Saturday, 8 August 2015

Fascinating Permutations

Marilyn Hacker doesn't think the sonnet form needs an algorithm to make it interesting:
I admit to a lack of interest in computer-generated poetry. The sonnet form is adaptable to near-infinite variations made by human beings, most of which include some kind of implicit dialogue with previous practitioners of the form. It intrigues me into how many disparate languages the form has travelled. Mahmoud Darwish included in one of his later book a series of sonnets in Arabic, which may (I could be wrong) be the first passage of the sonnet into that language, but which is entirely indicative of Darwish’s own continual dialogue with other poets and poetries, Lorca being one of his interlocutors. One of my favorite contemporary sonnet-writers in English is George Szirtes, now British, born Hungarian, who also translates widely from the Hungarian — and the sonnet is vital in contemporary Hungarian poetry, including the “heroic crown” of 15 sonnets in which the last sonnet is made up of the first lines of the 14 others. A lovely English example of that feat of legerdemain is British-Iranian Mimi Khalvati’s “Love in an English August”. But so, in another register, and in the United States, is Marilyn Nelson’s A Wreath for Emmett Till, which brings the sonnet back to (as it happens) one of the horror/martyr stories of American racism also commemorated by Gwendolyn Brooks. Karen Volkman’s linguistically surreal sonnets in her new book Nomina are a fascinating permutation of the form.

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