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.

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.”

The boy ate an apple

appleOne of my goals this year was to read books by writers of Asian heritage, or to read more stories with protagonists of diverse backgrounds. I regret that growing up and all through these years, I haven’t made it a priority to expose myself to stories told in multicultural voices.

Through high school, university, and college curriculums, I have been exposed to a wealth of brilliant writers, from Chaucer to Hemingway, and many Canadian writers in between. I didn’t even stop to consider that all the stories I read were told from a Western perspective. This has had an interesting impact on me as a reader and now as a writer. I assume every character I read about is white unless told otherwise. I’m not alone. When I wrote ‘The boy ate an apple’ on the chalkboard and asked a classroom full of students, “What ethnicity was that boy?” All of them, even the black and Asian students responded, “white”.

As Canadian educators, writers, and readers, we need to do a better job of promoting diverse voices and experiences. It is 2013, yet the reading lists for Independent Study Projects in senior English classes haven’t changed much since the 80s when I was in high school. To throw in the odd book by a black or Asian writer to “modernize and update” the list isn’t enough.

 

Recommended Read:

Requiem by Frances Itani

Requiem by Frances Itani

I recently finished Frances Itani’s Requiem, a story about Bin, a Japanese Canadian struggling with loss on many levels. Although set in 1997, the story takes readers back to 1942, a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Twenty-two thousand Japanese Canadians in British Columbia were interned, in what is one of Canada’s darkest periods in history.

St. Paul’s Square or St. Pauls Square?

apostropheWow – there really is an organization called the Apostrophe Protection Society.  It exists in England and thanks to its founder, John Richards, the apostrophe that had been banned from local street signs in Mid Devon, England, has been lifted.

Apparently the apostrophe debate has been ongoing for years there (see here). Town Council had argued in favour of removing the apostrophe. They stated that they were receiving too many complaints from the public about the proper use of apostrophes, and that the apostrophes were confusing the GPS systems.

As a former ESL student and ESL teacher, I could only imagine the confusion the absence of an apostrophe could create for students learning English. St. Pauls Square – does it belong to Paul? Or are there many Pauls?

More on this:

Grammarians rejoice as English town drops apostrophe ban

Apostrophe Protection Society

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss (paperback)

Proper Apostrophe Usage – Purdue Online Writing Lab

Memorable characters 2

charactersI love books where I feel connected with the main character, or when the character is someone whom I admire and want to root for. I recently saw Les Miserables again. Jean Valjean is an example of a character I both admire and feel tremendous sympathy for – a character almost impossible for me to forget.

There are several books and online resources that offer great advice, tips, and suggestions on how to create complex and compelling characters. One book title I’d like to pass along is Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters. It’s definitely worth checking out.  Schmidt looks at several archetypes, both heroic and villainous, to explore character traits and behaviours. Her examples of memorable characters from books, movies, and T.V. are especially helpful in shaping our understanding of classic archetypes.

Also worth checking out:

Memorable characters

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1877)

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1877)

“It’s told from the point of view of a horse,” my daughter, Claire, told me when she started reading Black Beauty. “I don’t know if I want to read it.” She finished the book today, and concluded that it was a great read, and Black Beauty was a character she wouldn’t ever forget.

When Claire asked me to name some memorable characters from books I had read, the first few names that came to mind were:

Nomi Nickel, A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (Canadian)
Sixteen-year old Nomi, who lives in a Mennonite community, is abandoned by both her mother and sister. She asks a question that continues to haunt me: “Is it wrong to trust in a beautiful lie if it helps you get through life?”

Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
As a kid, I had a crush on Atticus, and wondered how many fathers were like him in real life. He was so wise and had the right things to say about everything that mattered: “You never really know a man till you walk a mile in his shoes.”

Dunstan Ramsay, Fifth Business by Robertson Davies (Canadian)
I read this book in grade 12 English class. Dunstan’s involvement with Mary Dempster, a woman he spends his life trying to make a “saint,” is a result of his deep rooted childhood guilt: “I feared to go to sleep and prayed till I sweated that God would forgive me for my mountainous crime… I was alone with my guilt, and it tortured me.”

Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables by L.L. Montgomery (Canadian)
I remember wondering if I should add an “e” to the end of my name after reading Anne say, “A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished.”

Iago, Othello by William Shakespeare
I’m wowed by his evil brilliance as much as I fear it. I still get chills reading, “I am not who I am.”

That time of year

One of the things I wanted to do during this holiday break was catch up on my reading. I have far more books than I could possibly get through in one calendar year. I keep buying them, intending to read them later. I also get a lot of books as gifts.

bookofOf the books I did get to this year, Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negros, was my favourite. It was published in 2007, and I wish I had gotten to it sooner! Hill’s protagonist, Aminata Diallo, who was abducted as a child from her village in West Africa and sold into slavery, continues to haunt me. The story had such an effect on me that I couldn’t pick up another book for two weeks.

I also thought Ins Choi’s play, Kim’s Convenience, was brilliant. The story hit close to home. Both Ins and I, although we have never met, immigrated to Canada in1975, and had families that worked in variety stores in downtown Toronto. I wrote about this play in an earlier blog.

Now that it is 2013, there are several lists of ‘the best books of 2012’ published everywhere. Here are a few to check out.