I have a tendency to love what some may call modern sonnets – fourteen line poems that may not follow the strict formal rules of rhyme/meter/syllables but somehow convey the same sense of movement and attention to language that a sonnet requires. One of my favorite of these “modern” sonnets is from one of my favorite collections of the past few years – Rough Honey by Melissa Stein.
I took what I needed and nothing more -
not that last gold bracelet, fine as a braid
twined from three strands of a child’s hair,
not that ruby tear, clear and faceted
as a pomegranate seed – just a blouse with gold
threads, just a coat with red glass buttons.
They always said I was too smart
for my own good and good only for
making trouble. And I thought trouble? What
a beautiful word, half of troubadour -
wineskins, ballads, riotous by the canals
with much lifting of skirts and telling
of tales – syllables strung like pearls
on a backbone of half-light and gain.
This poem’s structure is not the only thing I like about it. The sounds in the poem are so lovely, with many internal rhymes - fine/twined, tear/clear, threads/red – and great line structure (for my own good and good only for almost reads as a palindrome). It uses the tradition of the sonnet turning on the ninth line to its true subject – here, the very clever wordplay that makes trouble half of troubadour and sends the reader into the mind of the speaker/robber (some may say the poet) who steals needing only syllables to string and sing her tales.
If you want to write:
1. Use Stein’s title to create the persona of a robber girl. What will she steal in your poem?
2. Find a word within a word (as with trouble and troubadour) and find a way to connect them.