Saturday, June 01, 2019

Hmm …

… Terrance Hayes transforms the sonnet into something new. (Hat tips, Rus Bowden and Dave Lull.)

American Sonnets is something bigger than that. Usually in a collection of sonnets each will have a different title, or (as in Shakespeare) no title at all. Instead, each poem here has, over and over, the same title: “American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin.” Hayes’ 14-line projects react to the poet’s own frustration with his fame (which eats up his time with worthy obligations, isolates him, and cannot give him peace), as well as reacting fiercely to America under Trump. Hayes’ new sonnets also replace conventional rhyme schemes with much denser sonic arrangements, often untethered to line ends. 
The sonnet has been done in fresh ways by others, notably Gerard Manly Hopkins, but is usually allowed to retain its signature characteristics. If I write a 19-line poem that consists of five three-line stanzas and a concluding four-line stanza, but lacks any lines repeating in a certain familiar pattern I may not want to call it a villanelle. I could just leave it to somebody else to note a certain similarity. As for frustration with fame, you can just keep to yourself. And to turn poems into op-eds is usually an abuse of poetry. What gives a poet any special authority to opine on politics? No poem written in this country is going to land you in jail or win you a trip to the gallows — though it may win you some notoriety. But be careful of that — it’s a lot like fame. And, by the way, I rather like that anecdote about Orpheus. The business about sonnets is a needless distraction.

Here’s another take on this piece: The Racist Trope of Stephanie Burt. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

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