Today’s Sonnet

bishopI had no idea that the sonnet was alive and thriving today. In some cases, the traditional form has been reinvented so much that the only identifiable factor is the sonnet’s fourteen-line length.

For class, I need to write two sonnets this week – a traditional one and a contemporary one. I’m not sure which one will be easier to pen.

Examples of contemporary sonnets:

“Sonnet” by Robert Pinsky

“The Heart’s Location” by Peter Meinke (scroll down the page to the poem)

W.H. Auden wrote one of the first sonnets not to follow a rhyming scheme:

“The Secret Agent” by W.H. Auden, 1928

An entertaining sonnet that follows the traditional form:

“Death of a Sonnet writer” by Scott Ennis

One of my favourite sonnets:

“Holy Sonnet XIV” by John Donne, 1609

What is a sonnet?

Basic sonnet forms

Sonnets online

A great print resource for poets:

Wendy Bishop provides advice for writing and revising sonnets and sonnet-like poems in her book entitled Thirteen Ways of Looking for a Poem: A Guide to Writing Poetry.

Contemporary Poetry

Billy CollinsIn Thirteen Ways of Looking for a Poem: A Guide to Writing Poetry, Wendy Bishop states that “contemporary poets prefer rhyme that doesn’t call attention to itself; concrete, particular images; and conversational… language.” Since starting a course in contemporary poetry, I’ve been intrigued by Billy Collins’ poems. They epitomize the “unexpected phrases and strong sensory details” that Bishop includes in her characteristics of contemporary poetry.

See or hear Collins read his poems by clicking on the following links:

Forgetfulness (animated)
I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey’s Version of ‘Three Blind’ Mice
Some Days (animated)
Walking Across the Atlantic (animated)
Now and Then (animated)
The Trouble With Poetry

Stories for writers

oatesI’ve had to read many interesting stories since enrolling in a fiction class as part of my MFA studies. I wanted to pass along some of the titles.

The following stories are housed in Joyce Carol Oates’ book entitled Telling Stories: An Anthology for Writers. You can read them online by clicking on the story titles.

“Aren’t You Happy For Me?” by Richard Bausch

An excellent example of how a story can be constructed using mainly dialogue. How would you react if your 22-year-old daughter phoned one day and said that she was engaged to a 63-year-old man?

“That Evening Sun” by William Faulkner

Written in 1931, this is a dark and disturbing story about a white family’s reaction to the fears of their black servant, Nancy.

“In the American Society” by Gish Jen

Told from the point of view of a Chinese-American girl, this story looks at a family’s attempt to assimilate into American culture and sheds light on the immigrant experience.

“Father’s Last Escape” by Bruno Schulz

If you’re a fan of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, you’ll appreciate this story. In this story, the father turns into a crab which the mother later cooks for dinner.

“Borges and I” by Jorge Luis Borges

A short autobiographical work that looks at the private versus the personal self. It ends with the line, “I do not know which of us has written this page.”

Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013

heaneyI had never heard of Seamus Heaney until I visited Northern Ireland, my husband’s family of origin, in 2004. We were visiting with a cousin in County Tyrone when I picked up a book on the coffee table and asked a room full of family: “Who’s Seamus Heaney?” I heard a gasp, followed by silence, then quiet mumbling.

It became the family’s mission: Educate the ignorant visiting Canadian about County Tyrone’s most celebrated poet – which they did with great passion and joy. The trip became a crash course on Heaney – his life and his work, and the impact that he had on his readers around the world.

I was very sad today to learn of his passing on Friday, August 30th, at the age of 74.

Read more about Heaney:

“Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize-winning poet, dies” – CBC News

“Seamus Heaney, Irish Poet of Soil and Strife, Dies at 74” – New York Times

Biography – Poetry Foundation

1995 Nobel Prize Lecture –  youtube

Seamus Heaney Facts –


Statue of Lincoln by the Ohio River, Louisville Waterfront Park

Statue of Lincoln by the Ohio River, Louisville Waterfront Park

In a letter to a friend, Abraham Lincoln wrote about his visit to Louisville, Kentucky in 1841. He was sitting on the waterfront (where I took this photo) and saw enslaved African-Americans on their way to New Orleans. He was deeply disturbed by what he saw and wrote: “That sight was a continual torment to me…” I was recently in Louisville and was intrigued by the city’s rich history. Kentucky was a border state during the American Civil War, and Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to it. Slavery continued to be legal in Kentucky until 1865 when the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, was ratified. Today, the city of Louisville is a beautiful and culturally rich state. It was chosen as Lonely Planet’s top US tourist destination for 2013.

More on my visit to Louisville.

Dream, set goals, celebrate

My daughter Claire's graduation, June 2013

My daughter Claire’s graduation, June 2013

June and July – the months of graduations, commencements and convocations. Over the years, I’ve attended them as a student, as a teacher, and most recently as a parent and as a guest. This year, I have had the honour of speaking at two ceremonies. The following thoughts highlight the key messages I was trying to convey.

Do take the time to celebrate. Like the Roman god Janus, graduation has two faces – one looking back, the other forward. In other words, graduation marks both an end and a beginning. Celebrate your accomplishments. Doing so will make you feel good, and energize you to be excited about what is to come.

Learn the difference between dreams and goals. Since I was an immigrant child learning English, I have dreamt about publishing a book. It was during my five years in the Creative Writing program at U of T’s School for Continuing Studies that my outlook and attitude towards writing shifted. I moved from having dreams of writing to having goals of being published. There are significant differences between dreams and goals. Dreams allow you to be lazy; there are no deadlines and no accountabilities. Goals, on the other hand, require focus, action, and adherence to deadlines. It takes little effort to dream and to fantasize. It takes a lot of hard work and planning to reach your goals.

Dream, set goals, celebrate. Repeat.

[This entry also appears on the 11th Floor Writers’ blog.]

Beyond the corner variety store

A play by Ins Choi

A play by Ins Choi

I finally saw Kim’s Convenience. What a great play! It made me laugh, and when it hit a little too close to home, it made me cry… The play, written by Ins Choi, takes place in a Korean-owned convenience store in downtown Toronto. I’ve wanted to see this play for a while now and wrote about it in an earlier blog. The play begins its national tour next month.

Read more about the play:

The Globe and Mail review

National Post theatre review

Prism International