Author Topic: Definitions  (Read 14783 times)

Offline Amie

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Definitions
« on: October 20, 2010, 09:19:24 AM »
To avoid further hijacking Bar's thread, I thought I'd pose the question here.

Brownlee and I started to get into a debate about 'What makes a sonnet?' (http://www.mywriterscircle.com/index.php?topic=29950.msg497975) or whether or not you can have a form poem which is also free verse. To me, free verse is exactly what it says - it doesn't conform to any pre-conceived form. Therefore, to refer to a free-verse sonnet or villanelle or haiku or what have you seems a nonsense to me, like referring to peas as pork sausages.

It's not as if my life depends on this, and I was rather tickled to see myself described as a 'traditionalist' (whatever will the people who accused me of breaking too many rules say?) - but I don't really see the point in having definitions if they don't mean anything. If I can call anything a mushroom for example, what does the term mushroom really mean?

And, if you don't think that a sonnet is defined by having 14 lines of iambic pentameter with a defined rhyme scheme (which may be the absense of a rhyme scheme) and a volta, what is a sonnet? What features make something a sonnet as opposed to not-a-sonnet? And if you are free to make up the rules and call absolutely anything a sonnet, what does the word 'sonnet' actually mean, if anything?
« Last Edit: October 20, 2010, 09:21:40 AM by Amie »
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Offline Bar

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Re: Definitions
« Reply #1 on: October 20, 2010, 09:56:22 AM »
It's alright Amie, thanks, the discussion is interesting wherever it happens.

I think Brownlee was mainly stressing the inevitable evolution/transformation of the sonnet's form through space/language and time and said free verse is an author's chosen form... Paul Muldoon often played with 14 line irregular sonnet meter and as mentioned, there were many more in our times.
And I've just read myself about 21 line fusion sonnet!

I'm in no way an expert, so I'm eager to understand more... Would you relate to sonnet's evolutive capacity, as you see it?
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Offline Amie

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Re: Definitions
« Reply #2 on: October 20, 2010, 10:10:30 AM »
Well, I suppose there's a grey area for me.

Taking the food analogy a bit further - I get a bit impatient with foodies who insist that a certain dish isn't really that dish, if it isn't exactly following the traditional recipe. But there comes a point when you have to admit that the latest evolution bears absolutely no relation, or insufficient relation, to the original dish to warrant the label.

It has to do with knowing what you're getting - otherwise, what is the point of having a label at all? So, for me, a porcini risotto has to have porcini and risotto rice (say arborio), as a minimum. If you make the same dish but use basmati, I'll be confused - basmati rice is nothing like risotto rice, so why call it a risotto? it's just confusing. Similarly, if you use field mushrooms rather than porcini, the label is confusing.

I'm not saying that people shouldn't make meals using field mushrooms and basmati rice - such a dish may even turn out better than porcini risotto, depending on other factors - I just don't see the point in calling it a porcini risotto if it isn't. It's misleading at best.

And some of these examples are so far from the traditional definition of sonnet as to be like calling something porcini risotto, when it has no rice or mushrooms, say it's made from butternut squash and pappardalle. And that's where I really start scratching my head. What is the point to calling a thing something it isn't? What benefit is to be had by calling something a mushroom-free rice-free porcini risotto?
« Last Edit: October 20, 2010, 10:13:28 AM by Amie »
"You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet." - Kafka

sweetgirl09

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Re: Definitions
« Reply #3 on: October 20, 2010, 11:15:33 AM »
Amie, the particular example you chose of the porcini risotto is an interesting one - you see, although I know a risotto should have arborio rice in it, it wouldn't be the end of the world to me if it had basmati rice; if it was made well I'd probably enjoy it just as much.

So I'd agree that a sonnet should stick to the formal structure, meter and rhyme scheme, although I would still enjoy a good poem describing itself as a sonnet even if it didn't exactly obey all the rules. I had a go at one on my blog, about wind turbines, which doesn't rhyme properly - mainly because it's just too darn difficult - but I don't hate what I ended up with.

