Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fallen Tree Cluster, Sonnet #326

The five ash trees wove themselves a tight bole
And the borer stripped them from the top limb.
They toppled in last summer's derecho,
Roots all root hair, leaving a shallow hole,
Some dirt and gravel with hardly a rim --
A shout into it would yield no echo.
The Emerald Borer will soon be gone
When the number of ash trees left is none,
The pests all starved out, their only work done.
The fault lies with the ashes as well,
Their clumps of tiny roots why they fell
When they might have had a few years to thrive
(The borer's slow to eat its prey alive),
If they'd grown up alone, not one of five.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Rainbow, Sonnet #325

The arc of broken light, an extension
Of the eye. Thought is the fifth dimension.
Does "only what we know exists" make sense?
It would take a metaphysical stretch
To think the oath of this shimmering sketch
Was kept. All the floods of evanesence,
The drowning waters of time, death and hate,
Pour down and ravage and evaporate
Each day -- leaving behind only rainbows.
How days are made only each of us knows.
The beauty there is the harder question.
We are not mocked and there's no suggestion
Of imperfection -- we see only love
Made of light, not here, not here, but above.

Note: The rainbow was the sign of God's promise
to Noah that he would not flood the world again.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Snakes (Escher), Sonnet #324

The serpent has a god within his mind,
Implanted there, symmetrically timed,
An eternal One that thought cannot find,
Like the only word that cannot be rhymed.
He can't chase down his prey beneath the wood
Without enough heat running through his blood
Firing his muscles, the tip of his tongue,
Engorging the once cold sac of his lung.
The fire in his eyes has another source,
A being without hate, fear or remorse,
An idea burning borealic cold,
An essence, call it endlessness or will
That even the death of the snake can't kill.
The fabled Big Bang's not nearly so old.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Seventh Plague: Hail and Fire (John Martin), Sonnet #323

It froze us in small blocks of ice
And rolled us down the streets like dice.
It melted us with filthy light
And left us purified of blight,
Exhausted, blameless and alone,
The roaches and pigeons gone.
We never saw a cloud again.
Instead appeared new kinds of men.
They smiled but we ran from them,
From their split tongues and spit venom.
They gladly swallowed the locusts
When they came, as well as our lusts.
The darkness never descended.
The promised end never ended.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Avenue of Poplars in Autumn (Van Gogh), Sonnet #322

The faintest chitter of leaves in the Fall,
The slant auroras beneath the branches,
The blue-gray clouds that are not clouds at all,
But cloudless sky the fading light blanches,
The warmth and the chill I feel on my cheeks
As sunned and unsunned breezes alternate,
Each gust not finding what the other seeks,
And not one beast seeking to find a mate.
Today I walk this ordered avenue
Until the moon tops the furthest poplar.
It's so bright I can't see a single star,
A Milky Way I cannot know, but knew.
I reach home as the shadows slip away.
Only the moon's been moved enough to stay.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Sonnet Form

As my Literature grad friends know, there are a number of different kinds of sonnets — Shakespearian, Petrarchan, etc. My sonnets don’t follow any strict rhyme or metrical scheme. Rather, I have a few basic principles I follow and never (hardly ever) violate.

First, any kind of rhyme scheme is okay as long as no rhyme is more than 3 lines apart. For example, ABC ABC is okay: ABC CBA is not, because the “A” rhyme is five lines apart. My theory is that a rhyme ceases to be a rhyme if the two rhyming words are too far apart.

Second, any sonnet can have any mix of rhyme patterns. A single sonnet's scheme can be, for example, ABC ABC DD EE FGGF (or FGFG), or any variation of those. Some sonnets can be all couplets, some three quatrains and a couplet.

I work in three metrical schemes, composed of “feet.” A foot is two beats. Dada dada dada dada dada is five feet. Any poem can be tetrameter (four feet), pentameter (five feet), or six feet (hexameter).

I am not fussy about where the accent lies. Most feet are daDA daDa daDA, with the accent on the second syllable, but I play fast and loose with accents and in almost every instance I have my own reason for doing so, having to do with the meaning or music of the poem.

Finally, I never, never, never (almost hardly ever!) distort syntax in order to rhyme. This is the cardinal sin. For centuries it was okay to back into a rhyme or distort syntax in formal poetry. In other words, it was considered a proper tool of poetry to write not necessarily in the same manner in which we naturally speak. I believe that distorting syntax is the main reason the sonnet, and most formal poetry, fell out of favor in the last century.

I would never back into a rhyme, as Shelley does here in the second and third lines from his "Ode to the West Wind," because that’s not how we talk:

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing...

The poet Rita Dove has written that formal poetry — such as the sonnet — is “a bejeweled casket.” That’s like saying the novel, or the play, or the short story is dead. The sonnet is just one of many, still valid, ways in which to write poetry. If you agree or disagree, I invite your comments.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Ghost of a Flea (William Blake), Sonnet #321

The ghost of a flea is a flea of a ghost.
He haunts my dog with whispered itches
As he has a thousand other bitches.
Every beast is his unconscious host.
I have seen only ghostly human beings,
Not past corporeality, but through them,
Ill motive they're certain I'm not seeing
That sticks from their heads like an apple stem.
At midnight on a beach I saw a cult
Dance in self-abasement around their pastor.
He had power to bring their minds to a halt --
Red hair, white gown, their daemon and master.
I rose and warned them so they trudged away.
Am I their ghost of legend to this day?