National Poetry Month’s Tour de Tania (Runyan), pt. 2

Like Tania Runyan, I would not describe myself as a sonneteer. But in How to Write a Form Poem, she writes this:

“Until this year, I’d probably written ten sonnets at most. That may sound like a lot if you’re just starting out, but remember, I’ve been at this poetry thing for decades. The majority of these sonnets were required for my prosody classes in college and grad school. While I’ve liked some of them okay, I haven’t bonded with them …. But as I’ve increased my attention to form in recent years, I’ve learned that limitations are my freedom. Structure is my muse.

My own sonnet education came from reading Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s poetry collection titled Still Pilgrim, from which she read selections at the TS Poetry Retreat in 2019. I soon realized she was playing with form, which let me know I could play with it too. I journaled through the whole collection, then wrote my own sonnets, each one modeled after hers in form. That practice imparted a bit of the sonnet’s structure muse-like power. Now when a poem isn’t going well, I’ll experiment with sonnetizing it.

I wrote more about Tania’s sonnet chapter over at Tweetspeak Poetry).

Here is a sonnet by Helena Nelson from The Joy of Poetry, which turns five years old this month. Although the mother in the poem is nothing like mine, I love both her and the speaker/daughter. Reading it again, I am struck by the desire to “make the great train wait.” I’ve always read that line simply as a big train — and maybe it is — but this time I read it as if death were a train that takes people away. That’s the thing about a good poem: Each time you read it, it offers up new gifts.

With My Mother, Missing the Train

She was always late. At the final minute

we’d run for the city train, which roared right past,

its line of faces scanning us not in it.

The world was turned to terror by the blast

of hot departing wheels. Air seized my mother,

crushing her flustered skirts into a flurry

with me there clinging. Hush, there’ll be another,

she’d say to keep me calm. No need to worry.

But there was a need. The speed of things was true

and rushing traffic urged us both ahead.

I wanted to race again, to burst right through

and make the great train wait. She never said

that missing things was serious, till I grew.

She held my hand more tightly than I knew.

 – Helena Nelson

To learn how to write a sonnet, what Tania’s sonnet journey has entailed, and what the heck is an iamb, pick up a copy of How to Write a Form Poem.

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