Today poetic form is ostracised.
It’s stifled and suppressed, deemed obsolete;
classed as archaic, stuffy and effete,
a vestige of the past to be chastised.

Make no mistake, the ‘advice’ is quite prescriptive:
“be modern” and, above all, “just be free”
—though that idea of freedom seems to me
a little overbearing and restrictive.

How long is ‘modern’ modern, anyway?
I ask because they’ve been at it for ages,
yet after all these years and all their pages,
I still prefer to read Edna Millay.

I too “put chaos into fourteen lines”
—and yes, I love it—stuff the philistines!

 

M. P. Lauretta lives in the U.K., where she enjoys watching (and writing about) nature and current events. She is currently working on two new collections: one of sonnets and one of villanelles. Her first collection is still available from Amazon, Apple iBooks, and Barnes & Noble.


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18 Responses

    • M. P. Lauretta

      Thank you, James.

      Plus, of course, SCP is the right home for this poem. 🙂

      Reply
  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    Writing quatrains in an ABBA rhyme scheme is not as easy as doing the more usual ABAB thing. The structure demands more care with both grammar and syntax. These ones work very well.

    Of course the pronunciation of “philistine” varies. In America it is usually phi-lis-TEEN, but in other places one hears “phi-lis-TINE” (the last syllable here rhyming with the tine of a fork).

    Reply
    • M. P. Lauretta

      Thank you for the compliment!

      I must confess I was not aware ‘philistine’ was pronounced differently in the US. Now I can see how the final couplet may puzzle some people…

      Reply
  2. Dave Whippman

    Clever work, well done. I hate dogmatism; if people want to write free verse, fine, but there are so many great poems that rhyme and scan.

    Reply
  3. Mark Stone

    M.P.

    1. I am uncomfortable with the word “chastised” for two reasons. First, my dictionary says that the word means “to punish, scold or condemn sharply.” When I think of the use of that word, I think of people being chastised, rather than things being chastised. Second, when I say the word, I emphasize the first syllable, and you would want the emphasis to be on the final syllable of line 4, since it is in iambic pentameter. I should mention that my dictionary says it is also correct to emphasize the first syllable of the word. Nevertheless, if you personally emphasize the first syllable, and you’re looking for another option for line 4, here is one:

    an artifact that should be fossilized.

    2. Every time I read the poem, I get stuck on line 7. Here are three alternatives that read smoothly:

    This notion, though, of freedom seems to me

    To think of freedom this way seems to me

    To think of freedom thusly seems to me

    My favorite is the last one because using “thusly” would give you vertical assonance with “just” in the previous line.

    3. Notwithstanding these comments, I very much like the poem.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      You have trouble with line 7 because you don’t recognize that it begins with a choriamb. This is a normal and common substitution in the start of iambic pentameter lines. Here’s the scansion:

      THOUGH that iDEA of FREEdom SEEMS to ME

      “Thusly” is an impossible philistinism.

      Reply
  4. M. P. Lauretta

    Yes, I appreciate that it is normally people and not things that are chastised, but when writing this sonnet I had a mental picture of the formal poem as personifying a victim being flagellated by the establishment – the latter being enraged by the fact that, despite all its efforts, formal poems still continue to be written, and read.

    How many formal poems are entered in competitions all over the world and discarded precisely because they are formal?

    I’m glad you like the poem anyway.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Amen, M.P. I am pondering submitting a poem to a local, annual literary anthology. The way I see it, I have two options: 1. Submit a free-verse poem with the possibility of being accepted or, 2. Submit a formal poem with the probability of being rejected. I believe I will end up submitting a sonnet, anyway. If it is turned down I will have no problem viewing it as a judgment/criticism/chastisement of the poetic form, itself. (By the way, I have also heard the word pronounced, philISTine, one of five options offered by Merrimack/Webster.)

      Reply
      • M. P. Lauretta

        I agree with your choice. Not only is it a worthwhile test, but it preserves our integrity.

        Speaking of sonnets, do you know what really annoys me?

        According to ‘the establishment’ the sonnet is “unfashionable”. Ha!

        Yet – and this has to be the ultimate insult – if one of their protegees publishes a so-called collection of ‘sonnets’ – which in actual fact are not sonnets at all, being amorphous blobs which neither scan nor rhyme, but just happen to be 14 lines long – then, all of a sudden, it’s all the rage!

      • M. P. Lauretta

        There’s also the fact that if you comply, they win.

  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    There is absolutely no point at all in submitting formal poetry to any “mainstream” contest. It will be eliminated in the very first round of readings by stupid student interns.

    For years I submitted poems to State Poetry Competitions all over the nation. These contests were sponsored by the official State Poetry Societies of the various states of the American union. These societies are usually run (as Dana Gioia once colorfully pointed out) by “trinominate blue-haired ladies” whose only notion of poetry is gaseous, free-verse blather or Hallmark-Card sentimentalities.

    The competitions run by the late Dr. Alfred Dorn were much different. They specifically excluded free verse, and had twenty-five categories of competition calling for types of formal poetry (blank verse, sonnets, rhyme royal, villanelles, etc.), and they were very strictly judged. Nobody got away with anything freaky or “experimental.” And Dr. Dorn provided (out of his own pocket) substantial cash prizes in every category. These Dorn contests came to an end several years ago, with the man’s lapse into illness, and one of Dorn’s final requests was that I be the sole judge for the very last contest. I made sure that every prize went to the VERY BEST and strictest formal poem in each category. Over $3000 was distributed.

    Reply
    • M. P. Lauretta

      Oh, the great Alfred Dorn!

      Of course, he’s totally unheard of here, but after reading some of his poems on The New Formalist website (which is currently offline, BTW) I was fortunate enough to source a copy of his From Cells to Mindscape, which I absolutely treasure.

      What’s more, it was after reading Alfred Dorn that I started writing villanelles. I can honestly say that if I hadn’t read some of his villanelles I would never had written any myself. His “Bikini Girl” and “From Bengal” turned my preconceptions upside down as they demonstrate how a poem in that form can still feel alive and convey real feeling despite the considerable formal constraints.

      Reply
  6. Dic Asburee Wel

    At times, Mr. Salemi is as animated as he describes Mr. Dorn in his “In Memoriam”, from which this bauble comes.

    Alfred Dorn (1929-2014)

    He dwelled among the trodden ways
    in Flushing, Queens, New York,
    a man who liked a thoughtful phrase,
    the poet Alfred Dorn.

    A fresh carnation he would wear
    in dapper, crisp lapel;
    his walking stick would have to bear
    his six-foot-two uphill.

    He lived unknown, and few would know
    the poetry he wrote;
    but though he’s in his grave, brave soul,
    there are words one can note.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      The above poem (not a particularly adept one) was NOT written by me. I have no idea who penned it.

      Reply
  7. Dic Asburee Wel

    Obviously Joseph S. Salemi didn’t write that bauble; his baubles are elsewhere.

    Reply
  8. Joseph S. Salemi

    And obviously, Bruce, your marbles are elsewhere, and have been for quite some time.

    If you had been able to write a semantically clear English sentence in your post of April 17, no confusion would have arisen.

    Reply

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