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November 2003, no. 256

The Indigo Book of Modern Australian Sonnets edited by Geoff Page

Indigo, $20 pb, 112 pp


November 2003, no. 256

This book (The Indigo Book of Modern Australian Sonnets edited by Geoff Page, Indigo, $20 pb, 112 pp), says Geoff Page in his introduction, should ‘cheer up those who are prone to lament the passing of “form” from contemporary poetry’. Speaking as one who does employ the f-word now and again, I’m very glad to hear it, though I catch the note of sardonicism and think that Page rather misses the point when he writes, again a little satirically, that some ‘may complain that fourteen lines “do not a sonnet always make”‘. I, for one, am more likely to complain that a poem of roughly sonnet proportions ‘does not a decent poem make’; the sonnet (I’d say) is a means, not an end. Apart from the obvious cases of ‘straitjacketing’, of forcing a form upon such content as may be naturally resistant to it, there is the fact that too smooth a rehashing of forms is one of the things – just think of Kipling – that announces a poet as irretrievably minor. Take the Shakespearean sonnet, for example: in poets of only moderate skill, its closing couplet will tend to betray a cluck of self-congratulation.

A rhyme scheme down the side is de rigueur.
Elizabethan maybe – or Petrarchan.
And cooks from Spenser on will all concur
the sonnet is the dish to make your mark in.
By God, we’re there and, yes, you’re doing fine.
And now, like pepper, add the fourteenth line.

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