Auld Lang Syne

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sonnet Part 2

Now I have cooled off a bit from May 22 post when I began a bit of a rant against poets who are tied absolutely and resolutely to the five beat line in sonnets. I've had time to regain a sense of calm. In that time however I did a bit of research into the four beat line, the world of iambic tetrametry, so to speak. I wracked my brain for the sonnet I learned in 6th grade because I THOUGHT it might not have been iambic pentameter. AHA! Today I located it by searching all of Shakespeare's sonnets for the one line I readily recalled: Those lips the Love's own hand did make. Sonnet CXLV! I was very pleased to see this sonnet again.

A quick scansion of the poem confirmed my recall. Iambic TETRAMETER with some trochaic substitutions and an anapest in the line just before the couplet. Whew. Not crazy (not provably crazy anyway). Reading this sonnet again after many years was a pleasurable thing this afternoon. And it is fine indeed to have my thinking about tetrameter upheld at the highest level.

So what to do now about those who would eschew tetrameter? Well, to start with I must promote this meter whenever possible. Keep writing in this most natural of meters. Involve poet friends in use of this metric stance.
And do NOT enter sonnet contests where there is no clear acceptance of the four beat line! Ta Da! Vindication AND a plan!


I had a chat today via email with a former professor and friend on the issue of historical and cultural references, specifically the inability of some contemporary editors or contest judges to recognize them. He stated that his recently published sestina was questioned by the editor who mentioned having to look up things in the poem that related to baseball and WWII. Makes me wonder about the education of this editor in the area of history and popular culture (beyond Facebook and other social networks).  There is a trend that seems to be viral in some readers of poetry: lack of ability to make referential leaps to make meaning. And just as it is a preferred stance for readers to look up words they do not know, why not look up references they do not know? What's wrong with that? It is easy to do and fast in the computer age, the age of Google. But really, who does not know about World War I or II? Who does not know where these wars took place and what the phraseology of these wars was? Who has not at least heard the terms of baseball? Will we as a people be satisfied to only understand terms that apply to warfare of our own age? And even if we do not play and enjoy particular sports, are we not obligated as writers to be aware of its certain and particular phraseology? Gone are the days when reading and knowing OUTSIDE our comfort zones was a given if we were to be teachers and/or writers. But I still admit surprise when I hear stories of this kind. I am discouraged and deflated by such narrow enterprise.

There may be something more pervasive at work here, however. I worry that in this age of teaching to testing, some students may graduate from high schools and colleges without a broad enough knowledge of the world to actually thrive intellectually IN it. In other words they might not know that they don't know. And do they then reject out of hand anything that points out their lack of knowledge? I saw this in many of my students. It is worrying to say the least.

When I was still teaching in the college classroom, I used a supplemental text to help students "catch up" with what they ought to know about reading in order to understand the way professors want them to read. I am of a mind that every high school student  should be given this book upon entering 9th grade and use it through college: How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. The book is a lively read and very helpful for the student who wants to not only know "facts" but how to connect the dots and understand literary and cultural references made in what they read. It is a code-cracking wonder of a book.  There are references made to many and varied pieces of literature, and I believe if a reader would simply list all of them and READ all of them, we'd not have such a divide between reading and education.

Now THAT is something to chew upon, reader, something very healthy for your mind to chew upon indeed!

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