While the sonnet is not a form I have explored in any depth as a writer, I have found great riches in the form as a reader. And now my good friend Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke is adding to those riches, as he sets out to write 100 sonnets in 100 days. We spoke recently about this delightfully abundant project. Here’s how the conversation went…
ALS: With the year in its infancy, you have thrown down the gauntlet and set yourself the challenge of writing 100 sonnets in 100 days. What was the initial spark for the project?
MFC: I like to plan early. If the world was about to end, I’d have my suitcase packed for the commute to Mars a couple of years in advance. Late last December, whilst I was in combat with a gastric bug, I was thinking about 2013, and one of the things on my calendar, in March, is presenting a workshop on the sonnet.
As I began to read up on the form, it occurred to me that if I was going to ask the workshop attendees to write a sonnet before day’s end, I would be well served by leading by example. The clincher for giving this project a go was when I remembered National Novel Writing Month. If a challenge can be set to write 50,000 words in a month, then writing a sonnet a day is a walk in the park, I told myself.
When I think of you, I feel you jazzily drawling your
childhood Boston, and today I wish to talk to you
about solitude: its claim on our intimacies,
the long whiles when we paint new,
ever higher mountains just so we can step
through them; ghost steps: we are nothing if
not more self-consciously to be
the spirit, the thought animating flowers.
Love has ceaseless origins—it quizzes us in unfamiliar
ways, it discovers other heavens – Boston & Austin slant
rhyme themselves into our universe – and as our Earth sleeps and
wakes, wakes and sleeps, we are fragments of our
millennia; and you are a maiden of the archetypal
echo, designing symbols for our womb.
ALS: Some might think that writing in the form of a sonnet may eventually confine you, but having read the first 13 poems, it appears to be liberating and expanding your poetic voice. What are your thoughts on this?
MFC: A Canadian friend and follower of the series has commented that I have grown into my prime as a poet by this confining myself into a structure. My response to that and to what you pose is to recall the words of the poet who said, “My best poem is my next one.” For many years, whenever I have picked up the pen and faced the white A4 abyss, I have endeavoured to fly. I’ve rarely before flown in the sonnet sky, there are new vistas to explore, and I’m enjoying myself hugely.
ALS: Is there a sonnet that defines the form for you? What is it that keeps you coming back to it?
MFC: The sonnet, since the days of King Frederick in thirteenth-century Sicily, has always periodically evolved as a form, so that a static definition of the sonnet is a misnomer. Better to say that of my favourite sonnets I’ll mention three. My all-time favourite John Keats poem is his sonnet “Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art” (I was overjoyed when Jane Campion made the film on Keats that featured it); I’ve also long admired Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias”; and to lastly mention Thomas Wyatt’s “Whoso list to hunt.”
I come back to these sonnets as I might to a bowl of plums. Each one compact enough to give me an exquisite, multivalent experience of sense. John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, and Imre Madách’s “The Tragedy of Man”, for example by contrast, are whole cupboards and fridges full of goodies that defy me to gulp them down as wholes.
ALS: You are currently compiling a list of people you will dedicate a sonnet to. I had the honour of being lucky #13. How did this idea come about?
MFC: I didn’t begin the series with dedicatees in mind. The first four sonnets seemed to me to be a bit laboured, and I was considering the task ahead, the next ninety-six in as many days, and being more than ever so slightly daunted. I decided to begin dedicating the sonnets to give the task a boost, and since then, the task has morphed into a deep joy.
If the only prayer you ever say is “thank you”, it will suffice.
– Meister Eckhart
Heron and poet claim the river, the subtle
celebrations of other birds score the moment
between timelessness and image. As life
eddies yet flows, the quietness of calling
moves, impels greater flight. I bring my faith
in the heron’s being, I ply my lines knowing
the Brisbane streets are another article, and
the congruence between brown water and
grey concrete is more than vaulting birdsong.
As heron and poet thank each other the sun
leaves us for our nightly darkness. I pack my
few possessions into a poem and drive away.
Tomorrow will fire, will animate our asking world,
and I will ask, and my growing boy will answer.
ALS: Are you still looking for people to get involved and if so what is it you are looking for?
MFC: Yes! Yes! Yes!!
I have over fifty dedicatees to find, so if you wish a sonnet to be for you in what I anticipate will be a collection published this year, all you need do is e-mail me at email@example.com.
If you wish the sonnet to be personalised more, tell me several facts about yourself. Anything from your favourite planet in the solar system to your opinion of Dr Karl Kruszelnicki’s taste in shirts to what makes you tick on Thursday afternoons. Or send me a poem and I’ll try to do a sonnet riff off it. Or ask for one to be dedicated to Barack Obama or Prince William or Kate or your next door neighbour’s pet goldfish.
In this hunt for dedicatees, the sky’s absolutely not the limit…