Don't Quote Me on This
I was quoted on NPR's "Here and Now" today on their segment about sonnets.
About 40 seconds into the piece.
Full story: http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2011/06/08/sonnet-rhyme-poetry
Original page, with the "heated" exchange:
And the contents copy and pasted below:
Other person: If it's unrhymed, it isn't a sonnet. You can't redefine words to suit your private meaning and then expect the rest of us to go along.
Me: The definition of a sonnet has changed from its original almost since people began writing sonnets. Shakespearean, Petrachan, Occitan, Spenserian--as language and conventions evolve and revive, ebb and flow, trend and lose favor so do structures and forms of poetry. If you really want to lose your head, you should read Bernadette Mayer's sonnets. Those will make you grumpy for weeks, Mr. Other Person
OP: I have no objection to blank verse, but it isn't a sonnet. I can even tolerate free verse, on the rare occasions that it's done well, but the point is that we need to call things according to their correct names.
Me: The definition of any particular form of poetry, like with many other forms of art, exists as a liquid thing, not something written in stone. As humanity evolves, so do the aspects of language, art, traditions and culture. A "sonnet" has never had a solid definition of "it must rhyme this way" and "it must be metered that way"; therefore, it is a futile cause to claim what a poet deems a sonnet is not as such because it doesn't fit the definition you attribute to the form. The form's definition has constantly and will constantly change.
OP: Sorry, but a sonnet in English is fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. There are several rhyme schemes, Shakespearean being the best known. My point is that a dog is a dog, and calling a lizard a dog doesn't do either any justice.
Me: hahahahaahahahahah that is soooooooo funny! The way you make everything in the art of the written word seem so rigid and evoke Shakespeare to make your point when he was the one who put the fiercest tweak on the liquidity of the language in the first place. Well, I can see this is an exercise in futility. Have fun in your boring world of Everything Staying Exactly The Same Forever and Ever. I'm sure it's rather thrilling.
OP: Please show me where I said that everything has to stay the same. Unrhymed verse is something new, so it deserves a new name. The reason that communication is possible is that words retain their meanings over time. Arbitrary changes in the definitions when there's no need is just laziness.
I will admit that if every innovator wrote with the brilliance of Shakespeare, I'd have fewer objections. As for Bernadette Mayer, you're right. She reminds me of Oscar Wilde's observation that all bad poetry is sincere.