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Old 02-18-2016, 10:34 PM   #1
Tzara
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What is a sonnet?

The sonnet is, almost certainly, the most common form poem in English. Everybody has written sonnets. At least once. Or twice. Or a few times, just for practice or just because. Hell, the Greatest Writer in the English Language might be almost as well known for his sonnets as for his plays: Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? or How like a winter hath my absence been". Or.

But the sonnet has changed considerably over the years, and I want to talk about that.

So what, for you, is a sonnet?

Can you define the form?
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Old 02-18-2016, 10:58 PM   #2
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A "sonnet" without any other descriptor is 14 lines that may rhyme or not and may be metered or not. It expresses a universal theme by beginning with a specific example and then branching into more metaphysical variations on it or explication of it. Sometimes though it just tells a story. That's just my opinion.

The Italian Sonnet or Elizabethan (or Shakespearian or Spenserian) variations have more specific requirements. IMO the modern sonnets can be just as rigorously constructed albeit with some pretty odd rules, depending on the author.

There's a good brief history of the sonnet here


I feel like this thread will need popcorn.
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Old 02-19-2016, 01:20 AM   #3
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I can honestly say I have never written a sonnet. As far as I know, of any sort. AH tried to convince me that it's a good exercise, and I'm certain he's right, but I tend to be stubborn in my lack of discipline.
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Old 02-19-2016, 06:32 AM   #4
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Let's not forget the "curtal sonnet" claimed by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

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Old 02-19-2016, 10:43 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by legerdemer View Post
I can honestly say I have never written a sonnet. As far as I know, of any sort. AH tried to convince me that it's a good exercise, and I'm certain he's right, but I tend to be stubborn in my lack of discipline.
I agree with AH: sonnets are good for developing discipline in writing. I've written a lot of Elizabethan sonnets. The first form poem I ever (knowingly) wrote was a sonnet--I imagine that's true for many people. I think writing them forces you to look at a lot of different things, become conscious of them. Of course iambic pentameter is the biggie along with the rhyme scheme, but you also have to work on developing a theme or story across so few lines and consider how to place the lines in quatrains so they're well organized. And then you have to summarize everything in this pithy couplet. It's a lot!

Writing sonnets has helped me learn to consider the whole poem, but give my attention to the line--one at a time. That was a revelation for me: to not chase after the poem, but instead focus on the line.
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Old 02-19-2016, 10:52 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Angeline View Post
A "sonnet" without any other descriptor is 14 lines that may rhyme or not and may be metered or not. It expresses a universal theme by beginning with a specific example and then branching into more metaphysical variations on it or explication of it. Sometimes though it just tells a story. That's just my opinion.

The Italian Sonnet or Elizabethan (or Shakespearian or Spenserian) variations have more specific requirements. IMO the modern sonnets can be just as rigorously constructed albeit with some pretty odd rules, depending on the author.

There's a good brief history of the sonnet here
Excellent summary, Ms., um (looks at seating chart), Angeline. Really very good.

Kind of fucked up my first lecture on the subject, but that's OK. Really.

OK, folks. Read her first paragraph. Add the fancy-schmancy Italian word "volta" to describe the change in the poem from talking about an issue to resolving it, and we've got a start on the sonnet.

Oh. And keep this phrase: "IMO the modern sonnets can be just as rigorously constructed albeit with some pretty odd rules, depending on the author" in mind. I hope to torment her about that later.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Angeline
I feel like this thread will need popcorn.
I'd like to think of it as a B-movie double feature. I guarantee I'll produce sonnet monsters that will seem like Godzilla emerging from the sea to trash Japan. So you'll need an astronomically oversized Coke to go with this. And extra butter, or whatever they call it.
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Old 02-19-2016, 10:59 PM   #7
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<takes my gold star and popcorn and slinks to the back row>
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Old 02-20-2016, 11:47 AM   #8
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Interesting subject especially as I have made my own form sonnet in these past few months called a 'Nota' (not a sonnet) I was tickled and pleased when A said she liked the one written for the valentines challenge

a sonnet should be 3 quatrains and a couplet with lines of equal syllable count
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Old 02-20-2016, 10:41 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Angeline View Post
A "sonnet" without any other descriptor is 14 lines that may rhyme or not and may be metered or not. It expresses a universal theme by beginning with a specific example and then branching into more metaphysical variations on it or explication of it. Sometimes though it just tells a story. That's just my opinion.

The Italian Sonnet or Elizabethan (or Shakespearian or Spenserian) variations have more specific requirements. IMO the modern sonnets can be just as rigorously constructed albeit with some pretty odd rules, depending on the author.

