We got together in March for another session dedicated to writing, as we have two feedback sessions coming up in April & May, which will have more focus on discussion of our work than actually creating it.
We looked at an old style of poetry - Shakespearean sonnets. A sonnet is an Italian form of poetry which has a 'song-like' quality. They are usually written about love, but different writers have put their own spin on them over hundreds of years, including Shakespeare, who popularised this type by writing a great many of them!
There are 3 ‘golden rules’ which govern how Shakespearean sonnets are written.
1. 14 lines long. The sonnets are split into 3 groups of 4 lines (quatrains) and finished off with a couplet (2 lines) to make 14 lines in total. This is the most long-standing rule, and one that modern poets still stick to, even if they put their own spin on some of the other traditions.
2. Strict rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme for Shakespearean sonnets is:
Every time a letter is the same, those lines rhyme, so the 1st/3rd lines rhyme, the 2nd/4th rhyme, the 5th/7th rhyme and so on, until the last two which rhyme with each other.
3. Iambic pentameter. “What?!” This is the meter of the poem, which means the beats per line and stresses of the words. There are typically 10 syllables per line, with the accent on every other beat. This line from one of Shakespeare’s sonnets is a good example:
So now I have confessed that he is thine
This gave us really good practice writing in form. Many of us are used to writing poetry in free verse, and some of us don’t really dabble in poetry, so it was a challenge to learn about the strict rules involved in writing Shakespearean sonnets. We feel it is beneficial within the group to learn about traditional forms and styles of poetry for two reasons – it pushes your boundaries as a writer when you learn new techniques, and it demonstrates an understanding of where your art has come from and how it developed. Both of these can open new doors in terms of both inspiration and bringing variety to your portfolio.
There are other types of sonnet too – Petrarchan, for example, which has a different rhyme scheme. Many modern poets play around with the structure and just write a 14-line poem influenced by traditional sonnets. However, they wouldn’t be able to do this unless they had spent some time learning about sonnets.
Why not look up some traditional and modern sonnets and see what they’re like? Then you could try writing one using these golden rules, and then with your own spin.
A great place to start is the Cannon Poets website, as they run a yearly competition – ‘Sonnet or Not’ – which accepts entries of any 14-line poem. You can read past winners here.
Here’s another website collating a really good selection of traditional and modern sonnets. Take a look!