For my final post, I’d like to talk briefly about my favorite poetic form, the sonnet, which I played around with for eight years, and which I continue to love for its rigor and ductility, its ability to hold and propel contra-diction, bad puns, good-for-nothings, great sentiment, and terrible occasion.
You can read more about my approaches to invoking the form in this article and in this blog post for the versatile literary journal Drunken Boat, but in short, the form spoke to me in a way that no other received one does. I consider myself a weird sonneteer, not a formalist.
I do have a fondness for poems in form by poets who take a similarly experimental approach, letting the constraints push and pull the language, as in this sonnet by the poet, scholar, and translator Douglas Basford, which appeared first in Diagram:
Call it a bore, if you like, or a boor,
but sound has a way of coercing sense
into bottlenecks worse than your parents
find late in the day driving to the Eastern Shore.
You'll hear about it later. You can be sure
images your mother half-absorbed--goldfinches,
drab bramble, wafer sun--will come. Clairaudience
of your eye, let's call it, keeps your eye turned
out the car window when the traffic's stock-still,
with nothing much to hear, no road noise, essence
of life distilled down to siblings squabbling
in a backseat ahead, to a few drunks stumbling
out past the shoulder and back. Something pinches
after you and misses. Reasons to speak dwindle.
This poem is from Doug’s work-in-progress, Very Memory, which he describes as “a Baltimore-centric series of sonnets exploring gentrification, race and class relations, turn-of-the-millennium courtship, and workplace bullying, among other things.”
Along with the poets Ida Stewart and Jason Gray, Doug edits the ever-spritely Unsplendid: An Online Journal of Poetry in Received and Nonce Forms. I was particularly happy to read the resplendent Women and Form issue that the journal published in July of 2014.
And speaking of great literary journals and their ardent editors, I’d like to mention my friend Liz Powell, the editor of Green Mountains Review and an amazing poet with a new book coming out. Her collection Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter or Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances just won the Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry.
The subtitle comes Sanford Meisner of the famed acting technique, and the book employs method acting to process the poems’ information, resulting in a provocative mix of verse, essay, drama, and meta-forms in which alternate personas converse as a way to find truth out of erasure. I’ve had the privilege of reading an early draft, which is like nothing I’ve read in the best way. Here is the title poem:
WILLY LOMAN’S RECKLESS DAUGHTER: A Story in Couplets
Willy Loman’s reckless daughter flies quietly,
fluttering like a silk-moth behind me
blocking my life, my scenes
in whichever stage direction she wants.
Sometimes at night I can feel her dialing into me,
her ringing calls like an imperial decree.
When she sleeps she crashes, like a car
into the guardrail of my ambition.
Her curse like a poison I cannot smell,
an asphyxiation of the self by the self, that hell and hard sell.
Split personalities we dream through the night,
of our merger and acquisition, in her half-moon light,
Not even my husband can feel
her there between us—a secret contract under seal.
When I awaken, her irises touch mine;
an awful, indecipherable fault line.
She’s a character in search of an author, a devotee,
trying to recount her history through me,
until I channel her. She’s like a phantom limb,
hymn to the invisible. Her shameless whims,
the subtext of my lies. Under her tinted hair
the forest murmurs, becomes a thought, or prayer.
Until her thoughts tumble into mine;
colors bleed. In the morning, I’m overwrought—
My patrilineal kin, she begins to wear thin,
when she undoes hospital corners I’ve tucked so gently in.
Her cool white rising is meringue completing—
the high-pitched silence of our congealing.
She was always ceremonially unfolding
his white shirts, unpressing the folds
in my circumstance. I did and didn’t want her. I kept
trying to catch her, then let her slip. Any intent
to have her near made her more invisible. Her electric
breasts overfilled my brassieres. An interaction, our dialectic—
She never removes her hat upon entering the door
to my personality. Ma semblable, ma soeur!
I can’t wait for this book and the others I mentioned earlier this week to come into the world.
And now seems like an apt time for me to express my gratitude to the journal and anthology editors who have supported my writing and without whom I wouldn’t be here blogging for The BAP. I didn't know Liz or Doug before I published poems in their journals, but I now consider them friends and fellow spirits, which is part of the reason I started writing poems long ago. And I'm grateful to have the opportunity to share their poetry, which I believe often gets overlooked by their work on behalf of others.
A thousand gratitudes to David and Stacey for inviting me to be here.
And a great holiday week to you all!