Poetry in Form: Sonnet
Poetic forms usually rely on repetition. The repetition can be of lines or words in specific patterns, or of a metrical pattern or a rhyme pattern. Like language, though, poetic forms are constantly evolving.
Once the sonnet form was established, poets started stretching it to fit their taste. The twentieth century saw much variation on the sonnet form, but that variation has been going on for centuries. Poets employ varied rhyme schemes, or no rhyme schemes, or change the traditional number of lines, as in the curtal sonnet. Sometimes these are called “nonce sonnets,” nonce meaning a one-off. Of course, once a one-off is created, poets may imitate it.
Two of my favorite contemporary practitioners of the sonnet are Deborah Warren and Natasha Trethewey. The sonnet below, originally published in Mezzo Cammin: an online journal of formalist poetry by women, is my attempt at a Shakespearean sonnet.
My father taught me how to play the hand
he dealt. I had to memorize each card
that fell face-up, obey his stern command
to take advantage of the chumps who didn’t guard
against their tells: the finger on the chin
that meant the player filled a Swiss-cheese straight,
the blink that meant a bluff. I learned to win
and lose without expression, to lay in wait.
When Pops had nothing left to teach, he lost
his patience, grew disgusted when I bet
on clearly losing cards, or when I tossed
a winner out. I taught myself to get
up from the table — to play the card of tough
indifference. Then indifference paid enough.