January 16, 2009

Playing With Forms: Sonnet + Addonizio = Sonnenizio

In Kim Addonizio's fourth book of poems, What Is This Thing Called Love, I was surprised to find that she had written another paradelle.

She has a poem ("Ever After") in that complex form in the anthology, The Paradelle. I didn't realize she had written any others.

If you're not familiar with the paradelle form, here's part of Billy Collins' introduction to that collection:
A few years ago, I wrote a poem that I titled "Paradelle for Susan." It was the only paradelle ever to have been written because I invented the form in order to write the poem. What I set out to do was write an intentionally bad formal poem. Auden said there was nothing funnier than bad poetry, and I thought a horribly mangled attempt at a formal poem might have humorous results. I considered using an already existing form, but I figured enough bad sonnets and bad sestinas are already being written these days without me adding to the pile...

So, Collins invented a form. A ridiculously complex form. But it took hold and others started trying to write intentionally good paradelles rather than parodies of villanelles. I learned "the truth" about paradelles when I spent a week in a writing workshop with Collins during the summer of 1999, and paradelles have been following me here and there ever since.

Poets Online used the paradelle as a prompt at the end of that year, and my own effort and another by Mary DeBow from Poets Online made it into the anthology.

Kim Addonizio has a poem titled "Sonnenizio on a Line From Drayton" that plays its own paradelle game. The sonnenzio is her own invented form.

You start by taking a line from someone else’s sonnet and using it as your first line. You then repeat a word from that borrowed line in each of your succeeding 13 lines of the poem. You finish off your sonnet ala Addonizio with a rhymed couplet.

Her original sonnenzio starts like this:
Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part;
or kiss anyway, let’s start with that, with the kissing part,
because it’s better than the parting part, isn’t it—
we’re good at kissing, we like how that part goes:
Like Collins, she has a bit of fabricated history for the form. Here's her note:
The sonnenizio was originated in Florence in the thirteenth century by Vanni Fucci as an irreverent form whose subject was usually the impossibility of everlasting love. Dante retaliated by putting Fucci into the seventh chasm of the Inferno as a thief. Originally composed in hendecasyllabics, the sonnenizio gradually moved away from metrical constraints and began to tackle a wider variety of subject matter. The sonnenizio is 14 lines long. It opens with a line from someone else’s sonnet, repeats a word from that line in each succeeding line of the poem, and closes with a rhymed couplet.
Kim started with the first line from Michael Drayton's sonnet Idea LXI  from his sonnet series. She repeats the word “part” from the first line of Drayton’s sonnet throughout her own poem. She takes things a bit deeper by also connecting with the speaker in the Drayton poem.

Drayton begins like this:
Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part,
Nay I have done, you get no more of me;
And I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free;
and Addonizio begins her sonnenizio:
Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part;
or kiss anyway, let’s start with that, with the kissing part,
because it’s better than the parting part, isn’t it—
we’re good at kissing, we like how that part goes:
Addonizio doesn't use any sonnet rhyming pattern, so that doesn't seem to be a "requirement" of the form.

A search online will find you many other poets who have tried her form. Some have a 14 line single stanza, some 8 and 6, or 4, 4, 4, and 2.

I have been a longtime fan of Kim's often sexy poetry, and I hope Drayton would get a little aroused by her take on his sonnet.
we part our lips, our mouths get near and nearer,
then we’re close, my breasts, your chest, our bodies partway
to making love, so we might as well, part of me thinks—
the wrong part, I know, the bad part, but still
let’s pretend we’re at that party where we met
and scandalized everyone, remember that part? Hold me
In that same book with the sonnenizio, she also has poems about raising a daughter, being a poet, grief and loss, and music. Her style is always some confessional, some humor, with a soundtrack of musical references (including bluesman Robert Johnson) and a playfulness with formality.

Repetition-based forms (sestinas, paradelles, villanelles) always remind me of song lyrics - kind of earlier century 12-bar blues. She actually has a poem in that book called "This Poem Wants to Be a Rock and Roll Song So Bad."

The January writing prompt for Poets Online is to write a sonnenizio (see details on the site).

My poet friend Diane Lockward beat me to the post about Kim's article in the current issue of Poets and Writers (Jan/Feb 2009) called "First Thought, Worst Thought" which questions that Ginsberg/Zen idea that when you set out to write a poem, that first thought is the best thought.

The article is part of Kim's new book, Ordinary Genius. In Poets Online fashion, she also gives you exercises to get some poems started. (One, American Sentences, is an Allan Ginsberg invention influenced by haiku that was a post here last September.)

If you enjoy working with the sonnet form, you might be interested in 14by14. It is a quarterly online journal of fourteen contemporary sonnets per issue, by fourteen different authors that accepts submissions.

Other Sonnenizios:

Here are some sonnets to use as a starting point:

Kim Addonizio seems to be playing several games lately. Check out the new issue of Poetry where she has a poem titled "The First Line is the Deepest" (from the Cat Stevens' song) that has the opening line "I have been one acquainted with the spatula" borrowing from Robert Frost.
I have been one acquainted with the spatula,
the slotted, scuffed, Teflon-coated spatula

that lifts a solitary hamburger from pan to plate,
acquainted with the vibrator known as the Pocket Rocket
Oh boy - what would Yusef and Bob think about that?


  1. If you want to start with a sonnet from Shakespeare, I recommend

    They have a cool tool that let's you do a side-by-side comparison of two sonnets at http://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/views/sonnets/sonnets.php#sidebyside

  2. Calling all poets who may endear themselves toward experimenting with poetic form - I am interested in realizing a new experiment focusing on the multiplicity of poetry and music in the proposed collaboration - Verse in the Circle of Fifths. I have a composer and interested in working with three, four, or five poets in creating a new synergy in combinative and linked poetry while coalesced within the symetries of the circle of fifths. Please contact me at gatehouse334@netzero.com. Thanks, Buzz Evers

  3. So, you "repeat a word from that borrowed line in each of your succeeding 13 lines of the poem."

    Does that mean it has to be the same word each time? Or does that mean: for each of the subsequent lines make sure to use at least one one word from the borrowed line? I can read it either way, though the examples of the form that I've found suggest it's the former.


    1. In Kim's examples, it is the same word in every line - so pick a good one!


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