There's a good brief history of the sonnet here
I'd like to add one tidbit to Angeline's description (plus my ears were burning.) An important feature of the sonnet is what is called the "volta" or turn. It typically takes place at the transition between the first 8 lines (called the "octave") and the final six (the "sestet".) It has a function in terms of meaning; it is sometimes said that the first part of the sonnet poses a problem, and the second part offers a solution. That's probably an oversimplification -- I have seen many different kinds of voltas, but what they have in common is they smack you right in your cognition. In Italian sonnets, the rhyme scheme changes at the volta, to underscore the shift. In English sonnets, there is a concluding rhymed couplet, and there is usually a "punch line" in those final two lines, another variety of "volta."
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Old 02-20-2016, 11:17 PM   #10
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OK, summarizing some of the things people have said about the form, here are what I think of as some "requirements" for a classic sonnet (I am consciously ignoring Angie's comment about unrhymed sonnets or Harry's comment, though I will return to those issues later). A classic English language sonnet is, fundamentally,
  • A poem of fourteen lines.
  • A poem that is written in a regular meter, almost always in iambic pentameter.
  • A poem that has a particular rhyme scheme.
  • A poem in which the first part of the poem describes an issue or problem. Somewhere later in the poem, the focus turns to an answer or resolution to the issue. (In other words, there is a volta, or turn, in the poem.)
Can we all agree on those characteristics? Are there any other things that to you are characteristic of a classical sonnet?
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Old 02-20-2016, 11:47 PM   #11
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Old 02-22-2016, 07:46 PM   #12
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owwwww this sounds like a fun challenge in the making :P
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Old 02-22-2016, 07:55 PM   #13
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Quote:
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owwwww this sounds like a fun challenge in the making :P
Nah, this is educational and provocative skullduggery
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Old 02-23-2016, 06:51 AM   #14
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I try and I try, but I never can find her volta.







I feel a sonnet about Harry and Butters is in the making ............
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Old 02-24-2016, 09:02 AM   #15
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I try and I try, but I never can find her volta.







I feel a sonnet about Harry and Butters is in the making ............
Doesn't have to be too serious, please delete if not appropriate

Odor of June

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more wet and twice as annoying.
The trees that dripped their leaves in May
Speak now of June your perfume cloying.
The crashing thunder portrays your voice
Till birds shall drop from crumpled wings,
As your snores now make my heart rejoice
No more to hear those strident vocal rings.
What once I looked upon as sweet and coy
Your simpering coquettishness at every whim
Was not just only girlish, youthful play
I now perceive at last my god you're dim.
As long as you still take breath, alas
I must survive your chronic problem, gas.
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Old 03-09-2016, 07:11 PM   #16
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<scene from a balcony>

Tzara, Tzara wherefore art thou? I wouldst hear more of your sonnet ravings but--sniff, sniff--you've been gone a fortnight and...what? No I'm not crying: I have a cold and I want soup and sonnets!

Oh I do hope he's not out with that troublemaker Mercutio again!

*glides from balcony trailing robe and kleenex*

(How's that for an elaborate thread bump?)
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Old 03-09-2016, 08:28 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Angeline View Post
<scene from a balcony>

Tzara, Tzara wherefore art thou? I wouldst hear more of your sonnet ravings but--sniff, sniff--you've been gone a fortnight and...what? No I'm not crying: I have a cold and I want soup and sonnets!

Oh I do hope he's not out with that troublemaker Mercutio again!

*glides from balcony trailing robe and kleenex*

(How's that for an elaborate thread bump?)
..
Damn, looks like just you and I in here um, ahh, fair lady, and I want matzah with my soup
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Old 03-09-2016, 08:35 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryHill View Post
..
Damn, looks like just you and I in here um, ahh, fair lady, and I want matzah with my soup
I make a good matzoh ball. The secret is schmaltz. lol.
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Old 03-09-2016, 09:00 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Angeline View Post
I make a good matzoh ball. The secret is schmaltz. lol.
..
and you've got plenty of that!?
So, bored n don't know what to do?
write a nota sonnet?

CHALLENGE!
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Old 03-09-2016, 09:27 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryHill View Post
..
and you've got plenty of that!?
So, bored n don't know what to do?
write a nota sonnet?

CHALLENGE!
Ok, so I can be schmaltzy! But schmaltz is chicken fat. I render some from skin and put it in with the other ingredients. Just a little goes a long way.

How do I write a nota sonnet?
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Old 03-09-2016, 10:07 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Angeline View Post
<scene from a balcony>

Tzara, Tzara wherefore art thou? I wouldst hear more of your sonnet ravings but--sniff, sniff--you've been gone a fortnight and...what? No I'm not crying: I have a cold and I want soup and sonnets!

Oh I do hope he's not out with that troublemaker Mercutio again!

*glides from balcony trailing robe and kleenex*

(How's that for an elaborate thread bump?)
TZARA [Below, crouched under some brambles in the Garden of Pentameter.]
But soft! Some words, through browser's window spake!
They're from the East, where Angeline is the Dawn.
Arise, fair one and still the envious runes
Who blather harshly as a short-shorn sheep
Whose wool, fresh shaved, you gather into sheaves.
Be not dismayed that some are envious.
Their dismal library is but stiff, unsheened,
And none but trolls do read it, wracking coughs!
It is my lady's words launched from above;
Is she a sonneteer?
O, that I knew she were!
She speaks, but rhymes at nothing. What of that?
Perhaps she is a blank verse balladeer
Or else un ange écrivant triolets,
Or Poet Chick with hipster cred enough
To mimic Berrigan free-form at open mic.
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Old 03-09-2016, 10:34 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Angeline View Post
Ok, so I can be schmaltzy! But schmaltz is chicken fat. I render some from skin and put it in with the other ingredients. Just a little goes a long way.

