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  • Christine Delea

Sonnet Adjacent: Poetry Prompt

Being as we are in a very traditional time of year--the holidays can turn even the most relaxed person into a crazed traditionalist about cranberry sauce, when to open presents, who sits where for Chanukah dinners, etc.--it seems fitting to look at, and try, a very traditional and long-standing poetry form.


Sonnets are one of the Western world's oldest poetry forms, and is the one most people who are not poets are most familiar with (after limericks!) . . . most people have at least a passing knowledge of the English sonnet form, because they read a Shakespeare sonnet in high school and/or college. (Please note that the terms English sonnet and Shakespearean sonnet are interchangeable.) The romantic types among those non-poets may also be familiar with the Italian form from having slipped a copy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's famous Sonnet 43 under the dorm room door of their college crush ("How do I love thee? Let me count the ways").


Besides the English/Shakespearean and the Italian/Petrarchan forms, traditional sonnet forms include Miltonic, Spenserian, caudate/tailed, and curtailed. But poets continue to play with sonnets, giving us more modern methods of writing a sonnet, including lannet, inverted, unrhymed, and others that have yet to be named. For more on most of these forms, you can link to Rachel Richardson's piece about sonnet forms here; her short essay also includes links to example poems.


This week's prompt is a sonnet. (Surprise!)


If you are a traditionalist, try a newer form.


If you are the person who shuns every holiday tradition, try one of the older forms.


And if you are like me, and adore some traditions and abhor being too tied to any tradition, really challenge yourself and invent a new form.


The thing about sonnets--or any form--is the resulting poem we create because of the form's restrictions. As with prompts, the challenge is writing something worthy within the set parameters. It can be frustrating, of course, but that is the nature of art--if creating is easy, you are not pushing yourself and are most likely not creating something very good. So see what you can do with a sonnet, and if you create a new form, feel free to name it after me. Or yourself. I am okay with that.



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