My True Verse

 

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Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis MN

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

October in Minneapolis is a sacred month.   It has the last warm days of the season mixed with a visual feast of greens, yellows, orange and reds beneath a blue harvest sky.  Minnesotans know what’s coming next; cold weather, snow, icy sidewalks, short foggy grey overcast days and leafless trees.  Please, don’t ruin our enjoyment of being sozzled by beauty for a couple of weeks by reminding us of our winter hangover that is yet to come.  Nature throws a hell of party at summer’s closing time in Minneapolis, with a last round of a Kaleidoscope of colors for our bacchanalian fall over indulgence.

October is sacred for another reason for me personally.  It is the month of my mother’s birth and the one year anniversary of her ashes being interred at Lakewood Cemetery, next to her parents and grandmother.

The only reason I am a poet and writing this blog is because of my mother.   Poetry was and is a visceral connection to her. She and I shared a love of poetry going back to my childhood but it intensified as time went on.   My mother returned to Minnesota for the last four years of her life, after 28 years of living in other parts of the world, always pronouncing steadfastly during short visits, that she would never return to live here again.   That she relented on that declaration was a gift beyond measure.  Her return to Minneapolis, coming full circle back to the neighborhood where she grew up and first taught grade school after graduating from the University of Minnesota,  allowed me and my sister to spend time with her on a weekly basis, as she lived less than two miles away from each of us in those remaining years.

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Mary Fry

Soon after she returned, my mother and I created a tradition called poetry night.  It started out informally but grew to have regular rules.   We each would pick out 5 or 6 poems to read aloud to each other and eat a meal together once every 3 or 4 months.  The rule was you had to read each poem twice (her rule, in part because of her struggles with hearing aids, but also so that you can listen carefully and internalize more of the poem the second time through).   We would take turns, alternating, reading each poem we had selected one at a time,  then asking each other questions, laughing, telling stories, talking about the author and why we chose each poem, before moving on to the next.  We were planning another poetry night shortly before she died. It was a lovely way to spend 3 hours in her presence.  Here is a poem I had set aside to read to her on our next poetry night.

Love is a Place

e. e. cummings

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)  all worlds

My mother was a good poet and had great taste in poetry.  She liked serious poetry, but also appreciated silly rhymes, and was a masterful limerick writer. She often wrote us a poem for our birthdays, an affirmation of her love. In a future blog post I will share more of her poetry.  Here is a poem my mother wrote in August of 2014 following heavy June rains that caused minor flooding on Lake of Isles, which is only a couple of blocks from where she lived. It illustrates her powers of observation, wisdom and sense of humor.

High Water

Mary Fry

In the middle of the summer downpour
The lake rose up out of its bed,
Ambled across the beach,
Crept over the grassy verge,
And settled on the walking path.
Little fish followed;
Swimming along, their shadows gliding beneath them,
On the path that said ….’No Bikes’.

My mother lived and lives in a yes world, and wished for all of her family and friends to live a loving life with brightness of peace. She allowed each of us to swim our own paths, even in high water.

It is a daunting thing to try and write something in honor of your mother.   Words never measure up.   I wrote the following poem as part of my grief process.  It began as a sonnet, but it morphed a little to become something sonnet-light.  The day of her internment was overcast, grey and slightly rainy.

Happy Birthday Mom.

My True Verse

T. A. Fry

Laid bare before life’s mighty eyes,
Farewell beloved I leave behind.
Look past the rain, the grey torn sky.
And if you weep this day, then go resigned.
Keep no somber vigil by silent ash.
As my spirit lives with those I loved.
For I lay beyond mere earthen cache,
My love of you forever proved.
So when in need of kindly word,
Amid drag and drone of a rambling curse.
Listen for my voice in brook or bird.
And hear the truest of my true verse.

 


 

Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost from The Poetry of Robert Frost edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright © 1923, 1947, 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, copyright © 1942, 1951 by Robert Frost, copyright © 1970, 1975 by Lesley Frost Ballantine.

“love is a place” by E.E. Cummings from Complete Poems 1904-1962, edited by George James Firmage. Copyright © 1935, 1963, 1991 by the Trustees for the E.E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1978 by George James Firmage.

©2017 Original material and images copyright T. A. Fry.  Other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.

 

 

Hunting Down The Lawless Sonnets of The Old West

Sonnet Eye Chart (1)

 

In fact, it seems to be the opinion of most of the later poets of our language that if the game is to be played at all, it is best to follow the rules without cavil and without claiming any license to depart from them.

