Sonnets in contemporary voices
Published: September 2, 2005
|Here is a small selection of contemporary sonnets that cannot be called "traditional" in any way except by noting that that they all follow very closely the rules of the sonnet form. Notice the fairly regular meters, the fresh rhymes, the identifiable "turn" in each--and see how these conventional devices tend to underscore the fresh and often startling language, the very nontraditional subject matter!|
Loosen your tie, dear sir, admit instead
the mouth I proffer soft along your nape.
The office locked, phone mute, calls forwarded,
let go the herringbone, the oxford's drape.
No words. No sound. Not even a slight nod.
I've read your eyes, taken their rapid shift
to mine in dullest rooms, dull talk abroad,
dull folks. I've felt our glances hold and lift
above the meeting table just too long
for happenstance. The signal's out. So strong
despite our work, despite our separate rings,
we'd dance and tangle, circus-like. We'd cling.
Yes loosen, do, the armor. Let it fall.
I'll entertain your body's carnival.
An Unhappy Death
A mean, ungracious colleague died today.
He was not old, but he had been ill
For months, and seemed to blame us for it. Still
Everyone tries to find something kind to say.
I barely knew him. Others say the same.
He came to work, did little, and was rude.
Anger seemed to be his only mood.
Yet now we are all gentle with his name.
It is not grief we feel, but an odd guilt
Because we all disliked the man so much.
We try to think of friendly times, and fail.
We keep from saying what we really felt
About this man, because death's nearby touch
Makes us feel like him: so scared, so frail.
The Plains Zebras
They stand together at the river trough
(oh no one wears the black and white their way).
Their bundled rumps refract the burning days
as if the haze of heat were simply sloughed
away like snakeskin. A herd this huge is tough
to pluck from; one hundred thousand play
across the plain like op art Escher. Prey
whose pattern dizzies predators can bluff
its way through life; a spectacle of nature,
the frenzied blur of monochrome stampeding.
And while the stallions bond, entwine their necks,
exchange the toothy nips of friendship, the mares
maintain their harems even when their king
has been replaced. This makes easier their treks.
When I kissed you on your little superstructure,
I didn't think about the mortgage bills
or payments for the catastrophic ills
insurance companies assure will rupture
life, liberty, and the pursuit of future
happiness dependent on these pills
and pills and pills. Two Cadillac Sevilles
for sale would not assist us at this juncture.
You say, Forget that crap. Hegemony
and tell me that you love me. Ideology
to show you, whispering Oncology,
I scrub the kitchen floor on bended knee.
No, no, no! You Swiffer me to my feet
to dust off places I shall not repeat.
It couldn't have been my Beethoven Bagatelle.
My jagged sprint from C to higher C,
with E a stepping stone, did not go well.
But something seemed to set those Martins free.
Summer thread unspools the weathered barn
and then re-sews the rafters overhead;
although what seemed like joy must be alarm
maybe not at me, at my Bagatelle instead.
Heart of hearts, I willingly mis-heard.
My fingers dreaming fast but dragged along
had struck a bargain and I paid in birds
imprisoned by a crisis, not by song,
for shame: they soothed the eighth-notes' drunken lurch.
Birds, old barn: Be my confessor's church.
All sonnets used by permission of the poets. Eva Salzman's poem originally appeared in The National Poetry Review.