On Bar's point about evolution, I admire modern sonnets that are extremely clever with rhyme and enjambement, so you hardly notice the form until you've re-read it a few times. I can't think of any examples I can quote straight off, but I'd describe that process as a very appropriate evolution of the sonnet form. 

Offline Amie

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Re: Definitions
« Reply #4 on: October 20, 2010, 11:40:03 AM »
Yeah, I thought perhaps I chose an example that was a bit too particular. But in fact, if you try to make a risotto from basmati, it will fragment. If you cook it another way, the texture is such that to me, it isn't risotto.

What I was really getting at was the papardalle/butternut squash thing. Why call it a mushroom-free rice-free porcini risotto when you could just call it papardalle and butternet squash? I'll enjoy it either way, but at least with the latter description I won't be scratching my head wondering what about it is supposed to resemble a risotto.

Same with sonnets - you can call a poem anything you like, and if you want to take one of John Yamrus's poems and call it a sonnet - well, chances are I'll still enjoy it, but I will disagree entirely that it's appropriate to call it a sonnet. And I'll wonder why you want to call it a sonnet or a 'free-verse sonnet', when you can just call it free verse, save yourself two syllables, and not give any misleading descriptions.
"You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet." - Kafka

Offline Victor

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Re: Definitions
« Reply #5 on: October 20, 2010, 12:23:52 PM »
if a poem incorporates certain elements of a sonnet but generally eschews most of its stricter rules, I don't see anything contradictory about calling it a free-verse sonnet. it can't be labeled a sonnet because, obviously, it doesnt meet the criteria for a traditional sonnet; also it can't be written off as just free-verse because it exhibits characteristics of a sonnet - too conspicuous to ignore- as presumably intended by the writer.  

but anyway, no oxymoron can beat Christian Atheism. ;D
« Last Edit: October 20, 2010, 12:33:03 PM by Victor »
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Offline eric

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Re: Definitions
« Reply #6 on: October 20, 2010, 02:43:19 PM »
modern poetry is big enough to have all kinds of poetry in it, because the basic rule is that there are no rules.  so you can have a sixteen line poem with no volta and erratic rhyme and be just fine.  but if you call it a sonnet you might as well call it a reindeer.  a modern sonnet is free verse gussied up in a sonnet title.  to me that is more than inaccurate, it's pretentious.  but hey, that's just me.

Offline Mark H

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Re: Definitions
« Reply #7 on: October 20, 2010, 03:10:28 PM »
1) A sonnet has defined forms.

2) You could tweak it to some extent and people might still recognise it as being sonnet-like.

3) If you tweak it so much that it is no longer recognisable as sonnet-like, you may still call it a sonnet if it makes you happy, but those that can recognise the sonnet form(s) will know better.

4) You can also write a limerick and call it a sonnet. No one can stop you. No one but you will accept it as a sonnet.

You could potentially group 1 & 2 together by saying that sonnet is also short hand for sonnet-like. And in that case I think it possible to have a sonnet without meter and rhyme. If you choose not to accept sonnet-like to equal sonnet, then sonnet must conform to one of the defined forms and that means it needs meter and so can't be free verse.

Mark
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Brownlee

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Re: Definitions
« Reply #8 on: October 20, 2010, 06:02:45 PM »
Amie - Free verse sonnets exist. On the previous thread I gave a list of some free verse sonnets to prove they exist. There's no point you trying to deny their existence no matter how many people on the forum you get to support you. This isn't like an argument about the existence of God.

I also notice you failed to answer my question: when Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey invented the English sonnet, this was noticeably different from the original Italian (Petrachan) sonnet both in metre and rhyme scheme. (Italians wrote predominantly in hendecasyllabic lines; in English that's not so easy so the more regular decasyllabic iambic pentameter was used.) Change. Innovation. Do you accept English sonnets as 'true' sonnets? If you can't then you obviously don't consider Shakespeare's 154 efforts to be true sonnets. Which is madness. The Italian ones were all about love as well. John Donne wrote some about religion. John Milton about politics. Do they count?

