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“Waking With Russell” and “The Thread,” by Don Paterson

August 26, 2010

These two are lungs somehow out-revving every engine in the universe.

Don Paterson taught us sonnets in Scotland.  One afternoon he did, anyway, and my notes are still hanging sticky-tacked to my imagination like an old “All I Really Need to Know…” poster…

A sonnet is a small, square poem. ◘ It looks good on the page. ◘ A sonnet has fourteen lines. ◘ Except when it doesn’t. ◘ A traditional line takes about three seconds to read aloud. ◘ This is the amount of time a human brain recognizes as “now.” ◘ A sonnet is a sequence of “nows,” to be committed to memory, or forgotten. ◘ A sonnet is just the right length to memorize. ◘ Poems are the only artform that can be kept entirely intact in the human mind. ◘ Every good sonnet ignores at least one rule you were taught in school. ◘ Most sonnets have a “turn” in plot, argument, attitude, or something else about line nine. ◘ The proportions of a sonnet before and after the turn are approachingly close to the golden ratio. ◘ This is the ratio that shows up in classical architecture, musical scales, growth patterns in nature, and all sorts of other inherently pleasing things. ◘ The form of a sonnet can help a poet organize his/her thoughts. ◘ But it never insists on any particular organization. ◘ Almost every major 20th century poet writing in English has written sonnets. ◘ If the sonnet had not been invented already, someone would be inventing it right now. ◘ The sonnet is an inevitable form.

If you want all this and more in complete thoughts–or want to see what I’ve forgotten or misremembered–check out the introduction Don wrote for this small anthology he edited, 101 Sonnets (Faber and Faber, 1999).

I read today’s poems from Paterson’s collection, Landing Light(Graywolf, 2005).  Here’s a link to both poems and a link to Don reading a few others.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2010 4:01 pm

    In that sticky-tacked square of notes, I learned more about sonnets than I remember knowing or learning. Thanks.
    And for the Paterson poems, thanks.

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