Mike Snider's Formal Blog at the Sonnetarium :
poems, mostly metrical, and rants and raves on poets, poetry, and the po-biz



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Mike Snider's Formal Blog at the Sonnetarium

Sunday, February 26, 2006

My second weekly sonnet, with, as suggested by Mary Agner, sea turtle footprints as my jumping off point, is posted here. I'm not putting it on the blog because I want to be able to disappear it after a week, so that I can possibly rework it for submission somewhere. Drafts at the Draft House. Let me know what you think, and please suggest a topic, theme, rhyme, or image for next week!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I didn't do a whole lot for my birthday last night, but I did do enough to leave me fairly brainless today, so all I've got is a fairly random set of links and observations. Then I'm traveling tomorrow after work, going home (yay!), so I'll be back at the blog this weekend.

  • The poetry foundation has published its list of last year's "bestsellers." No surprises, really, except my personal astonishment that Mary Oliver has five books in the top thirty. I just don't see anything special about her poems. Charles Bukowski is second with four books and Billy Collins third with three (and the number one). Ted Kooser has two, but he's the current laureate. Four of these books of "contemporary" poetry are by dead people, only one recently dead.
  • I've been meaning for a week to point you to this fine post at scoplaw. My only complaint is with this sentence:
    It's that calling out of the human, that evocation, which truly bridges cultures in the ways that the longer narrative arts—like the novel, often cannot.
    which I think misses both the range of the novel and possibilities of long poems. Hell, one of my favorite novels is a long poem.
  • In another late response, I was reminded by a quote at Jeff Newberry's Muse of Fire of the one thing I think the langpo folks get right: poetry is artifice. It ain't natural in any way that could be opposed to say, the automobile. But then artifice is natural to humans.
  • And speaking of what they get wrong: in yet another late response, I want to point out Henry Gould's masterful takedown (here and here) of Ron Silliman's self-serving (or langpo-serving) revisionist history concerning Joseph Brodsky.
  • It appears that this site is unfit for military consumption. I get ACCESS DENIED when I try to see what it looks like on my Windows machine at work. Lunchtime, of course.
  • Last but not least—it's Wednesday already, halfway through the week, and no suggestions yet for this week's sonnet. You folks trust me that much?

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Higgeldy, piggeldy,
Mike Snider, Sonneteer,
Cried in Kentucky his
Very first song—

Thickets of candlesticks
Blaze on a birthday cake
Fifty-three strong!

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

I've added Catherine Daly's blog on the left. Insane that it hasn't been there before.

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Russell Ragsdale's the only one who made a suggestion for this weekend's sonnet, writing that he's been thinking about the relationship between talent, skill, and success in poetry. So here's the sonnet, one of the few in which I've used the Petrarchan rhyme scheme:

Playing Well

He'll never make the pros. He's smart and quick,
He's got a jumper, but he's got no shot
At his height. All that work and all he's got
Is junior college trophies. He'd be sick
About it if it he hadn't learned the trick,
The necessary trick, of giving thought
To nothing but catching stars, and now he's caught
Nothing. A shot, a score; he set the pick.
And me? Although I play a different game
With different stakes, my reputation on
The line and not my children's livelihood,
Like him I work to earn a chance at fame
For playing well. My chance might be long gone
Like his; like him, I know not knowing's good.

Like all my poems I post here, this is a first readable draft. Whether it ever lives I don't know. Maybe I won't know. But C. P. Cavafy wrote a poem called "The First Step":

The young poet Evmenis
complained one day to Theocritos:
"I have ben writing for two years now
and I have composed just one idyll.
It's my only completed work.
I see, sadly, that the ladder of Poetry
is tall, extremely tall;
and from this first step I now stand on
I will never climb any higher."
Theocritos replied: "Words like that
are improper, blasphemous.
Just to be on the first step
should make you happy and proud.
To have come this far is no small achievement:
what you have done is a glorious thing.
Even this first step
is a long way above the ordinary world.
To stand on this step
you must be in your own right
a member of the city of ideas.
And it is a hard, unusual thing
to be enrolled a citizen of that city.
Its councils are full of Legislators
no charlatan can fool.
To have come this far is no small achievement:
what you have done already is a glorious thing."

