Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sonnets, sonnets, sonnets

Today, I've finally finished a good draft of my anthology of Canadian sonnets, which is tentatively titled Jail-breaks and Re-creations after a line from Margaret Avison's sonnet "Snow." The project started, as with most things I do, as an idle thought. Then, one day in the summer of 2005, I started hauling books off my shelves and making note of the better sonnets in them. Then I started telling people about my idea. Some people thought it was a good idea. Moreover, a couple of those people expressed interest in publishing it if I did the work. So I started setting about that work in earnest. Since then, I can't tell you how many hours I've spent rifling library stacks, browsing books in stores, sniffing out the best Canadian sonnets I could find.

What surprised me was how many I found. I decided from the outset that the book would have no more than 100 sonnets. I assumed, given how addicted most poets in this country have been to free verse, and how bad most of the formal verse that preceded the vers libre era was, I'd be including more than one sonnet by the best and most prolific writers of the form. As it turns out, I've got a book of 99 sonnets, written by 100 poets (one's a collaborative effort). Not only that, but I had to make a lot of very difficult choices to whittle it down to that number. I've left out a number of friends and acquaintances, and, more to the point, I've left out a lot of poems I actually quite like.

What impresses me about the group I've gathered is not only the quality of the writing, but the innovative varieties of sonnet that Canadians have come up with. I think the book explodes the stereotype of a "closed form" like the sonnet being a constraint, or some kind of patriarchal/colonial/authoritarian structure that squelches the voice of the unique individual. Far from it. The sonnet for these poets--for any good poet who works with it--is a departure point, not a goal.

It looks as though the book'll be published next year, possibly in the fall, but hopefully in the spring. I've finished the selection, introduction and notes, but a lot of less-fun clerical work remains to be done.

While you're waiting (I know, you can hardly stand the anticipation), here are links to a couple of essays on sonnetry by two of the more distinguished contributors to the anthology, Milton Acorn and Peter Van Toorn.

On a related publishing note, Language Acts (page 7 of the PDF) an anthology of essays on contemporary Quebec poetry in English, edited by Jason Camlot and Todd Swift and containing an essay by yours truly on Van Toorn (previously published in Canadian Notes & Queries no. 69), will be launched by Vehicule Press in Montreal this April at the Blue Metropolis Festival.

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