The Art of the Sonnet
Belknap Press, 2010
464 pp., $35.00
For about a month now, The Art of the Sonnet has been on my bedside table. Every morning I dip into the collection of 100 English-language sonnets, ranging from Shelley's "Ozymandias" to Countee Cullen's "At the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem." The twenty-page introduction, by Stephen Burt (Harvard) and David Mikics (University of Houston), explores just why "Few poetic forms have found more uses than the sonnet, and none is now more recognizable." Especially helpful is Burt and Mikics' discussion of the many contexts in which the sonnet flourished in the 20th century and continues to do so today. And just as the introductory discussion of recent sonnets is particularly satisfying, so too is the selection of post-1990 sonnets concluding the volume, among them "Into the Black" by John Hollander, "Necrophiliac" by Rosanna Warren, and "Psalm at High Tide," a sonnet by one of my favorite living poets, Martha Serpas. Published in Serpas' 2007 Katrina-ish The Dirty Side of the Storm, "Psalm at High Tide" announces that "the divine earth takes everything / in its wounded side / and gives back wholeness." As Burt and Mikics note, this poem "proves [Serpas] a remarkable devotional poet." Newcomers to poetry and longtime readers alike will find this a rich and rewarding volume.
Lauren Winner is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School.
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