Reviewed Book: Mostly Sonnets: Formal Poetry in an Informal World by James A. Tweedie, Dunecrest Press, July 2019

by Theresa Rodriguez

As a fellow sonneteer, I felt like I was reading the words of a kindred spirit when I read James A. Tweedie’s Mostly Sonnets: Formal Poetry for an Informal World. Tweedie is a very fluid writer with a clean, clear, expressive style, which grabs ahold of you with its immediacy and beauty of execution. What is most striking is the mixture of Christian belief intermingled with an honesty of thought, never coming across as sermonizing, but expressing a faith-filled wonder and appreciation for the natural world and the place of the intelligent believer within it.

In “For My Beloved,” the closing couplet summarizes a sonnet on communion, or the Eucharist:

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A sacramental mystery divine
To taste that I am Yours, and You are mine.

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In “Love that Lasts” we are treated to such phrases as “flame-impassioned kiln of lust;” “Incendiary fireworks of heart / And thigh;” and “faux-felt, fickle love” which is “temporal and ephemeral at best.” The closing couplet brilliantly summarizes the contrast of lust versus true love:

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True love is not based solely on the thrill,
But reaffirmed each day by force of will.

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In Poem IV of the “Poems of Hibernia and Caledonia” (“To the Unknown Scribe of the 8th Century Book of Kells”), we learn of the scribe:

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He transcribed scripture and illumed each text
With intricate designs infused with prayer;
Forsaking this world’s kingdoms for the next.

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One of my favorites is “When God dies,” which is a powerful antidote to atheism:

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The silent echoes of a stillborn sun
Portend the doom of uncreated day,
As once-knit atoms come unspun
And time implodes in random disarray.

Now-soulless life unbreathes its final gasp,
Unsuffering in meaningless distress,
As darkness holds the cosmos in its grasp—
Imbued with mindless, vapid pointlessness.

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,
For separated from eternity,
Love, truth, and beauty fade and disappear,
The hapless victims of Modernity.

A universe that’s empty, formless, void,
Is all that’s left when God has been destroyed.

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In Mostly Sonnets we are also treated to a set of three love sonnets “In an Antiquated Style;” a pair of sonnets about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; a sonnet about treading “The Pilgrim Path,” where “We must cross our daily Rubicon;” a sonnet about humpback whales; and a powerful reflection in “On Regret,” where the author is reflecting on his life and the choices of the past:

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Although I have regrets, it’s far too late
To undo what I did so long ago.
Perhaps it’s best to bless and consecrate
The past to God, and then just let it go.

And yet how nice it would have been, somehow,
To know back then the things that I know now.

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What I appreciate most is Tweedie’s honesty when it comes to dealing with matters of his own faith. In the sonnet “What If” he asks a series of rhetorical questions about the possibility of “faith proven false,” opinions possibly “found to be in error on review,” and the chance that “…all that I’ve held certain [is] turned unclear.” The final couplet sums up his believing heart perfectly:

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Take note: My faith in Jesus remains strong,
But as for all the rest I could be wrong.

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I have found throughout the book that his closing couplets are very strong and have a truly musical flow to them—as do the poems themselves, full of lyrical beauty and many well-articulated truths.

Other topics such as a rural Christmas, the Black Death, a winter thunderstorm, a whale watch, and issues of faith provide a variety of reading pleasure. This was a truly enjoyable reading experience. I would recommend Mostly Sonnets to anyone who loves the sonnet form and would enjoy the combination of finely-written poetry with an honest, religious aesthetic sense.

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13 Responses

  1. James Sale

    A sonneteer on a sonneteer: wonderful! I think James Tweedie’s sonnets are first-rate, and I agree with Theresa that his concluding couplets can be incredibly powerful – James really is somebody who understands the sonnet form. I strongly recommend his book and I am really pleased I have a copy!!!

    Reply
    • james A. Tweedie

      Thank you, James. I appreciate your kind words even as I appreciate the help you offered when I was preparing this book for publication.

      Reply
  2. Theresa Rodriguez

    Thank you to Evan for publishing this review, and to James Tweedie for writing such an excellent book!

    Reply
  3. C.B. Anderson

    Yes, James Tweedie is a national treasure, whose work fairly overflows with concinnity and profound thought. I think that everyone here knows that, though James himself might be too modest to love hearing such an accolade.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      C.B. While I do not yet consider myself old enough to be designated a “national treasure” (although when I turn 70 in May–as Joe did this week–I may reconsider) I am, nonetheless, enjoying basking in the warmth of your accolade. Also, I believe this may be the first time the word “concinnity” has ever been employed on my behalf. It is not a word I would ever chose to describe myself but, modest though I am, I feel compelled by gratitude to accept, embrace, and savor it. Especially since I doubt I will ever have the opportunity to do it again!

      Reply
  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Theresa, this is a beautiful review for a worthy and engaging poet. Thank you for bringing James Tweedie’s accomplishment to our attention. Bravo James!

    Reply
  5. Sandra Ginn Keeney

    Is Mr. Tweedie’s Mostly Sonnets available anywhere besides on Amazon?

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Sandra, In addition to Amazon, my book is available in several bookstores in my corner of south-west Washington. It is also available directly from me at the same cost, including shipping, charged by Amazon.

      If this interests you feel free to contact me through Evan.

      Reply
      • Sandra Ginn Keeney

        Contacting Mr. Mantyk for 2 copies of your book, Mostly Sonnets… @ $ 9.95 each. I will need postage since I was a Prime Amazon user.
        S. Keeney

  6. Corey Elizabeth Jackson

    The imagery in the sonnet “When God dies”, quoted in this review, is uniquely rich and powerful in pointing to a universe devoid of consciousness. “Stillborn sun”, “uncreated day”, “once-knit atoms”, “time implodes”, “now-soulless life”, “vapid pointlessness” . . . all these stark, entropic concepts place in razor-sharp relief the effervescent faith of the conscious human heart. This sonnet, by its sheer and evocative contrasts, is a spellbinding testament to the truth of a God that can never be, as the final couplet says . . . “destroyed. “

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Corey,

      You have captured my intent with precision. It pleases me greatly that this poem spoke to you so clearly and convincingly.

      The words and phrases you cite were wrested from my soul by a power greater than my own. I may “own” the poem but in truth it belongs to God who, I firmly believe, brought it into existence through me.

      It is, regardless, a poem offered in praise for the glory of God.

      Reply

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