How do I write a nota sonnet?
I know what smaltz is, not a totally ignorant gentile
nota is pretty simple still 3 quatrains and a couplet
only 9 syllables instead of the iamb pent

1 quatrain unrhymed, I use it to build a case, like the introductory paragraph in an essay, the rest is standard abab abab cc
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Old 03-09-2016, 10:38 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryHill View Post
I know what smaltz is, not a totally ignorant gentile
nota is pretty simple still 3 quatrains and a couplet
only 9 syllables instead of the iamb pent

1 quatrain unrhymed, I use it to build a case, like the introductory paragraph in an essay, the rest is standard abab abab cc
Lots of people don't know what it is!

That doesn't sound too bad--the nota. I may try one.
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Old 03-10-2016, 01:28 AM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tzara View Post
TZARA [Below, crouched under some brambles in the Garden of Pentameter.]
But soft! Some words, through browser's window spake!
They're from the East, where Angeline is the Dawn.
Arise, fair one and still the envious runes
Who blather harshly as a short-shorn sheep
Whose wool, fresh shaved, you gather into sheaves.
Be not dismayed that some are envious.
Their dismal library is but stiff, unsheened,
And none but trolls do read it, wracking coughs!
It is my lady's words launched from above;
Is she a sonneteer?
O, that I knew she were!
She speaks, but rhymes at nothing. What of that?
Perhaps she is a blank verse balladeer
Or else un ange écrivant triolets,
Or Poet Chick with hipster cred enough
To mimic Berrigan free-form at open mic.
Garsh. And me too sleepy and sneezy (yes that's two dwarfs) to do anything but swoon stupidly.

I'd like to be a better sonneteer. I'm just not sure what that means.
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Old 03-10-2016, 07:17 PM   #25
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OK, let me get back to the original topic of this thread--the sonnet. There are a lot of different kinds of sonnets, but perhaps the earliest form of sonnet to appear in English is the Italian sonnet. Here's an excellent description of the form, from Laurence Perrine:
The Italian or Petrachan sonnet (so called because the Italian poet Petrach practiced it so extensively) is divided usually between eight lines called the octave, using two rhymes arranged abbaabba, and six lines called the sestet, using any arrangement of either two or three rhymes: cdcdcd and cdecde are common patterns. Usually in the Italian sonnet, corresponding to the division between octave and sestet indicated by the rhyme scheme (and sometimes marked off in printing by a space), there is a division of thought. The octave presents a situation and the sestet a comment, or the octave an idea and the sestet an example, or the octave a question and the sestet an answer.
In addition, as Perrine mentions earlier in his discussion of form, the Italian sonnet, like English language sonnets in general, is written in iambic pentameter.

Here's a famous example of an Italian sonnet, by John Keats:
On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Fourteen lines, check. Iambic pentameter, check. Rhyme pattern for the octave (abbaabba), check. Rhyme pattern for the sestet (cdcdcd), check. Turn in the discussion in the transition from octave to sestet (the octave speaks of the poet's experience with poems but that he has not really appreciated Homer until he read Chapman's translation, the sestet changes the discussion to how vivid Homer has become to the narrator in reading this translation--note the word "then" starting line nine), check.

This is about as perfect an example of the Italian sonnet form as one might find. The rhymes are true ("been" being pronounced like "bean" rather then the American "ben"), the meter not completely true (AH and I scanned the poem, slightly differently, in his scansion thread), but clearly iambic pentameter.

Not all Italian sonnets are so close to the basic form. It's quite common, for example, for the sestet to change the rhyme pattern around (cdcede, for example, though that still fits with Perrine's description. Nor is it particularly unusual for the rhyme pattern of the octave to change a bit. William Butler Yeat's "Leda and the Swan," for example, is basically an Italian sonnet in which the octave is structured like the first two quatrains of an English sonnet:
Leda and the Swan

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
...............................Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
The octave here resembles the start of an English sonnet--two quatrains rhymed abab cdcd, but the sestet is a standard Italian sonnet sestet, rhymed cdecde (the third line of the sestet is broken with the indent, but should be thought of as a single line). The turn occurs at the start of the sestet, where the swan ejaculates, which leads inevitably to the fall of Troy (Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra are Leda's children).

The Italian sonnet is generally considered to be somewhat more difficult than the English sonnet because there are fewer distinct rhymes (you need four "a" rhymes and four "b" rhymes for the classic octave) and English is considered a "rhyme-poor" language compared to something like Italian.
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