So why can't you accept the change and innovation that has brought about free verse sonnets? Some have rhyme schemes, some don't. Some have voltas in the original place and are split on the page into distinct octaves and sestets, and some aren't. What's the problem either way? It seems like this is a rather pointless personal crusade. Or do you know more than Elizabeth Bishop? And Paul Muldoon? Wallace Stevens, Louis MacNeice, Don Paterson, Robin Robertson, Michael Donaghy... etc, etc.

I also note your answer to being challenged about whether you truly understand how to write in free verse was rather insubstantial, and slightly childish (along the lines of 'I write free verse so I know what it is'). Hmm. Would you care to elaborate or do we take it that you don't really understand - which is why I believe you can't accept free verse sonnets, because you don't understand them?

Oh, and for your information, sonnet means 'little song' in Italian.

And you can have free verse villanelles as well. Try Robin Robertson's 'Fall from Grace' from 'The Wrecking Light' and Hugo Williams's 'No Chance of Sunday' from 'Dear Room' for starters.  ;D
« Last Edit: October 20, 2010, 06:13:14 PM by Brownlee »

Offline Mark H

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Re: Definitions
« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2010, 06:51:01 PM »
B

So you are expecting the dictionary definition of the word to change quite soon then are you? I'll just cross out all references to meter in mine then I won't have to buy another.

M
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Offline eric

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Re: Definitions
« Reply #10 on: October 20, 2010, 07:00:58 PM »
The way sonnets have been taught for hundreds of years is that there are two types of sonnets, the Petrarchan and the Shakespearean.  Given that, Brownlee's argument falls down.  

There is a ghazal, there is a this and there is a that.  But there are not thats called thises, or vice versa.  There is free verse, but it is not called a ghazal.  If someone tried, that would be interesting but wrong.  

I will let Amie answer whether she understands the proposition, although the answer seems fairly evident, even to me.
« Last Edit: October 20, 2010, 07:02:31 PM by eric »

Brownlee

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Re: Definitions
« Reply #11 on: October 20, 2010, 07:12:20 PM »
Eric -
Quote
The way sonnets have been taught for hundreds of years is that there are two types of sonnets, the Petrarchan and the Shakespearean.  Given that, Brownlee's argument falls down.

You neglect to say either how or why. Quite important points.

M - Here's the definition given on the Poetry Archive. No, I don't expect them to be changing it.

A sonnet, in English poetry, is a poem of fourteen lines, usually in iambic pentameter, that has one of two regular rhyme schemes - although there are a couple of exceptions, and years of experimentation that have loosened this definition.

One of these schemes is known as the Petrarchan, after the Italian poet Petrarch; it consists of a group of eight lines, rhymed abbaabba, followed by a group of six lines with different rhymes. The distribution of these rhymes can vary, including cdcede, cdecde, cdedce, or even cdcdcd. Often, at the point where the eight-line section, known as the octave, turns into the six-line section, or sestet, there is a volta, from the Italian for 'turn' - this is a shift in the poem's tone, subject or logic that gains power from (or demands?) the matching shift in its structure.

The Shakespearean sonnet breaks into three quatrains, followed by a couplet, rhymed abab cdcd efef gg - as the name suggests, this is the form Shakespeare used for his sonnets, although he did not invent it. In Shakespeare's usage, the three quatrains tend to make an argument in three stages, which the couplet will sum up or comment on.

The main exceptions are the curtal sonnet, a form invented by Gerard Manley Hopkins that roughly maintains the 8:6 ratio over a ten-and-a-half line poem, and the Meredithian sonnet of 16 lines. The fact that these are still referred to as a curtal and a Meredithian sonnet, however, shows that they are not (yet?) considered sonnets per se. There are also innumerable individual exceptions to the form - a poet may refer to a poem as a sonnet because it meets some of the descriptions above, or even just because s/he says so. This means that calling a poem a sonnet is not necessarily to define it strictly, but to say that it stands in relation to the long tradition of sonnets.

