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Poetry Friday -- The Seventh Sonnet
Ferry Wake
Remember a month or so ago when I talked about A Crown of Sonnets

For those of you who don't, a Crown of Sonnets is a series of seven complete sonnets, linked thematically and through the repetition of certain lines. 

That's 98 lines of poetry for you math majors... in rhyme... and iambic pentameter. 

It's like an extreme sport -- snowboarding in the half-pipe when everyone else is cross-country skiing.

Anyway, because I have this diagnosable condition called "flattered to be asked," I agreed to write the seventh of seven sonnets in a beautiful crown some poet-friends of mine were putting together. 

All well and good until they gave me the first six and I had to start. 


Sonnets are hard to write. But also sort of puzzley fun, and since I don't play Suduko I thought this exercise might keep my mind nimble. Plus, it just so happens that this past week was the one week in the entire semester that I require my students to write a poem in form. They went off with the look of startled bush babies in their eyes, terrified to face the rigors of sonnet or sestina, vilanelle or pantoum. And I went skulking toward my own. Is that poetic justice, or what?

The upshot is, I did it. And I thought I'd share it with you. I don't have permission to share the previous 92 lines but suffice it to say that they were about water and butterfly migration and luck and risk and hope and jazz and Amelia Earhart, and they were really, really good. 

Here's my contribution. And may I suggest giving this a whirl? Maybe not even a whole crown. Just a plain old garden variety sonnet. They are fun. And pretty...


Your last indigenous gods will gather,                                         

burning wood and salt-weed in your name.                     

The rite of rising water’s just a game                             

you make a habit of; today’s another                             

chance for us to wax and reach together –                                                                     

the tide goes out and now the chances wane.                 

Oh, sirens on the half shell, who’s to blame                    

for hopes that dash against the rocks or rather                

crack the husks that we have all outgrown?                   

What if it’s luck that pulled us up from crawling,             

luck like treasure pulled us from the seas?                                  

You say that you’d be different if you’d known              

fortune falters (just like darkness falling) –                     

sometimes you feel it lapping round your knees.  


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Liz, this is completely gorgeous and it gives me shivers every time I read it. I'm sure it's even more magnificent joined with the rest of the crown, but truly, it can stand alone beautifully. Aren't you glad you said yes, yes, yes?

Yes, I'm glad.
Yes is so often the right answer when things feel risky or hard...
You are too kind, Sara. I don't know that it's all that. But I'm absolutely satisfied that I did it, even if it doesn't win an Olympic gold medal or anything...

Liz. This is incredible. I can't wait to read the whole thing.

Thank you, Vivian. I hope I'll get to share the whole thing someday...

That is very evocative and thought-provoking and lovely. As a pesky poet, I have questions:

Was the particular rhyme scheme (abba abba cde cde) prescribed, or were you allowed to choose from among the options? Because that can be one of the trickiest things, picking a scheme, and I'm not sure which I'd prefer - having it prescribed for me, or having to pick. That which limits us also frees us in form poetry, after all. (And yeah, I just made that up, but I believe it with all my heart.)

Hello, pesky. :)
(Isn't pesky kind of inherant in being a poet, because you just have to pick-pick-pick at all the threads and letters??)
So. The rhyme scheme was prescribed (Italian sonnet) and I think that helped me. Honestly, while I do mean it that it was "hard", there were also parts that wrote themself -- because of the form. THAT freed me, absolutely...

Ah, but Italian isn't much of a prescription. Some go ABBA ABBA CDE CDE; some ABBA CDDC EFG EFG; or the last six lines can scramble about in a number of other ways as well (EFEFGG, EEFFGG, EFFEGG, etc.)

So you still had choices, no, or was the precise Italianate form made requisite?

(Told you I was pesky!!)

You are so good, kelly. I wish you lived in Austin -- I would have you come talk to my students about form. Truly. I guess the answer is that the precise form was made requisite but some people responded more loosely than others. How fun would it be to get a bunch of us bloggers to write a crown together?????? Wanna?

If you organize it, I will participate. That's about as much as I can commit to just now!

somewhere, wood and salt-weed are burning in your name. liz, thanks for sharing this treasure. (lucky us.)

Lucky me, too, to have all you sweet and flattering folk. Otherwise I'd be hiding under a rock right about now...

in awe

This is really amazing, Liz. I LOVE it. And thanks for the comment on my blog. It made me laugh. xo April

Just beautiful, Liz. (thunderous applause)

cloudscome says:

This is really lovely. I like these lines the best.

"The rite of rising water’s just a game
you make a habit of; today’s another
chance for us to wax and reach together – "

I am so glad you said yes and had the will and courage to follow through! What a great teacher you are to put yourself on the rocks with your students.

Thank you. It's funny, I read those lines now and I think that the form sort of wrote them because I don't really remember doing it...
By the way, love your "on the rocks" metaphor. sooooo appropriate!

TadMack says:

WOW. I have loved the crown of sonnets idea, and did seven -- just to try -- and I know the work that goes into the final one. What a neat thing. This is gorgeous.

TadMack -- You wrote all SEVEN?!!?!??!
I am bowing down and down and down. Seven times....

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