This interview was conducted by Carol Smallwood with poet Theresa Rodriguez following the release of Sonnets by Rodriguez, published by Bardsinger Books, 2019; the work is 43 pages and can be found on Kindle for free; and retails on Amazon for $2.99.

Carol Smallwood: Your latest collection, Sonnets covers many topics among the 37 poems including the sonnet itself. How and when did you begin writing in this challenging form?

Theresa Rodriguez: I believe I started writing sonnets in my early 20s. I was taught something about sonnets (but not much in the way of other poetic forms) in high school and I began experimenting and found it immensely satisfying. I was using what I knew. Since then I have experimented with other poetic forms and have made up some forms of my own. As I mention in “Form Sonnet” and “Spenserian Sonnet,” I enjoy the “stricture” and “structure” in writing formal poetry, the “puzzle-solving different mental way.” It is a lot like a complex and beautiful puzzle to me. Sonnets are like a distillation of thought—can you say what you have to say in only fourteen lines?

Smallwood: Besides the sonnet itself, what other topics do your sonnets cover?

Rodriguez: I span a real gamut of concepts and emotional states in Sonnets. There are sonnets about love, longing, loss; death and life; religious hypocrisy and crises of faith; issues regarding mental illness; the creative process; healing and redemption. I have a sonnet about JonBenet Ramsey, the little beauty pageant girl who was found dead in her own home; I have a sonnet dedicated to Saint John of the Cross, who wrote The Dark Night of the Soul; two sonnets for Shakespeare; a sonnet about “birthing” poetry much like one labors in childbirth. It is an interesting mix!

Smallwood: There are different types of sonnets. Please tell readers about
them, the type you use and what is the most challenging part in composing in the sonnet form:

Rodriguez: Not being an academic, I can tell you from the perspective of a craftsman. The three main forms are the Petrarchan, the Shakespearean, and the Spenserian. All forms of sonnets are fourteen lines. Each has its own rhyme scheme but they all share iambic pentameter in common. All are supposed to have a volta or “turn,” a point where contrasting ideas or sentiments are juxtaposed, a turn of thought or argument. In actuality I have written many sonnets with no volta at all, at least not consciously. In the Petrarchan sonnet the volta occurs at the beginning of line 9; in Shakespearean and Spenserian it can occur at line 9 or at the final couplet (line 13). The rhyme scheme of the Petrarchan is abbaabba cdcdcd or abbaabba cdecde; in the Shakespearean it is abab cdcd efef gg; in the Spenserian it is abab bcbc cdcd ee.

I mainly write in the Shakespearean sonnet form but I have experimented with the Spenserian and it is a truly challenging and rewarding undertaking. I have also created a few of my own that do not strictly follow either of these forms.

The most challenging part of composing in the sonnet form for me is to keep the rhymes from sounding hackneyed. There are certain groups of words that lend themselves to rhyme (groups like true, due, you, or see, be, free, for example) and others which might be more difficult (such as rules, jewels, fools). Because many of these words are easy to rhyme (and probably even more so when they are not) I usually find myself writing a little list on the side of the paper with rhymes that might work. Then I try to fit them into what might make sense with what I am trying to say. I just don’t want it to sound like something that has been said or heard before. Even if the words I am rhyming are commonly used rhyming words I want it to sound like it has been rhymed by me for the first time.

Smallwood: Do you also write free verse poetry?

Rodriguez: Indeed I do! Some of my most poignant and psychologically complex poems have been in free verse. I do tend to default to some kind of formal scheme for writing most of the time, however.

Smallwood: Do you see a connection being a voice teacher and singer with being a poet?

Rodriguez: My desire as an artist, be it with words or with music, is to create beauty and to reflect truth with a distinctive voice. In teaching voice I have striven to help singers to first create the most beautiful sounds they can and then to express truth through those sounds. As a singer myself I have striven to create beauty within my instrument and make a distinctive statement. As a poet I am striving to express truth first, and beauty comes from this. So I suppose the process is switched a bit between the two disciplines.

Smallwood: Are you working on another poetry collection?

Rodriguez: I am mulling the idea of a collection called Just Christian, which would contain poems purely of a “religious” or devotional nature. I also had an idea for a collection called Other Things Entering In, which is based on the scripture in Mark 4:19, where spiritual unfruitfulness is derived from many impediments, including the “lusts of other things entering in.”

Smallwood: What advice would you give someone interested in writing sonnets?