 A Study on Versification (1911) by Brander Matthews

It is a conundrum, this holy aura that surrounds sonnets. The nearly religious vow that a poet is expected to uphold in pursuit of writing them, by fervently obeying a sonnet’s ancient rhyming rules and metrical structure. I agree with Matthews; “There is no obligation of any poet to make use of the sonnet framework; and if he would express himself without restraint he has at his command the large liberty of all the other lyrical forms.  It is in the rigidity of its skeleton that the charm of the sonnet is firmly rooted.  It tends to impose a helpful condensation, thus counteracting the temptation to diffuseness.”

Rules aren’t fun when it comes to creative writing. I think it’s why many readers of poetry wrinkle their noses at sonnets like an ancient lyricist has let out a fart in the library and it’s just wafted their way.   We might pin the blame for the modern masses eschewing sonnets on Shakespeare, whose sonnets, even his most ardent fans admit, can be at times practically unreadable in the leaden opacity of some of his verse.  We are told by learned professors of literature we are supposed to like Shakespeare because he is brilliant. No wonder many modern readers have thrown off their literary chains, shirking their responsibilities of reading Milton, Chaucer, Tennyson, Wordsworth and Dunne to obtain a well rounded appreciation of poetry, instead favoring more accessible poets like e. e. cummings, who followed no rules at all. However, boldly avowing a broad dislike of dusty sonnets would require taking the time to actually read a fair bit of Shakespeare or Milton to have a real opinion on the matter and most of us never cracked those books to begin with in high school, college or beyond.

Sonnets run the risk of offending the sensibility of modern readers of poetry, those readers that are attracted to free verse precisely because poetry doesn’t have to follow the rules of grammar and sentence construction we were taught in school.  A modern poet can claim poetic license at anytime and lay down their “get out of grammar jail” free card whenever he or she chooses.

So dear readers, let’s climb into this poet’s confessional and get something off our collective chests early on in this blog.  Sonneteers sometimes stretch the rules just a bit in favor of a winning line or for the sake of clarity and story.   Let’s not pretend that sonnets are bound by an ironclad suit of armor of 14 lines of 10 syllables each and every time. Nor are they chained unmercifully to a rhyming scheme or even rhyming at all. Many great sonnets stray slightly from this construction, with the occasional couplet getting its freak on by being 9 syllables followed by 10 or 11 syllables, or the addition of a bonus couplet and winding up with 16 lines, or snipping a couplet off and wrapping things up after only 12 lines. Believe it or not, there are even 18 line sonnets, who aren’t kicked out of the family tree of sonnets for having an extra few chromosomes as it were. Rudyard Kipling, a contemporary of Brander Matthew, wrote him a letter following the publication of A Study of Versification and quipped; “I’d like to war over the sonnet idea with you.  A sonnet is much more lawless than you’d have it.”

Things happen in poetry, even classical poetry.   Its true, that rules are rules with sonnets, and a serious reader of sonnets should probably know the difference between an English sonnet, an Italian sonnet or a Petrarchan sonnet, but not every line must rhyme precisely in its anointed position if the flow and meter is pleasing.  Some sonnets follow the – if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck rule of sonnets, for even with slight unique modifications – it’s still a sonnet.  But as Brander Matthews said: “A poor sonnet is a poor thing indeed….. nothing is longer than a sonnet if there is nothing in it.”  A boorish writer of sonnets can be a slave to impeccable rhyme sequence and structure with nothing interesting to say and the reader is still left with a shortish bit of rubbish.

Why go in search of great sonnets?  And whose to be the judge of what constitutes a great sonnet?   Both good questions one should ask if we are both to invest considerable time in this endeavor, me in writing this blog and you in reading it. I’ll not impose or assume anything about your motivations. The reason I have an obsession with sonnets is that when I find a sonnet that really speaks to me, in both the fluidity of its language and in the artistry of it’s message, it sparkles. Finding a great sonnet is like finding a keeper agate;  I see a glimpse of it sticking out of the ground, I bend over to pick it up and hope that when I lick off the dirt and study it closely I am going to uncover something incredibly beautiful.

Here are four sonnets about sonnets.  I figured why not let much better writers than I explain why sonnets can suck you in under their influence if you’re not careful.   Astute readers will instantly call foul on the Billy Collins poem, Sonnet, being labeled a sonnet. True, it lacks a sonnets rhyming scheme. But its a ripping good poem, so it qualifies in my book as a true “sonnet.”  A sense of humor scores bonus points if I am judge and jury in curating which sonnets make the grade for this blog.  Enjoy!

