Click image to order
Never miss a post
Your email address:*
Please enter all required fields
Correct invalid entries


« Women Who Write Poetry Criticism (Roundtable) | Main | Sports Desk with Gabrielle Calvocoressi: Olympics Redux: Pat Rosal Rounds Up Barriga »

August 15, 2012


The farthest-right poets I can think of were the most high-profile inventors of "avant-garde" free verse, and I'm not sure what it would mean to consider nearly all English-language poets who wrote before them Fascists. Voluntary rules in an art do not in any way equal Fascism, and if a person really believes they do, he or she can only be a silly academic with no life experience or imagination.

I know but don't you think it's catchy phrase--"a fascist form"? I want to say it over and over!

So anything with rules is fascist, even if you are allowed to break them?

I recommend Don Paterson's book "101 Sonnets" which is an anthology of sonnets regular and highly irregular.

What I hate is if I write something with, say, 16 lines and somebody says, "hey, just take this out and that out and you could make it into a sonnet".

I guess it would be worse if you had a 500 line poem and someone said that you should turn it into a sonnet.

WCW was down on the sonnet generally. See his Intro to The Wedge.

I'd love to know where WCW says the sonnet is a "fascist form" though. I feel I've read it somewhere, but I can't find it. Please, somebody help!

As for experimental poets being right wing. Pound, of course, was a fascist. But Pound's fascism enraged & exasperated WCW (see WCW's Selected Letters). So WCW is a nice antidote to Pound: an anti-fascist experimental poet.

Also, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet (ed. Phillis Levin) is a broad-minded colection (including Ted Berrigan, for instance).

Yeah some has got to know where the fascist thing came from. Help us.

I love Berrigan's sonnets but left him out because he gets sooooo much time and space whenever the sonnet comes up. Also interesting is how Dickinson and Whitman basically had no use for the sonnet while their contemporaries wrote so many of them (a lot of horrible ones, I should add). Check out "The Baby Sorceress" for example!

Also, just came across this at the very end of WCW's important essay "The Poem as a Field of Action":

"Do you not see now why I have been inveighing against the sonnet all these years? And why it has been so violently defended? Because it is a form which does not admit of the slightest structural change in its composition."

you could turn a 500 line poem into 35.714 sonnets, which is pretty baller, if you ask me.

Yes, but why stop there? A 500,000 line poem could be turned into 35,784.83345 SONNETS. Why not turn all LONG poems into manageable 14 line nuggets of JOY?

Really enjoying your posts.

A possible lead to the sonnet/fascist question -
The following appeared in Google Reader:
"These charges have continued from Pound and W.C.Williams to Amiri Baraka, Adrienne Rich, and Diane Wakoski (who once equated sonnets with fascist politics!) and are doubtless reiterated in brand-new manifestos."

Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of this book on hand to see much of the previous text but it is p. 298 of
An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art, edited by Annie Ridley Crane Finch, Kathrine Lorne Varnes.

Marilyn Hacker, in an An Exaltation of Forms (ed. by Annie Finch), says Diane Wakoski is the one that said sonnets are fascist.

There are no footnotes so maybe ask her?

Fascinating column. The idea that the sonnet is "a Fascist form" is a variant on the equally ludicrous equally academic notion that "meaning is Fascist." "Meaning," meaning the idea that a statement could be effectively construed, was considered Fascist on an April day in 1981 at Cornell University's Society for the Humanities where lunch was served and an art historian described her recent voyage to an underground grotto in the Caspian Sea. In defense of the sonnet and liberty see Wordsworth and Keats. -- DL

but! I am sympathetic to Williams's statement (if he did in fact say it cause no one seems to know)since one of the ways to be new or "modern" is to break free from old forms, right? Pound would have never said this about the sonnet. Some of my twitter friends did dig up an interesting endorsement of the sonnet from Williams in regard to the poetry of Merrill Moore (who the hell is that?)...apparently a psychiatrist who wrote like 30 million sonnets.

hmmmm....maybe Diane is our key! Thank you.

Thanks, Jilly.

Want to make it clear that *I* don't think the sonnet is a fascist form. Rather, I think the idea of calling any form fascist is an interesting one and I hope that WCW did in fact say it, just because it's an interesting argument.

Interesting!I think that all of my examples argue that the sonnet does allow for a lot of variation. BUT then some people would argue that those sonnets are not sonnets--of course I think that those people tend to be reactionary conservatives so....

I don't know where/if WCW said that, but if he did you'd find the source in Stephen Cushman's FICTIONS OF FORM IN AMERICAN POETRY where, if memory serves, there's a chapter whose title quotes WCW: "The world is not iambic"

Charles O Hartman's FREE VERSE also rounds up some commentary on iambic pentameter being anti-democratic...

How can iambic pentameter be anti democratic? super curiouso

Merrill Moore poem :/ (from the book A Moment's Monument the Development of the Sonnet by White & Rosen)

How She Resolved to Act

"I shall be careful to say nothing at all
About myself or what I know of him
Or the vaguest thought I have - no matter how dim, Tonight if it so happen that he call."

And not ten minutes later the door-bell rang, And into the hall he stepped as he always did,
With a face and a bearing that quite poorly hid
His brain that burned and his heart that fairly sang, And his tongue that wanted to be rid of the truth.

As well as she could, for she was very loath
To signify how she felt, she kept very still,
But soon her heart cracked loud as a coffee mill,
And her brain swung like a comet in the dark,
And her tongue raced like a squirrel in the park.

In "The Art of the Sonnet" by Stephen Burt, David Mikics, WCW is said to have "singled out the sonnet as a 'fascistic form.'" Maybe he is best known by the paraphrase of his original comment(?)

HI Sandra. I truly enjoyed your BAP week!

And thanks for tuning me into kasey mohammed. fun stuff indeed! Do you know Aaron Sorkin's retooling of the shakespearean sonnets, playing but-rimes on largely queered and culturally murked up themes? They are also quirky, experimental and fun.

You should check out the Reality Street Book of Sonnets, which includes Mayer, Berrigan, Padgett and much, much more -

Williams is well-known to have challenged the relevancy of the sonnet form to modern poetry. For example, in his introduction to The Wedge he states, “To me all sonnets say the same thing of no importance” (Collected 54). But when called upon to champion sonnets, as he was in his foreword to Merrill Moore’s Sonnets from New Directions, he does so. What's interesting to me is how he does so: Williams focuses on the volta, on the sonnet's turn. He states:

"Never in this world did I expect to praise a living writer because of his sonnets but these have been a revelation to me. For years I have been stating that the sonnet form is impossible to us, but Moore, by destroying the rigidities of the old form and rescuing the form itself intact–an achievement of far-reaching implications–has succeeded in completely altering my opinion. The sonnet, I see now, is not and has never been a form at all of any fixed sense other than that incident upon a certain turn of mind. It is the extremely familiar dialogue unit upon which all dramatic writing is founded: a statement, then a rejoinder of a sort, perhaps a direct reply, perhaps a variant of the original–but a comeback of one sort or another–which Dante and his contemporaries had formalized in their day and language."

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

click image to order your copy
That Ship Has Sailed
Click image to order
BAP ad
"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


  • StatCounter