Monday, April 21, 2008

A hundred sonnets, or more

The Exile's Papers: the duplicity of autobiography, Part One / Wayne Clifford
Erin, ON : Porcupine's Quill, c2007.

This is the first volume in a projected 4 volume set of sonnets -- yes, that's right, four volumes of them. Wayne Clifford has been writing sonnets for the past 25 years and has begun gathering them up to produce these volumes. His sonnets adapt the form, using vernacular and modern rhythms; some are very successful and some are not so much to my taste. But the effort is truly inspiring. Here's what he has to say about the sonnet form itself:

Since the sonnet was first defined into English by another, more convincing lord -- Surrey -- about 500 years ago, it has acquired turns and springings and enough washings, foldings, stretchings, twistings and shrinkings to have its sizing leak out to the chaos that reclaims us all. As a hairshirt, it's become as pliant as any vestment for covering an ass in a day busy about money- earning, kid-care, mate-talk, and household chores. Books are again being written about the sonnet, its strategies explained by degreed, tenured and funded experts. Anthologies of its examples are being compiled. Young writers are unafraid to use it. And, because, as form-muse for the responsive craftsman, the sonnet demands clean lines to the thinking it takes in, convincing volume for the feeling it embraces, purity of each whole-at-once `Wow!' that intuition pulls from its commodious sleeve, the making of a sonnet honours a long, an historical, conversation held wherever fine English is spoken.

That's his erudite opinion of sonnets, and he's certainly written enough to have worked out his thoughts on them. I've made varied approaches to poetry over the years, and the one or two sonnets I attempted were painful -- and unfinished. The poetry I wrote in high school (which I recently rediscovered in an old notebook) is so hideously typical of a 16 yr. old misfit, it makes me cringe but also laugh a bit. Still, no-one can make me share it; I don't want to scare away every reader... If you're interested in reading even more about GOOD Canadian poetry (not mine), try the Northern Poetry Review, which I've discovered just lately, for poems, reviews and interviews.

But speaking of good poetry, back to Wayne Clifford, who is collecting up sonnets written over the length of his career; and sonnets are the subject here, after all! I'll share one which is slightly self-reflexive:

The Reader, of Course, Makes the Poem

If, unlike yours, her limitations mean
she can't step thru the looking-glass of page,
so, lacking depth, her lucky guess must gauge
what part of her your reading makes out seen
enough to trick your trust that no obscene
Utmost writes you for amusement, your cage
invokes, like hers, such hopes you're forced to wage
against your mortal lamentations keen

With what conviction can your walk-on lines
declaim against the orbits of the sun
when what you speak must die out from those minds
whose breaths will call yours leaking gases,gone.

You're one among those clever apes she's heard
trying to coax some meaning from the word

~Wayne Clifford

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