by Thomas Davis, Jr.
We celebrate contemporary poetry—rightfully so. We delight in the random rhythms and streams of consciousness, the ebbs and flows of which reflect the meandering nature of our post-modern minds. This freedom from form is inspiring and enlivening, and a new generation of poets capable of pushing the genre to new heights is never far beneath the ever-expanding horizon. But what about tradition? Much like the speaker in Frost’s “Mending Wall” desires to know “what [he] was walling in or walling out,” we should pause to consider the nature of the poetic forms from which we now seek to distinguish ourselves.
Much like one cannot fully grasp the concept of ‘up’ without a notion of ‘down,’ one cannot clearly comprehend and enjoy the independence of modern, free-verse poetry unless first experiencing and attempting to negotiate the mandates of elevated form.
Could it be that we are tired of flattering those that have been, preferring instead to be flattered for our own acts of becoming? Some might say this is evidence of the current epidemic of narcissism. Others may see esprit de corps of millennial rebellion. It is important to understand that new poetic forms evolve as reactions to those coming before regardless if a poet is aware of this. Thus, while a poet may seek the freedom of free verse over perceived constraints of other forms, he or she often does so without understanding the very forms he/she purports to avoid. I argue that adhering to form can be worth the challenge, and that it is an important rite of passage through which a developing poet should pass. Much like one cannot fully grasp the concept of ‘up’ without a notion of ‘down,’ one cannot clearly comprehend and enjoy the independence of modern, free-verse poetry unless first experiencing and attempting to negotiate the mandates of elevated form.
Below are two sonnets that I have written with careful adherence to form. I do break from form at particular points, which, in the same vein as sonneteers of the past, alters readers to some special significance. In other words, deviations from form are done so for a particular purpose. Perhaps you’ll find mine below, and perhaps this year’s poetry contest will feature entries of a more classical flavor!
| Immortal verse doth eternize the words
That poets past hath scribed upon the mind,
And others seek to strike the selfsame chords
But do with kin no justice to the kind.
Vouchsafe me then for thou the courtesy
To my undeserving pen the needed might,
Allow this soul to sing the lines of thee,
Grant me faultless passage for the rite.
My love is jealous; don’t let this be a fuse,
For this sickness lives no vulnerary sound,
And often when ourselves we need abuse,
The thoughts of love art all that can be found.
With pleasure pain must be so often mixed,
That the bleeding heart need’st not be fixed.
As the great block sits upon the poet’s soul
And time makes forfeit all the infant thought,
And only then the foulest of all foul
Shed light on slanted view and twisted plot.
The pearls sought but sink to deepest root
Till inspiration strikes the pregnant ground,
Where grows the vile weed and sweetest fruit
That ever did this voice return its sound.
You, my love, ‘neath higher stalks untrimmed
Reveal’st to me the subject of my hope,
That heretofore with melancholy dimmed
Mak’st clear with love the way that Man must cope.
That wholly yours the greater man can be;
Completeness starts, flows, and ends with thee.
To enter the Central Pen Poetry Contest, submit your poem to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 26th.