NaPoWriMo Quarantine Edition – Exercise 14

Welcome to day 14. And what else could today’s challenge be other than a sonnet? Usually (but not always) fourteen lines, with some sort of volta (or “turn” – a place where the poem shifts gears in some way) and generally enacting some form of argument or attempt at persuasion. There are other definitions, and individual poets will have their own general principals for what they will and won’t accept as a genuine example of the form (as opposed to a poem that is sonnet-ish, or possibly just a poem in 14 lines that really doesn’t need the historical and cultural baggage of the s-word). And no matter what mental boundaries you draw up, there will be poems that defiantly and gloriously stride back and forth across them. But fourteen lines, a turn, and an argument is my starting point.

So what could I set you as an exercise today, other than this wonderful, potent, powerful little machine?

Well … how about a bad sonnet?

This is an exercise I’ve pilfered from Scott Wiggerman (in Wingbeats II: Exercises and Practice in Poetry – a book I use a lot). It serves, as he says, a real purpose. It takes the fear of failure out of attempting this noble form, and gives you the chance to just play around, see what fourteen lines feels like as a unit of composition. And depending on what horrible writing crimes you decide to commit in your poem, it also means you’re noticing things that are good to edit out when you do this sort of thing for real (which we will be doing in fourteen days from now).

Your task: write a traditional Shakespearean sonnet – fourteen lines of iambic pentameter (think Where do you think you’re going dressed like that?), rhyming abab cdcd efef gg, with a volta before the final couplet. And make it bad. Really bad. We’re talking convoluted syntax, rhyme at any cost, archaic language, inversions (aka “Yoda-isms”), sentimental tone, clod-hopper alliteration, mangled metaphors, the lot. See how bad you can make it, and how many poetic crimes you can stuff into your fourteen lines.

I’ve provided a couple of potential first lines to get you going, or use one of your own invention:

Oh no! her cry to rend the night in twain …
Oft left alone for hours I was on end …
Clouds and butterflies so pretty came …
Belt, breeches, buckled knuckles and brass knob …
True, he was an ugly swain, and smelly …

So here is your chance to do appalling things to the form I love best, all in the name of learning. And growing.

May the muse forgive us both.

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