Posted tagged ‘cool sonnet’

Monday Doldrums – West Side Story Sonnet on the East Side Train

January 25, 2010

Opening of "Somewhere", Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

A certain damp dullness hangs over the subway car this morning, the Number 5, Lexington Avenue express.  We diversified New Yorkers are unified here, in our experience of rain-moistened Monday fatigue.  The hems of our pants are limp.  More than half of our eyes are closed.  (By this, I mean, both of the eyes on more than one half of the passengers.)   The guy next to me has a uniquely beady intensity;  he definitely stares at something.  But when I follow his gaze, I find the blank window on the other side of the car.  I notice then too that the corner of his baseball cap also actual drips whole gobs of unheeded moisture, so I’d just as soon not vouch for his alertness.

The girl opposite also has both eyes open, but her mouth is open too.  The movement of her tongue can be seen under her lips, the skin of chin and cheeks; she appears to search the insides of her mouth, though she is not eating, nor is she noticeably carrying food.  These factors tend to put into question her “on-top-of-things-ness.”

The only person who can truly qualify as “engaged” is a tall young African-American man who reads the Daily News analysis of the collapse of the Jets.  So, engaged, yes, but not exactly cheerful.

Seriously.  What shines here is not a single “morning face”, but only the wet spots on the train’s dark linoleum floor shine, and an occasional crumple of cellophane.

All this makes me think that it’s really too bad I wasn’t on the local;  the No. 6 specifically, leaving from Spring Street.  I used to take that train frequently and noticed that a curious configuration of curve and track caused it to sound out a specific musical interval each time it left the platform.   Although it’s an East Side train, the interval corresponds to one  of the song openings from West Side Story. (Which brings up a completely different kind of Jets.)

So, in honor of those three notes, I set forth below a kind of silly, kind of “Shakespearean” sonnet:

Subway Song

The subway sings its broken refrain,
the opening bars of “There’s a Place
For Us” from West Side Story.  The train
croons the first three notes leaving the dais
of the platform, the tune subsiding
to squeak and wind and roar as train races
to a-harmonic levels, providing
speed without Bernsteinian traces,
those tragic lovers defiant of fate
and enmity. Yet, at every station,
they sing again.  Who of those who wait
hear the song of that yearned-for destination,
that lyrical place, beyond how, beyond where,
amazed that the Six Train nearly takes them there?

 

I am linking this post to Victoria C. Slotto’s Liv2write2day blog, for her prompt on Sacred Music.  The sounds of the Number 6 are not exactly sacred, but they are pretty lovely when you are standing in a grey tunnel.

All rights reserved.  Karin Gustafson

For a more serious subway sonnet, click here.

P.S.  No copyright infringement of “Somewhere” intended, beautiful song.  (Btw, I haven’t noticed that any credit is given to Bernstein by the IRT.)

Sonnet in Winter – Hospital Visit

December 8, 2009

For a change of pace, here’s a sonnet, written about a winter’s visit to a sick friend.

The sonnet follows the Shakespearean rhyme scheme, and though it tries for Iambic Pentameter, I’m not sure that attempt is truly successful.  As noted in previous posts about sonnets and formal poetry, I tend to use a syllabic rule of thumb rather than to follow strict rules of scansion.

For further explanation of the Shakespearean rhyme scheme and some approximation of the rules of meter in formal poetry, check out prior posts re poetic meter, and sonnets, and for reasons to write formal verse .  (And plenty of others – check out poetry category.)

No chance

I wanted to give her time, a summer’s day,
a perfect green blue day that I would pluck
from my summers to come, that I would lay
upon her bed, and, shimmering, tuck
around her.  It should have been an easy offer,
easy to say.  After all, the future
can’t be readily assigned; life’s coffer
holds nothing forfeit.  Tubes followed suture
to a darkness barely gowned; I searched around
my jangling brain for words, but what came out
were stones that lined her pillow, the sound
not meaning my meaning, and not about
summer days; my own fierce will to live
hoarding what I had no power to give.

All rights reserved, Karin Gustafson.

(If interested in different forms of poems–sestinas, pantoums, villanelles, and more villanelles, and even more villanelles–there are a lot of villanelles.   Really.  Check out these links, and others.  Thanks.)