 

Scorn Not The Sonnet

William Wordsworth

Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frowned,
Mindless of it’s just honours; with this key
Shakespeare unlocked his heart; the melody
Of this small lute gave ease to Petrarch’s wound;
A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound;
With it Camöens soothed an exile’s grief;
The Sonnet glittered a gay myrtle leaf
Amid the cypress with which Dante crowned
His visionary brow: a glow-worm lamp,
It cheered mild Spenser, called from Faery-land
To struggle through dark ways; and, when a damp
Fell round the path of Milton, in his hand
The Thing became a trumpet; whence he blew
Soul-animating strains—alas, too few!

 

A Sonnet

D. G. Rossetti

A Sonnet is a moment’s monument,
–Memorial from the Soul’s eternity
To one dead deathless hour. Look that it be,
Whether for lustral rite or dire portent,
Of its own arduous fullness reverent:
Carve it in ivory or in ebony,
As Day or Night may rule; and let Time see
Its flowering crest impearled and orient.
A Sonnet is a coin: its face reveals
The soul,–its converse, to what Power ’tis due:
–Whether for tribute to the august appeals
Of Life, or dower in Love’s high retinue,
It serve, or, ‘mid the dark wharf’s cavernous breath,
In Charon’s palm it pay the toll to Death.

 

I Will Put Chaos Into Fourteen Lines

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I will put Chaos into fourteen lines
And keep him there; and let him thence escape
If he be lucky; let him twist, and ape
Flood, fire, and demon — his adroit designs
Will strain to nothing in the strict confines
Of this sweet order, where, in pious rape,
I hold his essence and amorphous shape,
Till he with Order mingles and combines.
Past are the hours, the years of our duress,
His arrogance, our awful servitude:
I have him. He is nothing more nor less
Than something simple not yet understood;
I shall not even force him to confess;
Or answer. I will only make him good.

Sonnet

Billy Collins

To read Collin’s poem click the link below.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=40461

 

©2017 Original material copyright T. A. Fry.  Other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.

How First You Loved Me For A Written Line

 

All you have to do is write one true sentence.   The truest sentence you know.

Earnest Hemingway

EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay saw the tides of public sentiment regarding her writing wax and wane during her lifetime.  She straddled the era of classical poetry and the emergence of new voices, a new poetic language.  The writing of Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, just to name a few, was evolving the accepted poetic style that would bring free verse to the forefront of American literature.

To the literary critics who stabbed and slashed at Edna’s prose in search of some kind of retributive analysis; I say phooey. I have no interest in literary critique as character assassination. I think the critics of her day suffered from the same character flaw strong independent women face today; criticism that hides behind misogyny. I prefer to invest my time as unabashed fan of Millay who brings a sense of humor and humanity to her poetry. Millay’s writing is filled with true sentences which stick with me long after the cover is closed.

Sometimes When I Am Wearied Suddenly

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sometimes when I am wearied suddenly
Of all the things that are the outward you,
And my gaze wanders ere your tale is through
To webs of my own weaving, or I see
Abstractedly your hands about your knee
And wonder why I love you as I do,
Then I recall, “Yet Sorrow thus he drew;
“Then I consider, “Pride thus painted he.”
Oh, friend, forget not, when you fain would note
In me a beauty that was never mine,
How first you knew me in a book I wrote,
How first you loved me for a written line:
So are we bound till broken is the throat
Of Song, and Art no more leads out the Nine.

©2017 Original material copyright T. A. Fry.  Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.

 

A Farewell To Arms

sir r peale
George Baxter’s Portrait of Sir Robert Peele

ob·ses·sion

əbˈseSHən

noun

  1. The state of being obsessed with someone or something.
  2. An idea or thought that repetitively preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind.
  3. The judgement of others who believe the person obsessed is spending an excessive amount of time on something.

English Oxford Dictionary

A true confession.  The wonderful thing about an honest obsession is the depth of wonder it constantly evokes, connections that one either uncovers like mini-mysteries, threads woven into the common consciousness or imagines out of whole cloth for one’s own entertainment.   To an outsider, another’s obsession may seem odd, repetitively annoying,  bewildering, or taken to the extreme,  a mental illness.   I haven’t given this much thought,  how my sonnet obsession might appear to others; harmless, eccentric, needlessly academic, outdated, nerdy all jump to mind.  Fortunately, as of yet, it has not proven to be the cause of social ostracism or source of embarrassment to my children.  However, I’ve only just begun this blog; stay tuned..

