Tuesday, December 27, 2011
(Canada Goose Preparing for Flight by Benjamin Chee
Chee, 1944-1977, Canadian artist of Ojibwa descent)
As we have seen, the rules governing the traditional sonnet sometimes tempt poets into a bit of playfulness. Last Friday, we saw how the fourteen-lines, set rhyme schemes, and iambic pentameter rhythms of the sonnet can be reduced meaningfully to a very short and sweet couplet of four letters and numbers.
Today’s poem is another experiment on the sonnet by a Canadian poet. Alfred Noyes explains his intentions in preparing the collection of Compression Sonnets:
“[S]omething in the [sonnet] form will not let go. Its practice, at its best, was a form of condensation; I have sought here only to see how far such condensation may be taken. Fourteen lines, if nothing else, every student recalls at least this.
“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 of the sonnet’s traditional themes? I am interested only in economy — in what might be said with less. In reducing the poem until it turns in on itself, turns itself inside-out. Becomes something else. Becomes nothing. What becomes of form and its tradition, through compression?”
Indeed, what does become of form and tradition, through such compression? Is something lost in the translation? Could well be. For example, in a typical sonnet, the ninth line, which begins the sestet, takes a “turn” or “volta” from proposition to resolution or to effect a change in tone.
Noyes’s verses are missing the volta. In the end, they resemble more the meditative haiku, but are composed of fourteen words rather than seventeen syllables.
Fold a letter
Bright dream tinsel
Thin blue spine
This book’s almost