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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sonnet: More of the Same

(Plowing, 1936, by Grant Wood, 1891-1942, American

It’s come to this — there are rules now on how to ignore the rules governing the sonnet. The poet John Ashbery (born 1927) puts his argument into sonnet form, but without the required fourteen lines in iambic pentameter.


Try to avoid the pattern that has been avoided,
the avoidance pattern. It’s not as easy as it looks:
The herringbone is floating eagerly up
from the herring to become parquet. Or whatever suits it.
New fractals clamor to be identical
to their sisters. Half of them succeed. The others
go on to be Provençal floral prints some sleepy but ingenious
weaver created halfway through the eighteenth century,
and they never came to life until now.

It’s like practicing a scale: at once different and never the same.
Ask not why we do these things. Ask why we find them meaningful.
Ask the cuckoo transfixed in mid-flight
between the pagoda and the hermit’s rococo cave. He may tell you.

What does it mean for the sonneteer?

“Perhaps this suggests that the form is a formula with which to beat poetry over the head,” writes the poet Hans Ostrom. “Another way to look at the issue, however, is to view the form as ever-adaptable, as only an illusory formula, . . .”


(after Ashbery)

A sonnet’s “just more of the same”? Uh, no.
It’s rather like less of the different.
There is no formula involved, you know.
True, syllables and lines and rhymes get spent
At predetermined intervals: mirage
Or order. Inside, sonnets are a mess
Of words, a slew of syntax, a barrage
Linguistically set off; are nonetheless
Provisionally impish — and as free
As freest verse to chat up any ear
Or signal any eye. The form, you see,
Is just a well mapped route from which to veer.
A sonnet is a disobedience
Of sounds, a flaunt of form, a tease of sense.

~ Hans Ostrom, born 1954, American poet, editor, and writer of short fiction

1 comment:

dylan said...

An excellent pairing! The odd couple! I am tempted to declare which poem I like better, but I am grateful for both today. Thank you.