Breast Exam Sonnet

November 24, 2009

American women of all ages are likely aware of a recent controversy concerning recommendations for mammograms and breast self-examination.  The new guidelines issued by the United States Preventive Services Task Force suggest that screening techniques are overused, and that testing, even self-examination, should be limited, particularly in women under 50.  The concern is that premature testing causes not only increased anxiety, but also unnecessary, and possibly deleterious, procedures and treatment.

This position runs squarely in the face of the popular view that early detection saves lives.  (It has been especially suspect in the age of health care reform.)

Although many health professionals and cancer organizations have rallied around the old pro-testing guidelines, I, for one, favor the new, since, as a general rule, I tend to avoid all contact with doctors until gangrene is setting in.  (Note to any of my children who may read this blog:  I do not advocate this course of conduct for friends and family.)

The sonnet below effectively undercuts both positions, as its subject character undertakes a cursory breast exam at a hurried moment, thus managing to maintain anxiety while also avoiding effective screening.  (I think it may be something many women manage.)

In the Stairwell

Descending the building’s stairs, she feels her breast,
fumbling beneath her bra to get to skin,
palpating (as they say) but in a mess
of here and there and not all within
the confines of an organized exam.
Silly to do it here, not time or place,
someone else might come, have to move her hand,
and yet fear seems to justify the race,
as if by checking each time it crosses mind,
especially checking fast, she can avoid
ever finding anything of the kind
that should not be found.  And so, devoid
of caution, but full of care nonetheless,
she steps slowly down the stairs, feeling her breast.

All rights reserved.  Karin Gustafson

(My apologies if I’ve posted this poem before; sometimes they get a bit lost in the mix.)

Subway Sonnet – Train Chemistry – Light That Cannot Be Broken Down For Parts

September 23, 2009

Molecules (poem by Karin Gustafson, drawing by Diana Barco)

I updated this post for the dVerse Poets Pub prompt for poems about trains and am also linking to Victoria C. Slotto’s blog liv2write2day relating to poems about light.     This poem is not a new one, but it was written on and prompted by the subway on a Monday, thinking about a beautifully sunny Sunday before.

This is a sonnet, a variation of the regular form 14 1/2 lines rather than the requisite 14.   I added the extra couple of words at the end to combat that “patness” that sometimes results from a sonnet’s final couplet.

Molecules

Yesterday in the dim fluorescence
of subway car, I thought of molecules.
They seemed, in that greyed light, the essence
of life.  I saw them stretched in pools,
sometimes seemingly limpid, other times
volcanic, fervidly swooping me
abubble, then mucking me into slimes
of laval woe, a test tube of to be
or not to be.  Today, I’m by the sea,
and water, vaster than pools, sparkles
under light so immense it cannot be
broken down for parts, yet its particles
raise up the non-molecular part
of me, what refuses to lose heart,
no matter–

(All rights reserved.  Karin Gustafson)

(The drawing above is by my dear friend Diana Barco, who illustrated my book of poetry called “Going on Somewhere,” available on Amazon.)

Check out 1 Mississippi at link above also.

Spenserian Sonnet (Still Not Keats)

September 18, 2009

Last night (well, very early this morning), I posted an example of a Shakespearian sonnet, which is probably the most common form of sonnet in English.   Another variation is the Spenserian sonnet, named for Sir Edmund Spenser, (author of the wonderful wondeful Faerie Queene.)

Spenser (1552-1599) was born and died a little before  Shakespeare (1564-1616).   Although their lives overlapped, my very brief research has informed me that the group of Shakespeare’s sonnets were not published until 1609 well after Spenser’s death.  They were apparently without Shakespeare’s permission.   Two were published a bit earlier, but likely also after Spenser’s death in 1599 (also without Shakespeare’s permission.)  (And this was well before the internet.) 

Spenser’s form is slightly more strict than Shakespeare’s.  A more limited rhyme scheme requires the poet to stick to the second set of rhymes of each quatrain in beginning the next quatrain.    This makes for a series of couplets throughout the poem and not simply at the end:

A
B
A
B
B
C
B
C
C
D
C
D
E
E

 

The couplets interspersed in the poem can create a beautiful echoing effect.  However, as in the case of the Shakespearean sonnet, that darned couplet at the end can be a real problem.   (See yesterday’s post concerning the difficulty of ending a sonnet without sounding like you are neatly “summing up” all that came before.)

