Editor’s comment: I invited Julie Kane, who has joined our selection panel from this issue, to contribute a sonnet of her own relating to the Time & Chance theme and to say a few words about her approach to assessing sonnets for 14 by 14. My thanks to Julie for “Used Book” and for the accompanying observations.
“Used Book” won First Prize in the inaugural international sonnet competition (2007) organised by Open Poetry Ltd, and is included in the print collection Hand Luggage Only (2008), which is available directly from the publisher’s site at http://www.sonnetcompetition.com/ .
Julie Kane is an associate professor of English at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, USA. Her most recent poetry collection, Rhythm & Booze, was Maxine Kumin’s selection for the National Poetry Series and a finalist for the 2005 Poets’ Prize. Her forthcoming collection, Jazz Funeral, is David Mason’s selection for the 2009 Donald Justice Poetry Prize. She was also the winner of the first Open Poetry Ltd International Sonnet Competition. Individual poems have appeared in such journals as The Antioch Review, The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, Feminist Studies, and London Magazine, as well as in anthologies such as Poetry: A Pocket Edition and The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present. She has been a George Bennett Fellow in Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy, a New Orleans Writer in Residence at Tulane University, and a Fulbright Scholar in Creative Writing at Vilnius Pedagogical University.
What luck — an open bookstore up ahead
as rain lashed awnings over Royal Street,
and then to find the books were secondhand,
with one whole wall assigned to poetry;
and then, as if that wasn’t luck enough,
to find, between Jarrell and Weldon Kees,
the blue-on-cream, familiar backbone of
my chapbook, out of print since ’83 —
its cover very slightly coffee stained,
but aging, all in all, no worse than flesh,
through all those cycles of the seasons since
its publication by a London press.
Then, out of luck, I read the name inside:
the man I thought would love me till I died.
As someone who is about to publish an entire book of sonnets, and who has won a rather shocking amount of money for writing one of them, I feel guilty confessing that I tend to think of the form as archaic, with its peak era long behind it. But then I come across a postmodern stunner like Kim Addonizio’s “First Poem for You” or A. E. Stallings’s “Explaining an Affinity for Bats,” and I think: “Well, okay, just one more.”
I found myself muttering “Just one more” every few minutes for two solid hours at the recent Open Poetry International Sonnet Competition awards reception at Cambridge University. There, in a hallowed hall of Sidney Sussex College, somewhere in the vicinity of Oliver Cromwell’s buried head (“Did you spit on his grave?” my sister Susan asked me afterward; we’re Irish-Americans), I listened to about twenty of the shortlisted poets read a sonnet or two each. It was like being present at the Olympic ice-dancing semifinals, where each performer had to skate within boundary lines and observe set time limits and execute familiar leaps and turns, and yet each one also burst onto the rink with an original costume and flair and attitude and style.
Reading through five batches of submissions for this issue of 14 by 14, I saw a lot of novice skaters slip and go sprawling on the ice — but they all seemed to be enjoying themselves regardless. And every so often, one sonnet would skate out there on sheer nerve with its blades flashing, making me forget to breathe while it carved its new tracks into the melting ice of time. Well, okay, just one more.
What do I dislike in contemporary sonnets? Archaic language, predictable rhymes, wrenched syntax, forced sentimentality, dullness. What do I tend to favor? Twenty-first-century English, wit, wordplay, thought, craft, subtlety of sound effects, awareness of the past, attention to the present and the world we live in, originality, flair. To say the same thing in fewer words, I look for bravura ice-dancing, for that exquisite balancing act between tradition and the individual talent.