One of the things I quickly uncovered about sonnets is the ubiquity of their influence on writers of all stripes throughout the ages. Sonnets lend themselves to the obsessive mind because of their seemingly unlimited connections within literature, a backbone of the cosmos of poetic ideals that are inherent to the human psyche’s pursuit of artistic expression.

I have not, as yet, uncovered a sonnet written by Earnest Hemingway. If someone reading this blog knows of one, be so kind as to share it. The title to Hemingway’s novel, A Farewell to Arms, is likely lifted from George Peele’s sonnet of the same name.   The themes of the novel and the sonnet are very much connected; exploring the noble ideals around the concept of service – service to country first as soldier, then, when no longer able to sustain the ravages of war, service to others, friends, family, lovers or Queen.

Reading Peele’s sonnet the first time sent me scurrying to the dictionary, unsure if I truly understood the meaning of the word beadsman.   I’ll save you the trip.  What I learned is in the 1500’s it was common for royalty, nobleman and wealthy benefactors of churches or castles to hire alms men or woman to pray for their well being.  An interesting thought, that the rich believed someone else could pray their way to either earthly success or something more eternal.  I suppose that’s the cynical view of a concept I have no modern equivalent.  A more generous assumption would be that with no social security as safety net, the wealthy shared a modest pension to those that had loyally served them when young, to provide a modicum of support in their waning years. I’ll let you decide.  Regardless, Peele’s sonnet speaks to the ideals of faithful service to a cause that is worthy of something greater than himself.

A Farewell To Arms

George Peele
(1556-1596)

 

HIS golden locks Time hath to silver turn’d;
O Time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing!
His youth ‘gainst time and age hath ever spurn’d,
But spurn’d in vain; youth waneth by increasing:
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen;
Duty, faith, love, are roots, and ever green.

His helmet now shall make a hive for bees;
And, lovers’ sonnets turn’d to holy psalms,
A man-at-arms must now serve on his knees,
And feed on prayers, which are Age his alms:
But though from court to cottage he depart,
His Saint is sure of his unspotted heart.

And when he saddest sits in homely cell,
He’ll teach his swains this carol for a song,–
‘Blest be the hearts that wish my sovereign well,
Curst be the souls that think her any wrong.’
Goddess, allow this aged man his right
To be your beadsman now that was your knight.

©2017 Original material copyright T. A. Fry.  Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.

Why Write Sonnets?

 

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A completely genuine word of encouragement occurred after a writing workshop by another writer.  He said, “what you are trying to do isn’t easy.  But I can’t relate, because I have never been able to write what I want to write in the structure that a sonnet imposes.”

He summed up in many ways the very reason why I write sonnets.  I find being forced into a structure of ten syllables a line and fourteen lines empowering and reassuring.  Sonnets require me to think clearly.  I enjoy rhyming poetry, both reading it and the challenge of writing it.  For me, it feels like my writing becomes simultaneously both  more accessible and genuine through a sonnet’s structure.

I find writing sonnets a process of discovery.  It requires that I not fear the rhyme.  I explore ideas first and look to uncover rhyme and structure later.  I strive to write poetry that is pleasing to read aloud and has what I call good mouth feel.  I believe strongly poetry should be read aloud, whether alone or better yet, with someone else to share the experience.   I have found, if I am patient and let the sonnet go in unexpected ways, even let the rhyme have the upper hand once in a while, my subconscious steers my writing in productive and interesting ways.

Here is an example where the rhyme guided, rather than obstructed the writing.  It draws on imagery from one of my favorite poems in the Tao.  It was inspired by the bravery of a friend.

Peace Tears

Cry my brave warrior; peace tears like rain.
Let them fall freely; nourish your heart’s threads.
Each able to share the source of its pain.
Awash in the wisdom of roads you have tread.
Sob my brave fighter, each rasp a sad song.
Don’t hold it in. Give it back to the soil.
Each gasp a lyric of when you were wronged,
The blood tragic score of all of your toil.
Give me your tears and I’ll settle my dust,
Soften my glare, blunt what was pointed.
Each shines my soul and rids it of rust.
With every one shed our friendship anointed.
Bless me or curse me, whatever shall be.
Cry in my arms and set our hearts free.     

by T. A. Fry