Working with radical affirmation as a grounding practice in my writing, I’ve been experimenting with sonnets this week.
There’s a lot you can do with a sonnet. Traditionally the form of poetry dedicated to love and devotion – fourteen-lines, iambic pentameter & a set rhyme scheme (usually either Shakespearean or Petrarchan) – the form has been innovated time and again. Contemporary poetry, where it does engage with the sonnet, often stretches that innovation beyond the recognisable form. See for example The Reality Street Book of Sonnets, edited by Jeff Hilson.
Laynie Browne’s Daily Sonnets writes through the dailiness of contemporary living, employing the brevity of the sonnet form to make space for a daily writing practice within the busy constraints of motherhood and professional life. In this PoemTalk discussion, Sueyeun Juliette Lee observes that Browne’s sonnets explore ‘the livingness of poetry … How the creative use of language can be a praxis in your daily life‘. Jessica Lowenthal argues that Browne’s sonnets demonstrate ‘livingness enacted through a form – the form of the sonnet allows dailiness to interact with historical form’.
Browne’s Sonnet 128 (below) is made perhaps entirely of quotations from her children’s daily speech. Whilst it retains the fourteen line structure, it makes no concessions to traditional meter or rhyme schemes – emphasising the brevity of the form as a quotidian practice.
Other of Browne’s sonnets are fewer than than the standard fourteen lines – partly because ‘it’s all she has time for’, as Lee Ann Brown remarks. Sueyeun Juliette Lee argues that this is a radical letting go of perfection – the kind of perfection often associated with the traditional sonnet form.
In writing the dailiness of life, the reality releases the dream of perfection. In my own writing practice, I’ve returned to the ground of my everyday life – journalling with the daily reality of my material circumstances. I’ve found an excitement in exploring the brevity of the sonnet form, and the openness of its contemporary innovations, to make poetry from my world.
this bed still
comfy & firm but
stained now: blood piss sweat / patches
open mouths dripping water tank beside. our heads
to remind me
of Sunday / when nothing’s / right,
connected & interlinked
to fix/the drip
revitalise” the ] living
much work | remains
Azimuth in broken
ribbed oak beams
earthing my feet on eastbourne concrete
an easy. stroll
my shadow seems/so far away
dog walkers pass
a large crow – black peaked beak – dropping shells
into a crowd of stones
posts block the path so
cctv can / monitor my every. step
: couples in coats eat ice cream
In making poetry from the mundane, something magical happens to the language of my world. As Lee Ann Brown suggests, the sonnet form also has potential as a ‘meditation practice’. And Sueyeun Juliette Lee affirms of some of Laynie Browne’s sonnets: they conjure up ‘an ancient sensibility about what poetic language can do – it’s charged, it’s more meaningful than our standard use, there’s this magical quality to it … this is like some kind of spiritual sigil … the magical, incantatory possibilities for poetry’.
Through radical affirmation of the dailiness of life in a poetic writing practice, the material can be made magical.
‘of Sunday / when nothing’s / right,’ from Eileen Myles, I must be living twice(2018), Serpent’s Tail: London, p173.