On the 29th April (a week today) I will be publishing a sequence of sonnets online for free at www.theanatomy.co.uk. I have been updating the temp page with videos of me reading some of the sonnets to whet people’s appetites and have basically set up the whole thing on my own. I had a bit of help from friends but all the programming, layout, editing, writing, testing, was done by me. Its been quite a bit of effort setting up the site and making the videos with no aim of reward. What I’m saying is; it would be really great if you could all be really nice and at least grace it with a tab in your browser at least once.
So what is it?
After my last three poetry pamphlets which I had printed at my own expense and (due to my own lack of publicity) no one took any notice of, I decided three was enough.However over Christmas I had one of my notebooks with me and due to it being rather a quite one I ended up filling the whole thing with a poem per page in the space of about 2 weeks. Initially I had no plans for it as a sequence but when I noticed the first three I’d written were all sonnets I decided to make them all sonnets and slowly a theme began to emerge. Its a fairly loose theme but it basically became what could be perceived as my psychological make up. The memories, thoughts, feelings and associations I make. Due to this it felt like something of a dissection of my personality. An anatomy, as t’were. The word Anatomy is from the Greek ἀνατέμνω – anatemnō – literally “Upon I cut”. I also tried to vary the format of the sonnet form as much as I could because to be blunt, I don’t have the skills to have as wide and varied a vocabulary and as original imagery as the giants of the form do to keep it interesting. This basically meant I pushed the rules of a sonnet as far as they will go. Many purists (if any were to ever read it) may say a lot of these do not count as sonnets. That’s their problem. By and large I stick to the old rule of 14 lines and a ‘Turn’ at around line 8. As such, it became an Anatomy of the sonnet form itself in some regards. Some may decree this sacrilege from someone who is not a ‘great’ of poetry but I say the best way to know your limits is to test them. It could ultimately be unsuccessful and dreadful, I don’t know, one of the main reasons I am not charging for it.
Sonnets have a very long and boring history that is well documented elsewhere and that I can’t be bothered to go into here. Some of the best examples and explanations can be found in the wonderful collection ‘101 Sonnets’ by Don Patterson. To be honest though, the man who made them what they are today is the daddy himself. Shakespeare’s sequence of 154 is the gold standard for sonnets – and pretty much all poetry for me – and there are many volumes dedicated to the study of them, my personal favourite is by… you guessed it, Don Patterson. Sadly few of us living mortals can attain the dizzy heights of these marvels of literature but there have been other poets who have penned autonomous sequences of sonnets too: Edmund Spenser, Michael Drayton, WH Auden, Pablo Neruda but the most influential for my particular sequence was the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. His sonnet sequence entitled ‘Orpheus’ was written in something ludicrous like 5 days and whose topics vary wildly but tend to centre around prayers to or tales of “the God with the lyre”. This sequence is highly regarded and there are numerous excellent translations but what really opened my eyes was when I read a ‘version’ of it written by the now ubiquitous poet in this post, yes Don bloody Patterson. Versions are different to translations, the idea being you take the essence of a poem and translate that instead, not the words. The subtlety of poetry lies in a familiarity with language, its nuances and connotations, something that a translator can rarely crowbar into another shape without losing something of its initial sense. Patterson’s version is a fantastic sister piece to the original but even then Rilke’s is still the superior and eye wideningly pretty. Read it, please.
So there is something of a heritage in the sonnet form and to be honest it doesn’t need updating to my ears as it is supremely useful in forcing you to wrench out what you want to say, yet small and digestible enough to be swallowed in one go. My sequence is modest in comparison to the greats that have gone before and, as I said, I doubt it is on a par but it was an attempt to get “raw meat” on the table on my part. What I loved about Rilke’s sequence is that he did it so fast, the editing and self-expurgation would have been practically non-existant or at least not as thorough as most poets like to think of themselves. It meant Rilke’s heart and mind is there, raw and bleeding, imperfect yet dazzling in every poem. I don’t claim my own is even close to this as I don’t have the skill he had but I do like to think its a first trembling step in that direction.
People might ask why I feel the need to publish everything I write. I would ask why you don’t feel the need to publish everything you write. Getting something finished and ready to your standard and then showing to others so it can be judged by their’s is probably the quickest and best way to learn I know of. There is no point spending years over something only for it to get lambasted as soon as its released anyway. Don’t torture yourself over whether people will like it or not and don’t let the idiot snobs tell you something that only took a couple months isn’t as good as something that took ten years. The reverse is almost always true. The Beatles made 14 albums in 7 years and every song of theirs is of a higher quality than most. I don’t know where the modern need to stagger everything out comes from. I realise time and patience will raise the quality but only to a certain degree. If you have anything you’ve been sitting on that you made that is finished but you don’t think is good enough, get it out anyway. You’ll learn more from that than you will just staring at it and asking friends what they think when all they will do is tell you how great it is no matter what the quality. Create, release, learn, move on.
Hopefully there will be a poem in The Anatomy for everyone but try reading all of it too. Even if you don’t like poetry I hope you can at least enjoy the site. Take a look at the videos in the meantime and I’ll hopefully see you all there on the 29th.