Culture Me

Quick (ish) sonnet

This was my go at Rob’s quick sonnet challenge. In the event it took me about 26 minutes, which isn’t very good considering that the the classic challenge is 15 minutes.

The hiss of pebbles on a shingled beach,
the stranded bladderwrack, the grey
sea-holly, hard against the spray,
the oystercatchers calling each to each.

Where men are afterthoughts,
where cows have never grazed or hedges grown,
where gardens are driftwood and stone,
where ploughs would blunt against the quartz.

It is not cosy here.
It does not feel secure;
we feel some inkling of the ancient fear
in the waves on the shore.
In the grating of stones underfoot we can hear
an opening door.

I quite like the ploughs line and the final image, but the rest is pretty generic.

You’ll notice that it’s metrically a bit peculiar. I did at one point have the first eight lines in IP, but the sestet really wanted to be shorter lines and I just thought wotthehell. And once I’d stopped being metrically regular I went back to the octet and pruned out some bits.

On the occasions when I do sit down to try and write metrical poetry, I increasingly find myself drawn to shorter lines – trimeter, tetrameter – and to changing line lengths. Ballad meter and suchlike (of course even that doesn’t explain the outbreak of anapests at the end). The discursiveness and unmusicality of sustained IP just doesn’t appeal to me at the moment.

Not that IP is inevitably discursive or unmusical but, fairly or not, that’s how I feel about it at the moment.

2 replies on “Quick (ish) sonnet”

Unmusicality of IP–ouch! I’d love to hear your justifications for that. I’d argue that it was the most musical of all the meters/forms/etc. It has the room and flexibility to get carried away in sound but the metrical backbone that gives it beat and rhythm, which counterweight the separate sonic rhythms that the words themselves are creating.

Or at least, that’s what I would like mine to do.


I think the reason that IP has become the fallback rhythm of English poetry is that it tends to break up the more forceful rhythms of shorter lines. IP offers much more opportunity to hide the iambic beat. Its rhythms are just less in-your-face. That gives it flexibility and is a virtue if you want to write Hamlet or An Essay on Criticism; it’s a subtler, more textured, more flexible metre. You can write a kind of verse-prose in IP where the rhythm is quite unobvious.

Just at the moment that’s not what appeals to me; I want something more singsongy.

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