Elements of Craft

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Week 2 - The Sonnet

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When we hear the term “sonnet,” we often think of Shakespeare and his fourteen line, rhyming love poems written in iambic pentameter (five metric feet -- approximately ten syllables per line), but there are other variations! 

The poet Terrance Hayes is a writer of Modern sonnets. His published work, “American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin,” (a finalist for the National Book Award) contains seventy sonnets, all written under the same title. Check out this interview with Hayes, where he discusses his motivation to write and his reasons for using the sonnet form, before taking a look at the following poem:

Probably, ghosts are allergic to us. Our uproarious
Breathing & ruckus. Our eruptions, our disregard
For dust. Small worlds unwhirl in the corners of our homes
After death. Our warriors, weirdos, antiheros, our sirs,
Sires, our sighers, sidewinders & whiners, winos,
And wonders become dust. I know a few of the dead.
I remember my sister’s last hoorah.  I remember
The horror of her head on a pillow. For a long time
The numbers were balanced. The number alive equal
To the number in graves. After a very long time
The bones become dust again & the dust
After a long time becomes dirt & the dirt becomes soil
And the soil becomes grain again. This bitter earth is a song
Clogging the mouth before it is swallowed or spat out.

Notice that, despite not following the traditional writing constraints, Hayes does incorporate a “turn” in the last two lines, where he reflects on the previous twelve lines (see yesterday’s announcement for more information on this poetic mechanism!), and in doing so completes and comments on the cycle of degradation, and tragedy that he outlines in those first twelve lines.

I ask you this week to write a poem of fourteen lines, and that you make it your own. You are welcome to adhere to a rhyme scheme and tempo, but it is not required. I would recommend that you include a “turn” at the end of your piece, and provide yourself the opportunity to reflect on the words you wrote.

Simply (though it is not so simple!) write the 14-line poem that speaks to your mind, body, and soul.