Versification, Lyricism, and Formal Poetry

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A sonnet (“little song”), a traditional poetic form hundreds of years old, intrigues me. I find it challenging to try and write sonnets, whether Petrarchan or Shakespearian. For me, the rigid rhyme scheme of the Italian variety is difficult to accomplish in English. It’s probably a bit easier in Italian, which has many words that end in vowels, unlike English. The vowels present more opportunities for rhyming.

Of the twenty-five poems in God’s Memory, I included three sonnets: “Can Anyone Comprehend,” “In Fall I Set a Stone,” and “Nanjing–1937.” They follow the Shakespearian model: fourteen lines, primarily iambic pentameter [sometimes I fail the iambic requirement], an octave, and sestet following the rhyming scheme a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g. At the traditional location, I attempted the turn in all three cases, that is, between the octave and sestet. Readers will have to determine how well the turn is made.

These days, it’s a bit more difficult to find literary magazines willing to publish any poems that rhyme and even fewer willing to accept sonnets. Part of the problem, so it seems to me, is that a formal poem can assume an artificiality by forcing rhymes with words that don’t arise naturally from the poem’s story or by leading the poet to create at times syntactically monstrous phrases.

I am pleased to report that Patrick Key, Founding Editor of Grand Little Things, recently published my sonnet “And One Who Knows Not.” It is such a pleasure to find a publisher who boldly states: 

“Grand Little Things is a journal that embraces versification, lyricism, and formal poetry that focuses on anything, be it the expanse between the minutia of everyday life, to revelations on how we got here or why we use a thing called language.”

Patric Key, Founding Editor, Grand Little Things

Here’s the first quatrain from the octave section of “And One Who Knows Not.”

Unlike a woman’s womb that binds in love
a longed-for child, the darkened walls of rot
that closed her in were a grave in a grove,
a coffin built by one who loved her not.

By the way, you can see one of my iamb fails in line three. The line ends with two anapests (“were a grave in a grove”) instead of three iambs. The entire poem is available here.

Many poetry lovers think of sonnets as a form especially suited to expressions of love in beautiful, sensuous, romantic language. Clearly, “And One Who Knows Not” is not such a sonnet. But then, not all those by that most accomplished of sonnet-writers fit that mold either. Here, for example, is one of the Bard’s followed by a recitation by the late Alan Rickman.

Shakespeare, Sonnet 130, Wikimedia Commons
Alan Rickman, YouTube

All the best,

Author: Gershon Ben-Avraham

Gershon Ben-Avraham is an American-Israeli writer. He lives in Beersheba, Israel, on the edge of the Negev Desert. He and his wife share their lives with a gentle blue-merle long-haired collie. Ben-Avraham earned an MA in Philosophy (Aesthetics) from Temple University. His short story, “Yoineh Bodek,” (Image) received “Special Mention” in the Pushcart Prize XLlV: Best of the Small Presses 2020 Edition. Kelsay Books published his chapbook “God’s Memory” in 2021. חב"ד‎

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