I struggle with sonnets. I’ve been writing them for years and have had a good few published. I won a cup in 1978 at college – The Bruce Brown Trophy for Poetry – with a sonnet in fact. However, I still feel that the majority are lacking that essential sonnety sonnetness.
They tend not to rhyme although I dare say they might have done at some point. The Bruce Brown one did certainly. I find rhyming sonnets a little clunky, mine anyway. Others have produced fine rhyming flowing pieces of magic but mine don’t seem to evoke a sense of spontaneity.
Anyhoo, I continue, my usual practice having been since about 2006 to write at least one a month, one of them always being named after the month itself and attempting some kind of mood and overview of the current situation.
Consequently I have a hundred and something sonnets only a few of which have been published and fired at the unsuspecting public.
What I feel is that in the main they work better as a group of poems than as stand alone pieces. Does this imply that the sonnets are somewhat weak?
They’re a set of things I keep revising. They often go back into my revision process and there are at least two in my Revision file at the moment. The ones I have abandoned or may have been published end up in this blog, as it gets to the point where I have become so familiar with them that I can’t judge them objectively, coupled with the fact they have usually been rejected a number of times by editors whose judgment I have learned to trust.
I have just been working on one in fact, and finding this one quite exciting after a few changes. I’m toying with the question of whether it needs an overall metaphor and/or more ambiguity. Could I add an extra layer of meaning to it?
If I had to find a metaphor for my relationship with sonnets, I’d choose watercolour painting. I love the medium but I have never mastered the art of it to the point where I am often satisfied with the results. It’s a difficult skill to achieve. You can edit the sonnet, but like a watercolour there is the danger of overworking it to the point where the freshness and vitality of the first draft is lost, and one is left with something dull.
However, I persevere, as I can not stop.
You can view a selection here, or just click the sonnet tag at the foot of the post. Please feel free to leave comments as feedback is good and it’s always helpful to know why someone liked or hated certain pieces.
We wait to see who will make the first move
offering dual sacrifice and threat.
It is a game some say but this is just
a convenient tag to honey life.
This is the bedrock of the human soul,
the war we carry with us from the egg,
embedded in a checkerboard of genes.
I am sometimes white, you often black,
our thoughts in negative across the board
in some antagonistic harmony.
Pawns lumber shivering to work, heads bowed.
Ranks expand to Linked-in, Facebook. Your move.
Knights and bishops gallivanting out now.
You do not see me slip behind the rook.
As I savoured the day’s last cigarette
a fox appeared, brazen, from Nando’s yard,
too cocky for one so ill-proportioned,
tongue proffered with a wet invitation
as he turned to gaze at me, appraising
my place in the general pecking order.
He swaggered from the car park then, slunk off
into the darkness like a one-night stand
who’d not even stayed for the entire night
but left while the streetlights were still burning.
I’d seen those eyes before, on a cool prowl
for something uncomplicated, easy,
sweeping languidly around a packed bar,
sometimes from the mirror, bounced back to me.
On the other side of that window there
secrets incubate like wall based time-capsules.
Traces were abandoned, mostly unremembered
by me and the other person of interest.
My fingerprints may cling, patient wrinkled fossils
waiting to wake, testify to white-clad strangers
of an ancient private moment, already lost.
The future may uncover more of me than I.
I envy them this clean forensic memory.
Mine has been dusted but no evidence, nothing
admissible anyway, remains to present.
My thoughts I should have bagged and labelled at the time.
Had it been murder, then the scene would be preserved,
but love is left unrecorded, even by me.
I steal these faces from random strangers
rendered mute by heat and humidity.
Patient one-eyed predator, I pounce,
ferry expressions home in a black box,
stash them neatly labelled with the rest,
a hide where August nurtures a flint heart.
Glints of winter wriggle out through the cracks
to the sunshine, steal the shape of rain
through the window, bouncing mad on the slate.
The sun returns but the heart remains chill.
My thoughts skirt round it like a survey team.
Where is the source? It shows no signs of thaw
reaching out to grab September’s shirt tails.
The faces point. It’s lodged behind my ribs.
Summer decays like a love unreturned.
Greens will fume to bruises, gaping scars
vexing warm with rage till they crumble, just
something we want to pass away, to die.
Half of September left now, the sun’s heart
still rages red, but waning. It lessens
like pain from a burn or a wound. He drags
his hot feet, gone all awkward to leave us.
I imagine me, holding my back to you.
We can’t set the leaves from their crimson turn
before they bleed into forgetfulness.
‘Oh well,’ they say, ‘That’s life,’ through parchment lips.
I count the leaves like sheep that will not jump,
or even try. Just wait there, shaded. Stained.
She wants to implement a dress code now
having slithered in just a week ago,
claimed a desk with a view of the orchard.
She’s started sending e-mail like a friend.
And she sings like the snake from Jungle Book.
Her coils are lithing round my office chair.
They leave pale scales, abraded, on the floor.
She’s squeezing me, constricting me to rage.
We’ve met her before in other gardens;
different faces, different sexes even.
It was her, that dead-behind-the-eyes look
as she hissed out ‘implement the dress code!’
Her name is Legion, or maybe Wardrobe.
‘Trust in me,’ she sighs. Holds out an apple.
I keep this secret of a sacred road,
whittle words into bright things with sharp points.
I give free advice to those who listen
I give the invoices to those who don’t.
I was sent godfree from the holy hills
to trap souls and save them in a black box.
Sometimes I mess with paint and people’s heads.
Comedy seeds I plant in the world’s hard ground,
small round jokes about the hydra’s back teeth.
I have a man who loves me as I am
I carry solar systems in my head,
make love like the guilt of a forgotten crime
I stalk the streets in search of mystery
but there’s a monkey on my back, driving.
Come with me. We’ll look for the old places
from the dawn of Amstrad when the net was
just a twinkle nesting in the eyes of geeks,
when you and I had hair and typewriters.
Unwind me from this, spool me back to the
super-eight clattering magic of light
and the night Nick Cave first appeared like god
from a vinyl circle, pointing to the sites.
I’ve sifted through the strata of t-shirts,
found no remains of our conversations
long drowned by buses rumbling away
like the passing of a saurian race.
Look! There’s a fossilised Olivetti
half-buried. Its blunt teeth may spell… something.
Racing like sperm for the welcoming bus doors,
old random act of desperate access,
we are somehow united in one aim.
Lost in this unnatural press of strangers
throwing instincts into a gene panic.
Though still we sit in pairs like chromosomes.
The oyster island stare is then deployed,
eyes glazing past the ears of those on board
these barrels of dodgy DNA.
They’re not accepted. Faces draw a blank
against those lists we’ve captured in our heads;
the tallied loved and hated, lost, betrayed.
These passengers could be first class but they
are just untested genes, at least today.