Well, maybe. I tried to work in that line about the city of ideas and failed miserably. The translation above is by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard—it's clearly free verse, but George Savidis says in the notes that Cavafy's poem is written in eleven syllable lines.

Now let's have more suggestions for next week's sonnet!

Update 2/20/2006: Aargh! I was foot short in the first line through many drafts. Added the words "smart and" after lying awake in bed for a couple of hours trying figure out what was wrong. I've put the drafts at the Draft House.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

There's a reason I call this place a Sonnetarium. My wife and I have two children (step-children to me, and the biological father is just missing), we both work fulltime, and, at the time I really started working with sonnets, we both played in a band—thank goodness, the same band. She does mosaic and quilting, the quilting entirely by hand. She likes to watch TV while she sews. I can't write (nor can she design) with the tube on. She's a former Army sergeant, horse trainer, and prison guard, and got tired of my complaining about time to write. "Fine," she said. "You get an hour and a half alone every day. But you'd better show me something for it."

So ninety minutes. I didn't even know how to get started in 90 minutes, and after a week or so it looked like I was going to lose the time she'd generously granted me. It occurred to me that a sonnet has 140 syllables (about 70 words) and a structure which strongly suggests how and when you turn for home. There's an end in sight, even at the beginning, and I found that immensely freeing. There have been times when for a month at a stretch I've been able to "finish" a sonnet every day—that is, get a rhymed and metrically proper (not polished) poem done without too much violence to ordinary speech. For two years I wrote practically nothing but sonnets; twice I posted nearly-daily sonnets online. Those were my first Sonnetaria.

And out of all that there came some good work, I think. I've collected 44 of those sonnets and put them into a homemade, handsewn chapbook cleverly called 44 Sonnets. (For a review that would make me blush if I had any shame, go here.) You can get your own copy either by trade or by clicking on the cleverly named 'Buy Now' button in the top right.

But it occurs to me that there have been darned few sonnets here at this sonnetarium lately. I'd plead being busy, except that the story I just told you kind of blows that excuse. So this weekend a brand new sonnet. If you have a suggestion for a subject or a line, tell me.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Those of you who've been holding your breath until I finished my 12th Valentine's poem for my wife can exhale now, but it's a double-dactyl, so my own continued breathing isn't entirely assured. It does have a Fairy Godmother in it—let's hope she's on my side.

Almost as important as Valentine's Day is Darwin's 197th birthday:

Hominid Hominoid
Charles Robert Darwin wrote
Sexual selection has
Colored our skin.

Thanks to his writing so
Science has spared us O-
Riginal Sin.

I'm so dead.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

I just finished my bi-weekly five-and-a-half-hour drive back to Maryland, where my friend and colleague Craig, who shares my birthday about thirty years later, also shares my wireless broadband connection so he can play World of Warcraft, from North Carolina (the drive, not Craig), where my wife and I shared the house with 4 teen-aged girls, only half of them ours. What's more, if more's needed, I haven't finished the Valentine's Day poem—make that I haven't started the Valentine's day poem. So this post will resemble my scattered and wired-on-coffee brain, which I can't quite see how to tie in to scattered, covered, and smothered hash-browns at Waffle House, where we eat every Christmas. I did cook hash-browns this weekend. And pork stir-fry. And chicken parmegiana. I cook pretty well.

