and if you don’t know, now you know

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Spent the weekend catching up on the sonnet for a couple of reasons but mostly because I enjoy the form and want to write more of them.

So what was I reading? Glad you asked! Here goes:

• The Sonnet: A Comprehensive Anthology of British and American Sonnets from the Renaissance to the Present, Edited by Robert M. Bender and Charles L. Squier
I picked this up years ago at Stand for like two bucks and I keep coming back to it when I need a good sonnet pick up. I have yet to read the whole thing since Ole Englishe gives me a headache but I do appreciate how the editors dug deep into British history. And what a bunch of haters those Brits were. A couple of the sonnets I read feel like the illegitimate love child of “pistols at dawn” and a “front stoop snaps session.”

But the sonnet that truly befuddled me was John Frederick Nims’ “Agamemnon Before Troy.” Part Homer, part Pecos Bill, part Spencer, and all good literary fun.

• Sonnets to Madness and Other Misfortunes by Francisco X. Alarcon with English translations by Francisco Aragón
A good read with the section that looks at language and word as my favorite part. Alarcon’s work cuts right to the point but does so with a slow blade as opposed to a quick thrust which does justice to the sonnet form.

• Song of the Simple Truth The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos by Julia de Burgos, Introduction and translations by Jack Agüeros
I’ve been making my way through this dense volume but by bit but skipped through to check out some of DeBurgos’ forays into sonnet. The two sonnets I came across are political odes to Jose Martí and Perdo Albizu Campos which push the sonnet as not just personal plea but as a voice in the arena of human awareness and rights.

• Sonnets from the Puerto Rican by Jack Agüeros
My favorite book of sonnets as Jack adds a Nuyorican flair to the form. You’ll find it all in here: love sonnets, persona sonnets, political sonnets, spanish sonnets, even sonnets with double the lines. You will also find a poet in full command of his language anchoring his sonnets in personal place and individual tradition.

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  1. I used to write sonnets. I liked the Spenserian style, with the inoenltckirg rhymes: ABAB BCBC CDCD EE. The thing I liked about it was that I never knew where I was going to end up with it. I’m not a particularly good rhymer, so I’d find I was always steered by the form into expressing my thoughts completely differently than I would have done in prose and often found that the poem got across what I was thinking better than the words I would have chosen. That probably holds far less novelty for you than it did for me as a prose-besotted teenager with no real interest in poetry, but it was a real revelation for me. It helped me understand why strict rhyme and meter and even gimmicks like writing a novel without using the letter E are actually useful tools for the writer, not just parlor tricks. I think my dabbling in sonnetry really helped me tame my prose as I was learning.

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