October 26th, 2007


Poetry Friday -- A Crown of Sonnets

Way back in the day, I was lucky enough to be member of an amazingly talented, prolific and supportive poetry group. We met weekly to exchange work for a good long time, and then monthly for even longer. I finally emigrated to children's writing circles, but The Brass Tacks stayed together. Every so often I bump into one or another of these old friends and, inevitably, get a little nostalgic for the times I spent writing poetry. I mean, poetry for the more mature audience.

Well, now my nostalgia's gotten me into something deep. I've accepted an invitation by the Tacks to contribute to the Crown of Sonnets they've been working on. A Crown of Sonnets is 7 complete sonnets strung together -- thematically and through the repetition of certain lines. (Each sonnet begins with the last line of the preceding sonnet.) 

I've agreed to do the final sonnet, which means I begin with the last line of the preceding sonnet and I close with the very first line of the very first sonnet. And by the way, the other sonnets are... well... very good. I feel like I may need to be hypnotized to access this part of me. Presuming it's in there.

So, apparently there's such thing as A Heroic Crown of Sonnets, too. That's 15 linked sonnets, which admittedly does sound tough, but I have a feeling I'm gonna feel heroic even if I pull off the garden variety Crown.

But in studying up on this form, I've discovered -- believe it or not -- a children's book written as a Heroic Crown. I remember hearing a lot about A Wreath for Emmett Till a couple of years back, but the Crown Sonnet wasn't on my radar then. Now it is, and Marilyn Nelson's poem is masterful. And sad. And full of love.

Here's a short excerpt from the fourth stanza:

From A Wreath for Emmett Till

Emmett Till's name still catches in my throat,
like syllables waylaid in a stutterer's mouth.
A fourteen-year-old stutterer, in the South
to visit relatives and to be taught
the family's ways. His mother had finally bought
that White Sox cap; she'd made him swear an oath
to be careful around white folks. She'd told him the truth...

What I'd love for you to do is go to this NPR page and click on the Listen button. Marilyn Nelson reads the poem in whole. It's heroic, all right. And I'm humbled.