Thursday, August 04, 2005

Le[a]rn(er)-ing the 'American' Sonnet

This August, I’d like to hear the other side of the sonnet, those experimental practitioners maybe even postmodern whose stance towards the form is certainly not formal. Maybe a love/hate relationship. Whereas mine, I hope, will maybe reveal itself to me as I write them this month.

Here’s Ben Lerner from an interview in Jacket on the form he used in his book The Lichtenberg Figures:
The notion of the sonnet was ‘propulsive’ in that I wanted to make visible the arbitrary, generative violence of any imposed formal constraint: line count, for instance. And I am particularly interested in the sonnet cycle as a form, in the possibilities it affords for repetition, permutation, collage.

I understand the traditional sonnet as a fundamentally dialectical beast, a space in which two competing terms are resolved or shown as irresolvable, and in which that play of opposites is enacted in the structure of the poem itself. Those characteristics strike me as much more important than, say, rhyme. And the volta — the quick, constitutive turn (or, perhaps, the conspicuous failure of the poem to turn): isn’t that the peripetia, the pirouette, the cross over dribble, the sucker punch or punch line essential to so many performative modes?
Beyond his politically correct take on violence in forms, I appreciate his interest in the volta as cross over dribble (he makes the nice connection of classical to pop by drawing the line from pirouette to punch line). That the poems themselves drip with wit is the least I can say.

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