Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

An explosion in the mind

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We are warned that to write a poem in the pattern, say, of a Shakespearean sonnet is to force words into a chain gang against their will. A true poem (so goes the theory) has to be written in organic form, discovering its individual nature as it goes along. Such a discovery, we are told, can’t ever be made by the writer of a sonnet. Such dogmas rest upon a couple of unexamined assumptions. One is the assumption that a sonnet is nothing but a hollow box to be stuffed full of verbiage. Another is the assumption that a sonnet can’t possibly begin unknown to itself, that it can’t possibly discover its proper organic form while (and only while) its poet is writing it. But many a poet has discovered that he didn’t plan to write a sonnet when he started out. To his surprise, he finds the thing turning out in fourteen lines, as it naturally hankers to be. Oh, no doubt the poet has read a bale of other people’s sonnets in his time, and once he gets writing along and finds the first eight lines gravitating into an octave, he can’t help remembering them. Is that bad? But a good sonnet, far from being a vacuum to be filled, dutifully and mechanically and joylessly, is (if it is worth anything) a sonnet-sized explosion in the mind.

X.J. Kennedy, “Fenced-In Fields”

Written by nevalalee

August 12, 2018 at 7:30 am

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