North of Richmond I listened to a radio broadcast of a discussion on civil political discourse between Senators Bob Dole and George McGovern. As I approached the Governor Harry Nice(!) Bridge, McGovern told the tale of how Senator Sam Erwin, not-to-be-flustered by an awkward question from Senator Mike Mansfield, in reply told the tale of the Sunday School teacher who answered the question "Where did Cain and Abel get their wives?" with "That's the sort of impertinent question that gives religion a bad name," and was beginning to explain the point of the story (stories?) when reception failed and I turned on my iPod to shuffle-by-song and iTrip to 87.9 and was greeted by T. S. Eliot reading "The Waste Land" just as I crossed the peak of the bridge and began my descent into Charles County.


It's actually pretty amazing to hear Eliot read the thing, and every time I hear it, it becomes clearer that almost the whole of his criticism is intended to justify that one poem, and it's almost worth it, this truly great poem defended by such brilliantly wrong thinking about poetry, and both the poem and the thinking with such bizarre descendants.

Take Kasey Mohammad's recent (well, I'm late to the party, as usual these days—sucks having a day job where you can't openly read, write or think about poetry) posts about the modes of lyric poetry (here and here), which are, apparently, Classical, Petrarchan, Romantic, and Abstract. Kasey's discussion, like Eliot's criticism (and most of Kasey's blogging), is informed, interesting, and convincing. Except that, except for a brief "lyre is not entirely metaphorical" in introducing the classical mode, nothing he has to say has anything in particular to do with poetry—he could as well have been discussing prose, with, for instance, The Decameron illustrating the Petrarchan mode. It's as if poetry were nothing more than a moral-intellectual stance.

Then right after "The Waste Land" came "Provide, Provide," a poem I love more than, but which is certainly not as important as Eliot's magnum opus (I can't read the "Quartets" anymore). But really, Mr. Frost— naming the former "picture pride of Hollywood"Abishag for the sake of a rhyme with "hag" and "rag"? And what's the point of this stanza?

Some have relied on what they knew;
Others on simply being true.
What worked for them might work for you.

And can anyone love "The Waste Land"?

I dunno. But I've added two blogs over on the left: Laura Heidy's Terminal Chaosity and Julie Carter's carter's little pill. I've never met either of them, but I've known Julie online for more than ten years, I think, from the Usenet group alt.arts.poetry.comments and from Poetry Free For All. Hi, Julie!

Goodnight, y'all!

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Wednesday, February 8, 2006

My wife has made it clear that I have certain duties as a poet: each year there will be a poem for Valentine's day and one for our wedding anniversary. She is kind enough to let me skip her birthday, since it's only three days before the anniversary. I actually think some of my best poems are among these "commissioned" pieces, and certainly they include some of my most formally inventive, but I don't send them out and I rarely show them to anyone but her. She posts some of them at her office. They are her poems and that is her privilege.

Marilyn Nelson (click here to hear her astonishing crown of sonnets "A Wreath for Emmett Till" at NPR) used to write poems for other people on similar occasions and has published few, if any, of them because they belong to those who commissioned them. Inspired by her example, I've often thought it would be a good idea to set up a poetry booth at a craft fair, selling written-on-the-spot sonnets (a few quatrains, anyway) for hire the way visual artists sell portrait sketches or caricatures. I'm too scatterbrained to think about it till after some particular craft fair has started, but the intention of that link in the upper left, Request a New Poem, is to let readers here commission poems from me. In three and a half years no one ever has.

Why don't you be the first? I probably can't do individual poems for the big public holidays, and certainly not for Valentine's Day when I'm already "hired," but write me about an upcoming birthday or anniversary or first Little League game and we'll talk about the very reasonable terms—most magazines pay in copies (sometimes one copy) so we're not talking big money. The link to click, again, is Request a New Poem.

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Monday, February 6, 2006

I learned yesterday from Rob Mackenzie's post on the infamous cartoons that George Szirtes has a blog and I've added it to that long list on the left.

But I'm not going to say anything more about the cartoons.

