Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
William Shakespeare – Prospero’s Epilogue in The Tempest
by Louise Wareham Leonard
You’re looking for the one hard core,
the knot that must be; your own
unmistakable will, centered in you as the
heart was, but not so complacent
something must give it rise, must
waken it, some word or wrong, some
misplaced hand or affection, so your will
can come blazing through; your savior,
full of certainty. Instead there is only
the dull ache, a settling as you move further
and deeper into a life, that arranges itself
that arranges you in itself. Loss or hope
you can’t distinguish. It’s like dust:
how it color’s sunsets, shapes rain, buries cities.
I don’t have to count anymore, to see that a poem has fourteen lines. I still do sometimes, out of habit, but I can look at it on the page and know it’s fourteen. You could argue that neither of these incredible poems are sonnets. You would be both right and wrong. I have become a huge fan of the un-rhymed sonnet; more prevalent than you might think, lurking about in literature like a black cat, getting ready to pounce on your soul.
I often wonder did the writer consciously or unconsciously structure the poem within the sonnet form? Take these two poems as examples. There is not a strict adherence to 10 syllables per line, but most of the definitive lines are 10 syllables. Some are shorter, but if a line is longer than 10 syllables the preceding is shorter by that amount such that it works out to be 20 within two lines. Look at the last two lines of Some Wrong. It flows to the conclusion of a sonnet. Look at the 9th line. There’s the volta waiting, to take a swipe and with one claw, turn your mind to where the poem is unsuspectingly taking you.
It could be that its only coincidence that each of these poems have precisely fourteen lines. It could be just a coincidence that they are about love, love gone wrong, or as right as it could, but still about love. It could be another coincidence that most of the literature that Louise Wareham Leonard has written has been about sexuality, both healthy and unhealthy, as a form of violence. But then again, the sonnet is so woven into the fabric of western literature, and western writers that whether we recognize these poems as sonnets or not, they sit within that framework. The poet wrote the words, broke the lines and ended the poem in such a way, that it just worked out to be fourteen; because the glove that fit the hand with the pen, knew when it was time to end.
by Louise Wareham Leonard
You’ve done it again, for the eighteenth time.
and so many more that you’ve lost count but not
obviously hope, forcing love
from those that have none, but touch you anyway,
open you anyway, like the first one,
who knew he shouldn’t,
so it made him wild with shame, and hateful,
sickened by the sight of you,
as you were, but still craving you,
as you crave those now who could make it right,
who come so close, so dizzyingly close sometimes,
gripping your hand like they have been there too,
and they probably have – that’s why
you chose them – to fail you.
Some Wrong and Compulsion were both published in the February 1995 issue of Poetry Magazine.