April 10th, 2008


Poetry Friday -- A Crown of Sonnets

 Last November, I got this crazy notion to kick-start a collaborative poetry project.


And let’s make it, ummm, formal poetry. 
Sonnets, let’s say.


And the collaborators should be, oh, I don’t know, how about a bunch of writers, most of whom have never met except online. And they won’t meet during the project and many may never meet after. And let’s make sure they represent lots of different careers and ages and regions and perspectives.


Yes! That sounds torturous enough in terms of both effort and concept to ensure failure. 
I’ll get to pat myself on the back for having a noble idea and then I’ll leave it at that.


Except for the fact that it wasn’t. A failure, I mean.

Because the writers said yes. I’m not kidding you.


Well, what they really said was:


“Yes. I feel slightly crazy for saying that, but yes.” – Sara Lewis Holmes

“I'm in.” – Kelly Fineman

“Eek! I’m flattered and mildly terrified. I’ll definitely give it a shot…” Tadmack

“I would (deep breath here) love to try, though I must admit I’ve never written a sonnet.” – Tricia Stohr-Hunt

Oh my lord I am shaking in my boots!! This terrifies me but there is no way I can say no.” – Cloudscome

I'm honored (though a little intimidated). That does sound like a grand adventure.” – Laura Purdie Salas


OK. So.
What was I thinking???

12 hours after I sent the invitation we were working out the details of our Crown of Sonnets. 
I'd participated in one recently (which is partly what inspired this cockeyed idea) so I understood the basic rules:


“A Crown Sonnet is a string of seven interconnected sonnets. Each sonnet after the first one will use the last line from the preceding sonnet as its first line. The final sonnet (#7) uses the last line of sonnet six as its first line AND the first line of the very first sonnet as its last line. The perfect book-end."


(Or at least that's the best I could make of them. Kelly Fineman understands a whole heck of a lot more than that, so you should go see her promptly if you need further elucidation.)


What I also understood is that we’d need time for terror and denial during the creative process. 
We picked names, discussed theme and audience, scheduled some good space for terror and denial...
And then we wrote.

We wrote about teens for a teen audience.

We wrote about tribe and identity and separation and connection and prom and fights and failure and freedom.

We started to call ourselves the Poetry Princesses. 
(Because, honestly, this was hard and we needed a little something to get by on.)


And did I mention the terror and denial?

Each time one of us burst forth with our piece, the others swooned and then panicked that they were next.


But suddenly, about a month ago, we were done. All of us.

Seven sonnets, written in rhyme and iambic pentameter, somewhat thematically connected and, um, done.


(Except that we weren’t because we had to dump them into a Google doc and futz around for a few more weeks -- terror and denial -- until we got to where we are today. Which is, dare I say it, done. Finished. Ready. Complete.)


So now, I have the thrill of unveiling Cutting a Swath: A Crown of Sonnets by some of the finest poets I’ve ever had the honor to work with or read. It has been a smart, inspiring and supportive joy working with these six women, and you know that part about how we barely knew each other? Strike that. It’s amazing the intimacy of working collaboratively on something as nebulous but important to all of us as poetry. 

I am awfully glad I asked ya’ll… and hugely grateful you said yes.


And now without further ado…



Cutting a Swath

Sara Lewis Holmes, Laura Purdie Salas, Tricia Stohr-Hunt, Liz Garton Scanlon, Tanita S. Davis, Andromeda Jazmon and Kelly Fineman



As shoes untied, you drag frayed words in trail
Behind your name; unlooped, they flop up steps
And trip your stride, and blacken blue the depths  
Of day; from light to dark, from deep to pale,
Undone, you fall; unknown, you pass or fail.
In halls, you thread the holes between your debts
Unpaid, and those who shove your name in reps
Against the rails of crowded stairs. Inhale
The stench! Keep true your shoes! The ups and downs
Will yield a path to out beyond, to where
The mirror turns, and those who hid their marks
And stumbled most will dress and march in gowns
On paths unfound, on tracks, unnamed, a pair
Of laces, ends unbound, leaps free as sparks.



