It’s a question I’ve often asked myself. What is it about iambic pentameter that makes me want to write it? Is it the da-dum, da-dum of a mystery theme song? Or is it the sound of a horse at full gallop? (One reader reminded me that it represents one’s heartbeat.) Whatever it is, it hooked me while I was in my teens and is still my favourite poetic medium.
I think my interest peaked when I studied the differences between a classic Italian sonnet and the Shakespearean kind. Who knew you could have that much variety in one poetic style? Perhaps, that is why I decided to explore sonnets, by working with them from the inside out.
Another variation on the sonnet theme came from Milton. His use of the run-on line from the eighth to the ninth also proved to be a bit of a challenge. His poem “On His Blindness” was the inspiration of the following, at least as far as the title goes.
On His Blandness
Many poems will pass through these senses:
Infrequently, some may become classics;
Limiting words to eighty iambics
Tends to strain the meaning through some tenses
Ordinarily reserved for Menses.
Not only that but sometimes, when one picks
Incorrect terms, the resulting style sticks
Corns on top of bunions, like high fences
Stemming the flow: the thought grinds to a halt
On the unfortunate choice, as by chance
New insights spring to light. It’s not by fault,
Nor intention, that Sacred Spirit grants
Each humble human the right to assault
The Seat of Life and vault us from our trance.
There was one thing that I learned along the way: don’t take yourself too seriously. My self-parody keeps my ego in check. The title of this poem is my tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that most people don’t find my poetry to be anything special.
I can recall that my earliest attempts at poetry were intended to impress young women in high school. I even went out of my way to write some of them with specific girls in mind. However, the poems were greeted with a polite thank-you, followed by the sound of crickets chirping. I did not attain my shallow goals; that I can assure you. The popularity of written verse was replaced by music and lyrics when I was growing up.
I added the extra challenge of the 14 letter acrostic to spell out exactly what I was intending to say. Most of the time, that fell flat, too. I was just being too clever by half, as the English would say.
The most redeeming factor in all of this is that I learned to do some serious rhyming, while exploring themes of spirituality, love, and regret. In some ways, I think writing sonnets allowed me to discover myself, which is what one really wants to achieve in life.
By the time I was 25, I decided to create my own style of sonnet. I called it a:
Hi, Lord, it’s been a while since we last talked;
What’s new with me? Well, nothing very much;
You wouldn’t say I’ve opened up, as such,
But I have tried to answer when you’ve knocked.
Why do I find it strange, for me, you died?
What do you mean: live from day unto day?
Will you plenish my plate, fill up my cup?
Though words have a way of fumbling up
What I mean to say, there’s no better way
That I can convey what’s on the inside.
You find it hard to enter when it’s locked?
When closed, my heart is difficult to touch:
I used to think I’d never need a crutch,
But, Lord, “sans toi,” I never could have walked.
Now here was something completely different. The line in the middle was intended to act as a mirror, so that the rhyme scheme of the top half would be reflected in the rhyme scheme of the bottom.
What fascinated me about this poem is that it was my first attempt at a poetic prayer. I chose a nonchalant voice, talking to God as if I were talking to the guy next door. It was folksy, I thought, yet sincere. What was strange was that it is nothing like how I would speak to God, because I’d been raised as a preacher’s kid and that wasn’t how one should address the deity.
Then in 1986, I came across the following piece in a spiritual newsletter:
The Last Words of an Unknown Soldier
The following poem was sent to the wife of an American Soldier in Italy, who found it on the body of an unknown Yank who had been killed in action.
Look, God, I have never spoken to you,
But now I want to say, How do you do?
You, God, they told me, you didn’t exist,
And like a fool, I believed all this.
Last night from a shell hole I saw your sky,
I figured right then they had told me a lie,
Had I taken the time to see things you made,
I’d have known they weren’t calling a spade a spade.
I wonder, God, if you’d shake my hand,
Somehow, I feel that you will understand.
Funny I had to come to this hellish place
Before I had time to see your face.
Well, I guess there isn’t much more to say,
But I’m sure glad, God, I met you today.
I guess the “Zero Hour” will soon be here,
But I’m not afraid since I know you’re near.
The signal; Well, God, I’ll have to go;
I like you lots; this I want you to know,
Look now, this will be a horrible fight;
Who knows. I may come home to your house tonight.
Though I wasn’t friendly to you before,
I wonder, God, if you’d wait at your door.
Look, I’m crying! Me! Shedding tears!
I wish I had known you these many years.
Well, I have to go now, God, Goodbye,
Strange, since I met you, I’m not afraid to die.
The Pointer Newspaper Riverdale IL 15 Jun 1944 Page 3
Goose bumps, or what? I need to do a wee flashback for you, the reader, to be able to understand what was significant to me about this poem. During a series of hypnosis sessions I underwent in 1989, I found myself back in the body of a World War II American soldier who then got blown up by a land mine. That alone does not make it significant. The significance came when I tried the Inner Guide Meditation in 1990, and discovered that my Inner Guide was an American Sergeant of very few words. Anyone who knows me well would see the irony in that.
So, this got me to thinking about the soldier who wrote this poem. Was there a connection? Examining the tone and familiarity of the words, I then thought back to my Reflective Sonnet and wondered if the same person had written it (through me), or that I had once been that soldier. I have not yet come to a firm conclusion about that, but it is intriguing, isn’t it?
The following sonnet, the first in my series of the same name, is closer to the style of prayer that I would normally use.
Can we, who now, while living in this time,
Hear things, of which we do not understand,
Relying on those whose worst single crime
Is ignorance dealt with a sleight of hand?
Such is our province of sad apathy
That worthwhile inspiration flies away
Out of our grasping reach, back in to thee,
Still silent, at rest, waiting for thy day.
Spirit, please fill me with thy one true light,
Open my heart and give me second sight,
Perform thy wonders on my fallow mind,
Heal all of my hurts; please help me to find,
Inside my shallow soul, thy purest love,
And help me to grow, within and above.