A recent Vocal writing Challenge called for a Shakespearean sonnet inspired by a summer memory. The Challenge included a helpful link to reference information that described the unique structure of all sonnets (yes- there is more than one type) and that of the Shakespearean sonnet in particular.
The essential guidelines are:
- 14 lines
- Each line has ten syllables
- The first 12 lines are broken into quatrains consisting of four lines
- The first and third line of each quatrain rhyme with each other as do the second and fourth line
- The final two lines rhyme with each other
- Or, as I continually chanted to myself: 10 syllables with a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG
I was NOT alone in my chanting this weekend. I know this for sure because I am a member of five Facebook groups for Vocal creators and the sonnet was our hot hot hot topic this weekend. In fact, if you combined all of the conversations from all of the groups you would see that together we become the Vocal Sonnet Support Group.
Here’s how our meeting went:
You hear the strange drumming sound before you even open the door. The noise gets louder the closer you get and as you turn the knob you try to identify the rhythm but it’s one you can’t quite describe. As the door opens you realize it is a room full of adults taping their fingers on the table or arm of the chair as they count to ten over and over and over. The low hum comes from those counters that count aloud as they drum. Souses, children, partners, and most likely their neighbors have that drumming imprinted in their consciousness as the Creators have been counting their ways through the creation of the sonnet for the past five days.
Every so often a creator looks up and states emphatically: ‘Sonnets are HARD! I haven’t written one in 10 years!’ Voices echo them, murmurs of ‘five years… 20 years… 30 years… it’s my FIRST EVER sonnet!... 40 years…” echo through the room, dying down only to reappear in answer to the next wail.
In the back right corner of the room is the ‘Fire’ section. Not because there is actual flame! No; it’s THE sonnet question that has been our constant since the start of the challenge: how many syllables are in the four-letter word ‘fire’? Sure, sure; the dictionary SAYS that it is one syllable, but can that be trusted? We learn that Southern US accents can drag it out to FIVE syllables- will that disqualify the poem? Do accents matter to grammar? Can we write a contraction of the word to guarantee the syllable count? The group reaches a resolution and then someone chimes in with an opinion and we are off again. To the untrained eyes of this moderator, it appears that some people are giving answers merely to keep the discussion going. Perhaps that is something this moderator did themselves? We drift away.
In the back left corner the discussion started late on the last day: could a creator gather rhyming lines from classic sonnets and combine them into a new sonnet? Like a DJ does with a music mix? Would that count? Is this a legal loophole? Rumblings from the group are not hopeful, but the consensus is that this question has been broached four days too late to be useful. Scribbled notes are made, no doubt to be brought out for future competitions, and at least one person is heard mumbling ‘create a sampled sonnet! Genius!’
In the front are the Creators that are going for gold: their plan is to submit multiple sonnets! A dozen! A score! More! Volume will do it- volume I say! These high achievers ramp up the energy in the room! They can do it! We can write one, surely!
Scattered here and there are the sonnet-starters and free-verse enders, the anti-sonnets, the kinda-sonnets, and the not-gonna-sonnet-doggone-its. The came to the challenge with bright shiny words and a solid grasp of the syllable and rhyme scheme and experienced that deadly sonnet static, zapped by the task they sit and simmer. Some turn to free verse, some find videos online with cats in funny poses, some do laundry. We watch them carefully and with sympathy; there but for the grace of Browning, Frost, and Keats go we.
A large screen monitor is mounted at the front of the room and a gentle ‘ping!’ announces a new sonnet-themed post in one of our five group pages. Heads swivel, links are clicked, hearts are given, feedback typed onto the Facebook group page, and a wistful smile floats from face to face.
You hear the murmur turn dreamy, lighthearted, hopeful. Random words reach you as you back through the door and slowly close it: ‘Wow, that was good… he nailed that line…. Perfect tone… so relatable…lovely… can’t believe it’s their first one…relaxing, brilliant, peaceful, evocative, creative…’
As the creators go back to their own writing you realize that they are creating more than sonnets. These Vocal Creators are creating community through their feedback and support.
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