As lacy skirts, unbound, leap free and spark,

the prom girls surge in silk through streamered space.

They orbit round in endless tethered chase

and ride the DJ’s pounding sound through dark

around a nova. Can you see the mark

she brands on planets trapped in her embrace?

There’s just one sun. You risk her hot disgrace

unless you dance in place along her arc.

I can’t revolve and spin in cosmic time.

I won’t resolve to tread another’s trail.

I’m blasting free, eclipsing all my past.

I’m leaving stars and velvet queens behind.

I’ve torn away my atmospheric veil

to fly through life’s grand chaos, bright and vast.



Flying through life's grand chaos, bright and vast,
the tide of days leads down a path unknown.
I know not who I'll be when I am grown,
but want to live a life that's unsurpassed.
I wish to speak in words both true and fast
(when sideways glances make me feel alone
or handsome smiles imply I've won the throne),
while keeping every secret to the last.
But I commit my heart with pen to page,
my feet to races not yet known or run,
my life to every opportunity.
These dreams I hold are bound to come of age,
cannot be stopped and will not be undone,
because they live and breathe to be set free.



Because I live and breathe, to be set free

from each presumption of my proven name,

released from excellence and bland acclaim,

is neither choice nor possibility.                                     

Embracing expectations hungrily,

I place each gaping hour in a frame

and persevere beyond the reach of shame

within this endless valedictory. 

But quantitative claims define one bit 

of me. Much deeper, stretching ‘gainst my skin 

with all the effort of the waxing moon,

the greater self to whom I must commit. 

It’s time for me to feed what’s been starved thin –  

my name will be too small to hold me soon.



My name will be too small to hold me soon.

Unnamed, traversing now this darkling plane

called school. Fey, fickle, Royalty arcane,

Bequeathed with charm and crowned with mystic runes,


Their sorcerous hold upon the madding crowd

Points social scepter, friend or foe to choose.

Those Named hold sway: I do hereby refuse

To be so owned; stand rowan-straight, unbowed.


Swift, fleeting, “Shadow” is my sobriquet.

Invisible. To none allegiance owed,

My scholarship I practice, moments seize.


Small magics my cold iron will displays,

Four years I serve. I pace this treacherous road,

My eyes, now disenchanted, my soul free.



My eyes now disenchanted; my soul frees
one stifled cry – then peace behind the door.     
My room, my sacred space above the floor             
is all that shields me from their strident pleas.    
They've chosen out the path of life for me; 
their scholarship a prize I would ignore.
I spurn the grind of their required score.              
I cut them off. I beg them. Let me be!                
I mark the time and hide myself away,
no greater plan than lay about and dream    
within the walls that guard my fractious will.                     
My music pounds. The restless shadows play.              
Light curls across a ceiling cracked and mean.      
My window opens past a well-scarred sill. 



Through open window, past a well-scarred sill,
on gritty shingles sheltered under eaves,
I take in cool night air; my anger leaves
with every ragged breath that I exhale.
Your words, a thousand stinging papercuts,
lose power underneath the watching stars.
I see your reigning planet, red-light Mars,
horizon-bound and fixed. Your self-made ruts
preclude adventure or a change of course.
Is this the future that you want for me?
A mediocre life filled with travail,
a boxed-in life of sameness and remorse?        
I choose to free myself of your debris:
I’m not afraid to leave you in my trail.




Sonnets were written by the poets listed under the title, in that order. (Sara's is 1st, for example, and mine is 4th).

Most poets posted their own sonnet at their blog today, along with some complementary material.

More specifically:
Sara shares the utter joy of poetry peer pressure
Laura reveals the process behind her product

Tricia reveals the process behind hers
TadMack takes us through the themes
Cloudscome (aka Andromeda Jazmon) hosts Poetry Friday today and rounds up the whole bunch of us 
Kelly shares her brilliant academic knowledge of the form 

Thanks for joining us! Enjoy!!