Even so, a sonnet is a fun, flexible, form. 

A couple of pointers:  (I pass these on, not as a sonnet expert, but as a sonnet lover.)  

The rhymes (and meter) make music.   I believe this music works best, however, if it subtle,  almost a kind of murmuring, rather than a series of “bada-bings.”    (Remember you are writing a sonnet, not a limerick.)

The subtlety can be achieved by using run-on lines; these are lines in which the thought or sentence does not end with the rhyme at the end of the line, but in which the thought or sentence runs over.  This means that these is no pause at the end of each line, unless it is called for by a comma or period.   

 The use of run-over lines requires that some care is taken with respect to punctuation.  (Readers! please follow the punctuation.) 

Additionally, I like NOT to capitalize each new line as I feel that encourages a kind of pausing at the end of the line, and to discourage a more flowing read.   

Spy Games

We played spy games galore in the basement.
Running spy games with the boys, our bent hands
guns, till sweating we lay down on cold cement,
shirts pulled up, chests hard.  Not much withstands
the leaching chill of earth, the deep down sands
beneath a childhood basement, except perhaps
the burn of nipple, the future woman’s
breasts.  Our spy games just for girls had traps–
some of us played femmes fatales, poor saps,
while the leader girl was Bond–0-0-7.
She hung us ropeless from the bathroom taps,
then tortured us in ways that felt like heaven,
the basement bed our rack, what spies we were,
confessing neither to ourselves nor her.

 

(All rights reserved.  Karin Gustafson)

 

 P.S.  Check out 1 Mississippi.  (It’s neither Spenserian or Shakespearean, but it will teach your child to count.)

Sonnets!

September 18, 2009

Sonnets have fourteen lines.

Count ’em.

Sometimes they are combinations of eight and six; sometimes four and four and four and two; sometimes strange intersections of four and six, eight and two (only adding up to fourteen.)

I have been thinking about them since hearing about Bright Star, the new Jane Campion movie about Keats.  (I haven’t seen the movie yet, so can make no recommendations.)

Keats wrote great sonnets, even developing his own form.

Even so, I tend to stick to Shakespeare’s form.  (Shakespeare, of course, wrote really great sonnets.)  His form is extremely easy to remember, and relatively easy to write, as it uses a broad assortment of rhymes.

If I’m feeling more ambitious, I’ll try Spenser’s format, which is similar to Shakespeare’s, but uses a more limited rhyming pattern.  (I’ll explain each in the next few posts.)  I have never written a sonnet in Keats’ form (though I intend to try.)

Shakespeare’s form is set forth below.  Remember, under conventions of poetic notation, a rhyme ending a specific line is denoted by a capital letter, so that the first set of rhymes is denoted as “A”, the second set of rhymes as B, the third set “C”, etc.

Shakespeare also uses iambic pentameter.  (More on that later.)

A

B

A

B

C

D

C

D

E

F

E

F

G

G

The biggest problem with a sonnet is often the final couplet.  It tends to have a very pat, “summing up” quality, that is hard to escape.

I do not to want my final couplet to sound like the “moral of the story”. Breaking the lines up so that they run over and do not pause at the end of each line can help in this regard.  Humor is also useful.

A subject matter which is not easily summed up, also creates a certain tension that can temper the patness of the final couplet.   Here’s one, for example on a self-administered, informal breast exam.

In the Stairwell

Descending the building’s stairs, she feels her breast,
fumbling beneath her bra to get to skin,
palpating (as they say) but in a mess
of here and there and not all within
the confines of an organized exam.
Silly to do it here, not time or place,
someone else might come, have to move her hand,
and yet fear seems to justify the race,
as if by checking each time it crosses mind,
especially checking fast, she can avoid
ever finding anything of the kind
that should not be found.  And so, devoid
of caution, but full of care nonetheless,
she steps slowly down the stairs, feeling her breast.

(All rights reserved, Karin Gustafson)

Check out 1 Mississippi at link above.