Rodriguez: The first step would be to read sonnets. I recommend reading them aloud, to hear the music in the metrical and rhyming structure. It will also help the poet to hear how his or her own voice will sound within the sonnet form. There are websites, including the Society of Classical Poets, that offer articles on how to write sonnets.

Smallwood: Please tell readers about the important nonfiction books you’ve written:

Rodriguez: My first book of poetry is entitled Jesus and Eros: Sonnets, Poems and Songs. Many of the sonnets in Jesus and Eros are found in Sonnets. Besides mostly formal poetry I do have some free verse as well in the Poems section. I also have what are song lyrics to various songs I have written, so they read like lyrics.
I wrote a book entitled When Adoption Fails which tells the painful story of my being raised in an abusive adoptive home. I wrote a book entitled Warning Signs of Abuse: Get Out Early and Stay Free Forever as a guide for women seeking to get out of abusive relationships. And I wrote an eco-friendly parenting book entitled Diaper Changes: The Complete Diapering Book and Resource Guide.

Smallwood: Do you have a website?

Rodriguez: My website is www.bardsinger.com. You can see and hear me reading my poetry under the “Poet” tab.

 

Readers can enjoy some of the classical poetry of Theresa Rodriguez here.

Carol Smallwood is a literary reader, judge, and interviewer. A recent poetry collection is Patterns: Moments in Time (WordTech Communications, 2019).

 


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7 Responses

  1. Theresa Rodriguez

    Thank you very much for publishing this, Evan. Just wanted readers to know that hard copies of Sonnets are available on amazon as well.

    Reply
  2. Sally Cook

    Dear Theresa and Carol,

    This is an excellent and probing interview from both sides, and I would recommend it to everyone posting on this site.
    Theresa, as a poet and painter, I understand and appreciate your desire to meld together your music and poetry. I often see words and phrases as color, and do similar things in my paintings.

    There have been times when I experimented with abstract formulations such as Abstract Expressionism and Geometric paintings, and found each had something to offer me. The catch was, there was always a cutoff point, from which I could go no further.

    I wanted more, and so re-introduced the figurative. I found in the end that my experiments had been invaluable, adding to my knowledge of what to do and what to avoid. I would say experimentation is good if it acts as a signpost toward your goal That being said, I would ask how you balance your strong interest and natural inclination toward form with the writing of free verse, which, at best, can only take you halfway there??

    I am very appreciative of your formal work and look forward to your answer.

    Sincerely,

    Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Sally, for me, free verse has often become the only way to fully “get there.” It starts from the core of me: to what form (or lack of form) does the heart of what I am trying to say best tend? That is usually where the poem will take me. I say it takes me, because sometimes I feel that what is in me is pulling me in a certain expressive direction. I have never felt that free verse had a cutoff point or a place from which I could go no further. In fact I felt that it has been the conduit to fully expressing what was in my heart and mind to begin with. I just do not see the two as being mutually exclusive. However, I have not written much free verse in the last few years. I have been experimenting with forms I have not tried before in addition to staying in familiar territory.

      I also intend my free verse to have a certain music about it. I still want it to be as powerful and beautiful as any formal poetry that I have written. I think that is my aim, beauty and power!

      Reply
      • Sally Cook

        Theresa, each of us has a path to follow.
        All I can do is to share my experience in relationship to yours. We have experienced similar things in thr making of poetry; However, we differ in that I find free verse to be an easy way out of problems; formless, based on emotion, and meandering — I don’t see that in what you do with form.
        And yet say you find yourself increasingly drawn to more types of form. You may have asked yourself why — if not, I would.
        Each of us has a path to follow., and it would be a dull world if we were all alike; Promotion of standardization is not my intent in bringing up this subject.

  3. James Sale

    Great to read this review and the more I read Theresa Rodriguez’s work, the better I think it is. I was privileged to read alongside her in NY’s Bryant Park recently, and her work has such power and passion. What I particularly like as well is the overtly spiritual nature of it and the way she explores reality – tests it – against her beliefs. Carol Smallwood has done a great job in bringing her work forward in this way. And I am hoping myself to contribute more by providing an in-depth review of her two collections, Jesus and Eros, and her Sonnets, later this year.

    Reply
  4. C.B. Anderson

    Please, spare us the explanations and just show us a good sonnet or two. I understand how much thought goes into a rationale for what it is that one does, but the proof is in the pudding. I’m hungry.

    Reply

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