Sonnet Sequences – Part Two

In last month’s blog, I covered a range of definitions of where sonnets gather together in ones, twos and larger herds. Now let’s look at coherence between them.

FAMILIAL TIES

As with any creation in any medium there is a balance to be found within sequences between variety and coherence.

Variety may be engendered through:

  • Taking multiple approaches to the same argument as in a debate;
  • Using different voices or characters. This is the strategy taken in “The World’s Wife” sequence by Carol Ann Duffy, Picador, 2017 where the viewpoints of the women behind famous men is imagined in verse;
  • Multiple stages in one event. For example, I once read a double sonnet about the Dunkirk landings giving a pre-landing and post-landing viewpoint. I’ve written several ‘before’ and ‘after’ double sonnets.

Coherence. Here are some of the techniques you may use for linking or creating coherence between each of the members of the sequence:

  • Thematic links, e.g. place, time
  • Repeating lines or phrases between poems
  • Use diction to link sequences, where particular words are re-used across poems.

BECOMING SEPARATED FROM THE HERD

A common problem is that one sonnet may stand out. For a double or sequence of sonnets that are in a narrative style there is the risk of the first one being anti-climactic. This has happened to me several times. Or later poem may stand out, leaving all others in a subsidiary position with respect to it. I don’t know the answer to this, but as with storytelling, the trick may be to have some lesser tension resolved at the end of the first part.

STARTING POINT

An important consideration in an extended narrative or sequence is the question of where to start in the flow of events. A potential fault of a single sonnet is that one may start in the wrong point of its narrative. Then it is said one is just “walking into the poem” until the actual best point to start is reached. Some thought is required as to where to best start, choosing a different point of time or event may strengthen the work. The same is true of a sequence of linked poems.

RETROSPECTIVE SEQUENCES You might start out writing on different subjects then later discover there is a theme running through them that you can strengthen by writing more linking poems. I once wrote a couple of poems about local seaside places then, years later, extended this to be a sequence of sonnets reflecting notable places along the coastal footpath.

Next month, I’ll give some advance information about my collection coming out in July with Dempsey & Windle.

Sonnet Sequences

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