Guest Editor Jennifer Wallace
As we launch this sonnet feature of
THE CORTLAND REVIEW, itís clear that weíve got some explaining to do.
First: why sonnets?
While browsing through submissions, we noticed many sonnets or sonnet-like
poems. Some were 100% pure Italian or Shakespearean iambic lyric packages.
Many were without the iambs, pentameter or rhyme; but, with their turning
arguments, they hovered close enough to the target for us to say, "Letís
celebrate! Letís see what a sampling of writers today are doing with the
form." And so, we collected sonnets from within our own submissions and
requested sonnets from other poets, some whoíve never published before, some
new to TCR, and some whose names come up at the mention of "sonnet."
Second: a confession. Iím no sonnet expert, but I am a sonnet lover; I
appreciate their music, but more their ability to present an entire complex
conundrum with a lush intensity. And, as Iíve learned from our contributors,
the sonnet has a decidedly flexible range of subject and structure.
Of the twenty-six sonnets in this issue, almost half are rhymed and/or
iambic, or nearly so. Only one-third follow either Italian or Shakespearean
structures; the remaining three-quarters experiment with one variation or
another, includingin Anne Marie Macariís four poems from her long
sonnet sequencethe use of couplets instead of
traditional stanzas and, in A.E. Stallingsí "The Argument," the addition of two extra lines. And so
we wonder what, indeed, makes a sonnet? These sonneteers insist the
signature hovers around some constellation of structure, language and
conceit . . . a definite music, a tension provided by a sort of hyper-attention
to line and end point and a self-consciousness in which, as Billy Collins
remarks, "The poet writes some lines then turns around, looks at the lines,
blushes, and makes a comment about them." In all cases the poets agree with
Jeet Thayilís conclusion: "You start with a line and follow it through. The
sonnet writes the sonnet, not you."
Just as there is variety in how poets think about the sonnet, there is also
great synchronicity. In this issue youíll see sonnets by Barnstone the
father and Barnstone the son (Donít forget to check out Tonyís essay here,
"Manifesto on the Contemporary Sonnet," with its principles and
counter-principles as well as an extensive analysis of rhythmic options).
Two of the three persona sonnets draw their inspiration from WW2. The
sonnets exploring big existential ideas are balanced by an equal number that
explore our dailiness (the lives of salesmen, movie stars or suburban
sprawl). Two poets have written sonnet sequences in which the form ďevolved
to give some coherence to the great variety of voices.Ē And, of course,
there are love sonnets; manyas in times of olddeal with the
bittersweet complexities of passionate relationships.
Enjoy this collection of "little songs." Read them out loud. And if you
havenít already, try writing one of your own.