What the hell, man?

They’re sonnets inspired by the Archie comic strips found in daily newspapers. I’m writing this 3 sonnets in, so I still haven’t decided if I’m going for more of a parody of an overly dramatic Shakespearean tone or if I even need to have a consistent style from strip to strip.

Q: Why?

A: I’d love to have some answer that made any rational sense. Definitely not for money or fame. Perhaps just because I find myself wasting time in any event and decided to waste time on something that at least allows me to sharpen my skills.

Q: Why Archie?

A: I thought about choosing some other strips, but finally decided that I needed a strip that had no continuing storyline. So no drama strips. No joke-a-day strips like Get Fuzzy or Sally Forth. Archie seemed to shift gears the most from day to day. I’m somewhat familiar with the characters, and the writers have been phoning in the same recycled jokes for so long that there is some amount of pleasure in trying to make shallow material take on deeper meanings. To effectively parody an overly dramatic style, I decided that I needed about the least dramatic strip I could find.

Q:Why Sonnets?

A: I’ve worked with sonnets quite a bit and feel comfortable with them. They’re long enough to explore a theme but short enough to maintain impact. Furthermore the typical division of a Shakespearean sonnet into 3 stanzas and a punchlinesque couplet corresponds to a 3 or 4 panel comic strip. The transition between the panels works(ideally) much like the turning of the screw between stanzas. For that reason the 2 panel Saturday strips will probably follow the form of a Petrarchian sonnet with its single turn.  I guess I’ve found that novelty seems to be the best mainstream market for sonnets today. People who tune out when you present a serious poem in iambic pentameter pay more attention to it if it’s presented as a novelty. When a person performing improvised comedy asks the audience for a type of poem to parody, most audiences will suggest sonnet and sit riveted. When the same person spends a week writing and editing a sonnet and goes to an open mic poetry night his pentameter trips over someone’s coffee order. When I was actively reading my poetry in public, audiences were most excited by the sonnets I wrote by using 10 words suggested by the audience from a week before. For more artistic poems, I try not to mention that they’re sonnets and sometimes I even change the line breaks so that it doesn’t even appear like one to the casual reader. With a clear parody, such as this, I also avoid the “Who’s going to write a better sonnet than Shakespeare?” rhetorical question.

Q: Who’s going to write a better sonnet than Shakespeare?

A: After a certain point, you can’t really use the term better. A poem just works on several levels. Many of Shakespeare’s sonnets certainly reached that point. But Dunne was writing “Death be not proud…” before and certainly others have written equally great sonnets after. 3 well known such works are:

Leda and the Swan – William Butler Yeats
Ozymandias – Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Cambridge Ladies – e.e. cummings

Every one of these brought someting new and creative to the form. Shakespeare was neither the creator nor the destroyer of the sonnet. In fact, if I had to choose a favorite sonneteer, it would be cummings. Strangely he’s known for nontraditional punctuation, but anyone who bothers to read his complete works will find that nearly a third of his poems were 14 lines long(and roughly 10 syllables). These were the “chimneys” that balanced his syntaxtastic “tulips.”  “The Cambridge Ladies” was one of his early poems(and of his sonnets, most well known) but many of his later ones consistently showed a fantastic range of style and creative language.


3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Vary the Line » Blog Archive » sonnets!  |  November 19, 2008 at 11:42 pm

    […] am greatly amused by the “What the hell, man?” page of the Riverdale Sonnets site … and impressed by the actual sonnets. Especially the one that begins “Were space […]

  • 2. kate  |  January 11, 2009 at 8:17 am

    I have fallen in love with the writer who bangs and bangs at the old strip’s door, leaving useless beauty in barren fields. I ache with intrigue. Amazement! Regret…

  • 3. Jon  |  August 6, 2009 at 1:57 am

    I am in awe. That is all.


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