SCENE: A set for a cooking show, but the view from the camera is crooked and lopsided. COURTENAY BLUEBIRD is speaking loudly to the cameraman.
BLUEBIRD: (Gesticulating wildly.) Joe! Keep that steak over your eye! I am so sorry! (Squints at lopsided camera.) Oh! Are we on? Whoops! Ha-ha! (Cameraman Joe tilts the camera to the right position with some difficulty because he needs one hand to hold the steak on his eye.)
BLUEBIRD: Today is a really special day! We are going to start to pull our sonnet making skills together into one cohesive whole! Yes! I had a, um, visual metaphor I was going to use… involving bouncing SuperBalls and the tightness of meter and form and quatrains, but we, ah, practiced in the studio and I hit Joe. In the eye. With a SuperBall. The ball that bounces back! Ah-ha-haaar-ah. Hum. (Mouths “I’m sorry” to Joe.)
(Cameraman Joe exaggeratedly adjusts the steak over his eye and glares at her.)
BLUEBIRD: Oh, Joe! You’re such a card! Anywayyyy— though that mishap has shaken all of us up a little bit, I think we should go forth and talk about the awesome power of the sonnet. Do you have your two notebooks? Your thesaurus? Your dictionary? Your pen or pencil? Good.
BLUEBIRD: Well, so far… (Something goes THUNK!) OW! (Scratchy sounds of microphone) The boom mike just… fell on my head! That’s never happened before! (Cameraman Joe shrugs and smiles.) That really hurt! Can we cut to commercial? No? Jeez, LOUISE this hurts! Ah-ha-HA! Ow. Okay, we’ve covered rhythm and we’ve talked about meter. We’ve even talked about the couplet. And we’ve talked about method a little bit, but we need to pull it together to make the engine GO. (Aside.) Can somebody at least get me some ice for my forehead? That’s gonna be a lump!
BLUEBIRD: Do you remember that I said that sonnets are mathematically intriguing because of their shape and meter? Mathematics and rhetoric—logic— tend to run together as well— and a sonnet is designed to be a beautiful argument. A-HA! You see what I mean? Okay. We have the math of the fourteen lines and the three quatrains and the couplet at the end and the meter and the rhythm. (Aside.) I’m not fooling now. I need some ice. My head is killing me! Joe? Could you help me out?
(Joe makes it a point to stare at Bluebird while adjusting his steak over his eye with a slap.)
BLUEBIRD: (Turns around but keeps talking to herself. ) This is a kitchen set. There’s got to be ice around here somewhere. (Opens refrigerator and keeps talking. Her voice is amplified by the interior of the fridge.) So a sonnet opens with an argument— the first four lines, or quatrain, set the limits of the argument. Seriously? Ah, ice!
(Grabs handfuls of ice cubes from a bucket in the freezer and holds them against her scalp.)
BLUEBIRD: If I were to write a first quatrain talking about the beauty of the SuperBall, my second quatrain would give examples of its beauty. I would tell you that it bounces really high. That it is a perfect sphere, and on and on. In the third quatrain, or Paripatela, I would give a reason against my own argument. This is an old rhetorical trick. Anticipate your opponent’s argument, and fold it into your own.
BLUEBIRD: For instance, some might say that a SuperBall isn’t a weighty enough metaphor to carry a sonnet— that it is, after all, a child’s toy. If you adhere strictly to form, line nine is where you make the switch and change your argument to reflect this new insight— the after all it’s a child’s toy part, in this example. Line nine opens the third quatrain— the counter-argument— and it is called the volta, or turn. But, WAIT! (Flings hand up. Ice flies everywhere.)
BLUEBIRD: Here’s where you bring it all back home— the couplet at the end! The couplet is the marriage between the first half of your argument and the second half of your argument. It is where you reconcile your own difficulty with your new idea. In my SuperBall sonnet, I might say that toys often carry us into adulthood and that once bounce from a SuperBall can change the way we view the delicacy of life. Like when I hit Joe in the eye! (Joe glowers at Bluebird.) You got it? Of COURSE you do!
(As she’s describing this, the boom mike lowers dangerously around Bluebird’s head. She has no idea.)
BLUEBIRD: BUT! There’s one MORE important thing! We’re going to add in the rhyme scheme now. All rhyme schemes are marked with letters in descending order to let you know what rhymes with what. All A will rhyme with A all B rhymes with B— C with C, D with D and on and on.
FIRST QUATRAIN— OPENING ARGUMENT/IDEA
SECOND QUATRAIN— DEVELOPMENT OF ARGUMENT/EXTENDED METAPHOR
THIRD QUATRAIN— REVERSAL/CONVERSE ARGUMENT— DEEPEN METAPHOR
E (The VOLTA!)
COUPLET— (MARRIES THE ARGUMENT WITH ITS COMPLICATION/REVERSAL)
BLUEBIRD: You see? You see? I think you do! One more thing. You’re going to write the whole sonnet using iambic pentameter. And if you remember our discussion from earlier this week, you’ll know that means the rhythm goes da-DAH, and the meter is five feet long—
da-DAH da-DAH da-DAH da-DAH da-DAH
(The boom hovers lower. Bluebird looks up. The boom disappears into the overhead area. She looks down. The boom mike begins to lower again.)
BLUEBIRD: Ohmygosh, my head hurts! So much! But it hurts because many of you think your rhymes need to be exact— and they don’t. Unnecessary! And a contrived rhyme sounds contrived. The rhyme is there to serve the poem, not the other way around! Remember your near rhymes and your semi-rhymes and forced rhymes and half rhymes. You are not writing the poem around the rhyme. And if you find yourself writing around the rhyme, try writing one without rhyme at all, but keep the meter and the rhythm. You savvy? Yeah, you do!
(The boom mike drops heavily on the top of her head with a THUNK.)
BLUEBIRD: GAH! (Clutches head) The pain! How does this keep happening? Okay, so I’ll see you next Saturday! You bring your sonnets and I’ll bring a helmet. Ha-ha! Maybe Joe won’t be so mad at me for smacking him with a SuperBall now that I have concussion. Does everything taste flurple to you too? I think I need assistance! I’m gonna… the floor… sit now.
(Bluebird slides behind the kitchen counter, pulling her two notebooks on top of her. Screen credits roll.)
Our FUNDAMENTAL SONNET INSTRUCTIONS come from the “For Dummies” series. Don’t be put off by the name! The instructions are really well-written! I was impressed, personally, and I’ve read a lot of these sorts of things.
We looked at rhythm last week in LESSON TWO, but this next link gives a nice, clean overview of the basic terms that are not listed here— RHYTHM and METER
We will be talking Shakespearean sonnets again on Saturday!
Please feel free to release your poetry panic in the comments, but this time, maybe you should try a quatrain (first four lines of a sonnet) in iambic pentameter with an END RHYMES! Take your new sonnet skills for a TEST DRIVE!
And definitely read this Wikipedia link on rhyme, specifically focusing on GENERAL RHYMES.
ONE MORE NOTE: My friend Professor J and I will be doing a BLOG CARNIVAL on May 17th! The topic is the FIRST POEM you EVER READ! If you are interested, please contact me by email— firstname.lastname@example.org.
BLUEBIRD: (Staggers from behind kitchen counter) FLURPLE! Get the Joe, Joe? It’s the VOLTA! (Bluebird wanders off of the set and through the door marked EXIT.)