Kit Wright's 'Sonnet for Dick' is in the Shakespearean scheme, but once the grief is admitted at the end of the first four lines, the following sentences overflow the shifts in the rhyme scheme, as grief does into life. Mimi Khalvati's 'Overblown Roses' begins with a Shakespearean scheme for its opening eight lines, then performs a volta by turning from the flower itself to what it says about mortality in a Petrarchan sestet. Brendan Kennelly's 'The Happy Grass' and J.D. McClatchy's 'My Mammogram' make similar blends of the two definitions, as does Peter Dale's 'Window', which further adapts the form by moving the second rhyme in each pair a syllable or two back into the line, muting the music of it gently.

Billy Collins' 'Sonnet' is a poem that insists it is a sonnet, while it tries to discard some - but not all - of the rules that have traditionally defined a sonnet.

Offline eric

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Re: Definitions
« Reply #12 on: October 20, 2010, 08:07:22 PM »
You argument fails because discrete forms of sonnets, the Petrachan and the Shakespearean, were invented and gained currency as sonnets.  The forms were followed.  There were interesting variations of rhyme -- Shelley, Heaney, and such -- but the basic form remained unchanged.  There is no question of change and innovation as such -- merely invention.  Free verse sonnets, on the other hand, are free verse and essentially do away with form to a greater or lesser degree.  They would be known as free verse, not sonnets.  Calling something a free verse sonnet, granted that some do, is like calling a gun a long-knived pistol.  That was Amie's point, I think -- that it is not logical to call a carrot cake a creampuff, nor does it make sense to use the words free form sonnet as though they made sense.

By the way, your free-form definition from an internet source does not comport with my Oxford, a book in print which says a sonnet is "a poem of fourteen lines using any of a number of rhyme schemes, in English typically having ten syllables per line."  But both are so vague as to be almost worthless.  Let's look at the more severe definition of a greatly accomplished poet, Mary Oliver:  the Italian sonnet has lines of 8 and 6 in stanzas, with the rhymes; the Elizabethan has 4, 4, and 4 with 2, accompanied by rhymes.  (A Poetry Handbook, 59-60.)  No mention of free verse, which is treated separately.  Would the Poetry Archive disagree? Not sensibly.

The Poetry Dictionary (2006) is similar.  With an extended discussion of the form (including the Spenserian form) the PD says the poet is free to "devise any sort of arrangement that works for a particular sonnet," that is, within the bounds of the form.  (293)  Frost's "Acquainted with the Night" adopts terza rima form as well as sonnet.  But that is not dispensing with the form altogether.  

« Last Edit: October 20, 2010, 09:24:02 PM by eric »

Offline Mark H

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Re: Definitions
« Reply #13 on: October 21, 2010, 03:16:09 AM »
B

In less than 30 minutes I could create a web site called the ultimate poets' reference and define the sonnet as a type of nursery rhyme about pigs. The internet is not a reliable source.

M
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Offline Amie

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Re: Definitions
« Reply #14 on: October 21, 2010, 03:32:06 AM »
I also note your answer to being challenged about whether you truly understand how to write in free verse was rather insubstantial, and slightly childish

The point being that you might be living in the 21st century, but your rather traditionalist opinions seem to be stuck in the past, something your most recent post confirmed. Free verse is a form as much as blank verse, it just works in different ways and is up to the individual poet to determine. So you're right, I won't be able to convince you, because you seem not to understand free verse poetry.

Why is it that every time you respond, you have to have a dig at me? I don't get it. I haven't once made any comment about you personally, and yet at every opportunity you make a comment about me, whether I'm childish, or ignorant, or stuck in a rut or what have you. The debate isn't about me, it's about what makes a sonnet or not. Could you try to stick to that please - comment on the subject matter, and leave your opinions about the individual out of it. It actually says that in the posting guidelines, if you bother to look at them.

And I'm not rallying people to support me, I'm simply posing a question and getting opinions. For me the issue stays the same - if you can define something any way you like, what is the point of having a definition? What about the examples you've given makes them sonnets, other than that the authors have said they are? What is essential to 'sonnet-ness'? I thought it was a legitimate question, I'm sorry that it seems to offend you.
"You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet." - Kafka