On writing sonnets

I like the sonnet form.

I like writing sonnets, and wrote several on the subject of writing verse that rhymes.
These are on the page Poetry should rhyme!

My first sonnet here was a response on 1st October 2011 to a set of verses from my friend W. David Zitzkat, a classical scholar and lawyer in Connecticut, after a discussion about rap and the vernacular of the city streets, of which the closing quatrain went:

We ain’t Jane Austins here in the ghettos,
An Shakespeare, him went out with stilettos;
So git real my man, and go follow yo muse,
But do it wit’ joints, ’n’ maybe some booze.

You’re absolutely right; I just don’t have
The “black” street culture thing a rapper needs
Because he looks, and hears, but never reads
From books of poetry; for, like a chav,
His literary leanings are just av-
erage* — he thrives not on words but on deeds,
But cares not: you can’t say that his heart bleeds,
Though he’s lost like a twit without sat-nav.
I, on the other hand, prefer to write
A sonnet, that far more distinguished norm
Belov’d of Petrarch, Shakespeare, Milton, Keats,
And even William Wordsworth, who wrote sheets
Full of iambic pentametric form.
Could this improve on his? I think it might.**

* Do you think that it’s wrong to end a line
Like that one, in the middle of a word?
That this makes any prosody absurd,
Or that critics of poetry would whine
That this was wrong, like apples on a vine
Or grapes upon an apple tree? Preferred —
Conventional — line endings have occurred
So much that they are trite. I prefer mine!
** You’ll notice in that first stanza’s sestet
That I have used a far less usual scheme
Of rhymes: C-D-E E-D-C in fact,
Whereas the patterns most of us have met
Have been perhaps thrice C-D; but I deem
That boring now, so don’t just think; I act!

While on the rather academic theme
(Perhaps quite rarely thought of nowadays),
Of what can be a sonnet rhyming scheme,
I think it right sometimes to fix our gaze
On this. Just look at William Shakespeare’s style
Which differed from the rhyme scheme of Petrarch.
Our bard’s octet would use four endings, while
The Italian poets’ pattern was more stark.
Petrarch and his admirers all made do
With A-B-A-B twice for the octet;
Our bard’s sestet began with that same brew
Using six rhymes in those twelve lines. We get,
Just at the end, the last two lines which form
A seventh rhyme, the rhyming couplet norm.

So, I like writing sonnets — just for fun.
Whether they’ve any merit I can’t say.
Perhaps Petrarchan sonnets’ve had their day,
But I will always like composing one.
In my twenties, I’d lie out in the sun,
To get an all-over sun tan, all day;
Maybe sometimes, while on the beach I lay
I’d try to find a punch line with a pun
To round off a new joke I’d like to tell,
Which might seem an amusing thing to do;
But only if you have a stand-up act.
Although I’ve performed calembours quite well,
I’ve only ever needed one or two
As Emcee in a theatre that was packed.

The reason my performances were rare?
To be a stage performer all takes time!
The challenge of show business is the climb
From starting in a walk-on bit part where
Your main pre-occupation is your hair,
Make-up, and costume, and perhaps the mime —
If you’ve some silent gestures, though sublime —
To starring in some play or show: that rare
Occasion where you play the title role.
And yet that’s how my stage career began!
In one way, I was quite a lucky fellow,
Although I never had that as my goal.
Just making friends with neighbours was my plan,
But quite soon I was starring as Othello.

I’d lived for years in Germany and France
Then moved to England, bought my present house,
And settled in, as quiet as a mouse,
Working in a small company, by chance,
In Haslemere. So (as usual) to enhance
My lifestyle and some interest to arouse
I had the village magazine to browse
But found there was no monthly village dance.
I never did like drinking wine, or beer,
Or sport like football, unlike many men;
So there was no point going down the pub.
So I never met anybody here
In Headley village, till I looked again
And saw there is a village theatre club.

Note the Petrarchan rhyme scheme in three preceding stanzas (added 28 October 2017).

© 2011-2017 Ian P. Hudson
Headley, Hampshire