A Writer’s Notebook: sonnet

Good grief, was it really March when I last posted one of these? I have REALLY let myself go! (Someday I’ll fill you in on my week-long Oreo binge.) In my defense, I was dealing with a dying cat (she’s feeling better now, by the way), a healthy dose of fiction rejection, and, well, that’s it. The rest are just excuses. Even the rejection thing is just an excuse.

Shame on me.

But whatever. I know there are a lot of people who throw out that good advice that we writers should NEVER give up, but you know what? Sometimes it’s okay to give up. Sometimes it’s necessary. Step away, give yourself some space. The trick isn’t to never give up; the trick is to always come back.

And baby, I’m back!

How long have I been in Oregon’s thrall?
My sole remembering on faded slides
projected hot and white on Mother’s walls.
So long for dreams and home to coincide.
The tales of mountain snow so thick I sank
chin-deep, photos of me on Dad’s shoulders,
my Papa’s serene gaze by riverbanks
while my young uncle climbed nearby boulders:
All this I’ve seen both first- and second-hand,
all my memories invented, unproved
save those slides, those stories. I always planned
to return to Oregon, my first love,
not to recall nor to replace those days
but to begin anew and re-amaze.

Yes, I suck at poetry. I love reading it, and I enjoy writing it. But man, am I awful.

But hey, this is just a rough draft. (How much do I suck? This is actually a second draft.)

Besides, I only wrote this because that’s how I teach: by example. See, I’m tutoring a nine-year-old girl in English and writing, and her mom really wants us to explore her creative side. She’s not a big writer, but she’s a musician and so she loves poetry. That’s why I’m using the rough outline of Kenneth Koch’s very cool book Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?: Teaching Great Poetry to Children. Koch doesn’t get into sonnets, but he does mention Shakespeare, and my tutee likes song structure so much I thought I’d go for it.

She loves this assignment. It’s challenging, but good lord is this kid whip-smart (her analysis of Blake’s “The Tyger” would put some of my college students to shame! No lie!), and she’s doing really, really well with it. (Her mom is writing a sonnet, too, and doing just as well!)

As her tutor, I thought it was important to play along, so I did the assignment with her. I wrote the first draft of the sonnet on the train one day, but I hated the first stanza and the last lines, so I redid it this way to share with her earlier this week. I didn’t realize until this morning, though, that today is actually the one-year anniversary of me arriving in Portland, this home I love so much (I promise my wife that Portland, OR is the only extra-marital love affair I’ll ever have; she says that’s okay, because she loves Portland, too).

Next week, we’re writing haiku! So stay tuned. 🙂

PS: You ever hear of a series of sonnets? It’s called a Heroic Crown: a series of fifteen connected sonnets where a line from one sonnet gets repeated in the next, and so on, until the last sonnet uses one line from all the fourteen sonnets that precede it. It’s extraordinarily hard to pull off without sounding like a pretentious idiot, but it can be done. The best example of it I’ve seen maybe ever is Ryan Werner‘s beautiful, brave, triumphant “Oh Lie, I Thought You Were Golden: Courting Neko Case.” Seriously, go read it. It’s mind-blowingly good.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

6 thoughts on “A Writer’s Notebook: sonnet

      1. Unfortunately the deadline for submissions to the anthology is long past. It’s quite a ‘magnum opus’ and an international effort. The Editor-in-Chief is in Canada, for example.

        The anthology, ‘The Phoenix Rising from its Ashes’, is a collection of poems by modern writers in sonnet form. It has grown and grown, and it now looks as though there will be two volumes. The first volume will contain sonnets in English and we hope to have it published by the end of the year. The second volume it will contain sonnets in other languages, and should be published in 2013.

        The whole project is, in a way, the last hurrah of the magazine ‘Sonnetto Poesia’, of which I have been assistant editor for the last few years. The magazine recently closed down.

        I used to write sonnets regularly. In fact I used to dream in iambic pentameter I was that obsessed. I even wrote a sonnet in memory of Charles Bukowski, because I reckoned he would have scowled and complained but would have been secretly pleased.

        Anyhow, this guy I should talk to – maybe I should talk to him anyway?


      2. It’s Ryan Werner, from the PS in my post. Seriously, that heroic crown of his blows my freaking socks off, and I just found out today he’s written another one. Apparently, he keeps his hand in. When this post turned up on Facebook, he was the first to comment, writing, “Yay! Sonnets!” Some people just get the form. You’re obviously one of them. I think Ryan is another.

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