The February Poetry has three essays, one by Szirtes, one by Mary Kinzie, and one by William Logan. They're a curious trio. Szirtes's is a defense of traditional form, Kinzie's a remembrance and revision of her critical practice as it applied a friend, and Logan's a defense of his criticism. The best, I think, is Szirtes's "Formal Wear: Notes on Rhyme, Meter, Stanza & Pattern," and I plan to write more about it when I have a little more brain, so I'll leave that till after I've met the wizard. You should read it—it's worth the $3.75 for the issue. Oh, and there's good poems, too: Wendy Cope, Deborah Warren, A. E. Stallings, and one by Albert Goldbarth that I think no reader of this blog would predict I'd even finish. I think it's the best poem this month.

Logan was just baffling, as he often is. Apparently he really does think it's his job to be a poetic hit man, but his exaltation of difficulty in poetry comes a-cropper here: "It's curious that difficult poets of the previous generation, Robert Lowell and Anthony Hecht and Richard Wilbur, are still praised for the elegance and intransigence of their words, while young poets are told, in so many words, that subtlety is old-fashioned." WTF?

On the other hand, I very much enjoyed Kinzie's piece, also about the role of the poetry critic, but at the same time more personal and more honestly reflective about her role. It's extraordinarily difficult to write fairly about the work of someone you know, especially if you like them, and Kinzie does a wonderful job of excavating the history of her appreciation and criticism of Julia Randall's verse. I can't say, however, that she convinces me concerning Randall, who is new to me and will probably remain unread by me, unless perhaps someone can explicate how the last phrase of the following sentence applies to the quoted lines:

Randall summons the voices of the dead with a direct and powerful poignancy, using line break to control rhyme and the unfolding of time:

[How] good to light the fire, good to know
the hutch of time. Let Mozart play
the hopsasa, a quaint geometry
of motion. Sit still. Listen.
It is the Good, lost mère. Her note:
please wake me. Her disheveled hair
from sleep. "How late," and then, "how lean
you have grown, soldiering."
How many tongues are weary. Wir wandelten
durch Feuergluten…die vor Liebe

How good to hear you singing.

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Saturday, February 4, 2006

I've just finished doing a foolish thing—moving to the new domain about 40 published and unpublished poems written before I'd started to get a handle on meter. They're all linked from a single page and all linked to each other, so now you can go have a chuckle on me. Actually, I'm rather surprised by how poorly I handled meter and by how good a few of the free verse pieces seem to be.

Next to move is my double-dactyls page. After that there's some design work to be done to support playable audio files … erm … podcasting.

I might be done with this before I get old. Oh, wait …

Update 2/05: Double dactyls got moved today. The old site is slowly dieing, and I still don't like the way the new one looks.

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Friday, February 3, 2006

If you haven't been under a rock the last week you know about the firestorm over cartoons in a Danish newspaper mocking Mohammad, and if you have been living under a rock, go to Arts & Letters Daily and check out recent items in the 3rd column.

The Muslim people who threaten (as did Khomeini over Rushdie) are no friends of liberty or me. But radical Islam is no different from those who wish to make it illegal to mock Christianity in this country or the Labor Party in Britain which has banned any speech mocking religion; the Taliban is really only a latter-day version of Cromwell's New Model Arm, But, short of violence, radical Islam is no different from those who wish to make it illegal to mock Christianity in this country, and we will see whether Britain's new anti-hate speech laws lead to shameful prosecutions like that of Oriana Fallaci in Italy; when it comes to violence, the Taliban is really only a latter-day version of Cromwell's New Model Army.

One of the more delicious ironies of the last few years is that Ted Kooser, appointed Poet Laureate under George II, invited John Prine to one of his first public appearances as laureate. He asked Prine if there was still a role for protest singing, and my man John answered "It's a full time job." John Prine wrote a song called "Pretty Good." Here is the last verse:

I heard Allah and the Buddha
Singing at the Savior's feast,
While up in the sky
An Arabian rabbi
Fed Quaker Oats to a priest.
Pretty good, not bad, I can't complain …
But actually, all them gods are just about the same.

Edited 2006 02 04, partly because of a comment from Harry Rutherford.

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