
will use the word idiot, rolling their hands in the air,
but you know you know what your life is for now and rise up,
and just about scalp yourself on that tree limb above you,
another thing you couldn’t possibly know was coming,
another which, like your first breath, was not your idea.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Prompt #170 – Sonnet Variations by Guest Prompter Cat Doty


It’s time again for a guest prompter, and this week my special guest is poet Catherine Doty. The author of Momentum (Cavankerry, 2004, a volume of poetry), and Just Kidding (Avocet Press, 1999, a collection of cartoons that take a humorous look at childhood through the eyes of a poet), Cat received her MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa. Her work has appeared in 180 More Extraordinary Poems for Every Day, Good Poems for Hard Times, and many other magazines and anthologies. Her awards include an NEA Fellowship, an Academy of American Poets Prize, a Marjorie J. Wilson Award, and fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. She has taught for 30 years as a poet-in-the-schools, as well as for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Frost Place, and other writing programs and conferences.


The sonnet is a sweet form: always good and engaging company, and as happy to be relieved of all but a few of its skeletal features as to be larded with new and increasingly baroque ones. Count those syllables! Rebut that argument! Include the name of a condiment in every line! Sonnets are not-too-big and not-too-small. Like all forms, the sonnet provides what the poet Marie Ponsot calls “white noise,” that bit of distraction that can leaven the task at hand. They are good for keeping narrative lean, and they make elegant containers for all wonderful manner of weirdness. Some of the various sonnet experiments that follow are borrowed with thanks from Bernadette Meyer and Layne Browne, some are mine. Check a book on poetic forms for the requirements of a traditional sonnet, then see how many you can or wish to retain in following any of the experiments below. For Sonnet Info, Click Here

1. Create a sonnet through the erasure of another text.

2. Write a sonnet by lineating found text or prose or a prose poem.

3. Write a sonnet using a poem in progress of your own that has not yet found its shape.

4. Open a dictionary. Write a poem using only the text on the page in front of you.

5. Write a sonnet inspired by or answering another sonnet.

6. Write a homophonic translation of a sonnet (feel free to experiment with online translation dictionaries).

7. Write in someone else’s voice, in character, or in a professional language. Be someone else for fourteen lines of your life.

8. Write a sonnet while listening to a concert, watching a movie, doing dishes, cooking, or any other activity demanding your attention. Let the outside leak into your work.

9. Write a sonnet composed of a series of guesses to an implied, stated or mysterious question/riddle.

10. Write a sonnet that is also a list poem.

11. Take off your glasses. With any text just out of your visual range so that you cannot quite make out the letters, begin guessing and speaking aloud what you can half-see (it helps to have a scribe write down your words for you). Use this material to enter a sonnet.

12. Write, in sonnet form, what you understand to be the way to write a sonnet.

13. Write a sonnet about an activity you know well, keeping both the rhythm of that familiar activity and the rhyme demands of the form.

14. Write a sonnet in which Shakespeare despairs of the Petrarchan sonnet and recreates the form to fit the poverty of English rhyme (first person optional).

15. Write a narrative sonnet, slaving to make it as near as possible to perfect. Print it out, cut it into fourteen strips, then shuffle them to see what else is going on. At this point, don't feel compelled to keep any imposed form at all.



A Great Poem About Writing A Sonnet

By Billy Collins

All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now,
and after this one just a dozen
to launch a little ship on love’s storm-tossed seas,
then only ten more left like rows of beans.
How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan
and insist the iambic bongos must be played
and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines,
one for every station of the cross.
But hang on here wile we make the turn
into the final six where all will be resolved,
where longing and heartache will find an end,
where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen,
take off those crazy medieval tights,
blow out the lights, and come at last to bed.

Three Famous Sonnets

Sonnet 79
by Edmund Spencer

Men call you fair, and you do credit it,
For that yourself you daily such do see:
But the true fair, that is the gentle wit
And virtuous mind, is much more praised of me.
For all the rest, however fair it be,
Shall turn to naught and lose that glorious hue:
But only that is permanent and free
From frail corruption that doth flesh ensue,
That is true beauty; that doth argue you
To be divine and born of heavenly seed;
Derived from that fair spirit, from whom all true
And perfect beauty did at first proceed:
He only fair, and what he fair hath made:
All other fair, like flowers, untimely fade.

Sonnet 43
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sigh
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints--I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!- — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Sonnet 29
By William Shakespeare

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least.
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
 For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
 That then I scorn to change my state with kings.


Thanks, Cat, for sharing with us!