Monday, 21 July 2008

a sonnet anthology

In today’s mail, a book I’m proud to be a small part of: The Reality Street Book of Sonnets. As Jeff Hilson notes in his introduction there has been a spate of sonnet anthologies in recent years, all of which have represented more or less a ‘call to order’ from conservative forces. The dismaying similarity of these collections seems to indicate that the market itself forgets from year to year while the editors keep on assuming that their kind of medicine is what’s required. These anthologies present the sonnet as a somewhat static thing from which any divergence can be no more than a curiosity. Hilson, in contrast, begins with the test of linguistic innovation (using the term ‘linguistically innovative’ as others might use ‘avant garde’, ‘experimental’, or ‘post-avant’). The anthology begins appropriately with Edwin Denby and ends with poets in their early twenties. It encompasses the visual sonnet among other practises that break down the various aspects seen by reactionaries as essential to the form. It is notable that innovative makers of the sonnet largely see this kind of poem in terms of the series or sequence rather than as a self-contained individual unit. In this regard the mid-to-late twentieth century work of Ted Berrigan and Bernadette Mayer (in particular) introduced younger writers (myself included) to possibilities we may not have discovered for ourselves. The Reality Street volume reflects this influence, but it also shows how much of an opening the new sonnet provides. Its sheer diversity is a long step from the dreary inevitability of the usual sonnet anthology.

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