FORM OF THE WEEK 5: THE MIRROR SONNET
On the seventh of July, 2012, I received this message from the poet Ned Balbo, one of whose students was working on a review of Annabelle Moseley’s first book The Clock of the Long Now (David Roberts Books, 2011). Ned wanted to document whether the “mirror sonnet” form had a preexisting history or was the author’s innovation. He provided a link: Verse Wisconsin 108 | Annabelle Moseley versewisconsin.org.
My ancestors are mute and all I know
of them are ancient spear tips — and the shards
of painted cups that, while faded, still glow
as though they hold wine. Handed down, these guard
over my past, wordlessly talk of death
and what has been consumed. Now as I build
a ship to hold the world, I hold each breath
before exhaling — for all who'll be killed —
even as a few fragments cling to life.
I'll keep those broken few, and artifacts
of all who came before. What of their strife?
What of their burial? Borne on our backs
we'll carry memories of tombs and graves
to salvage and replant after the waves.
To salvage and replant after the waves,
we carried memories of tombs and graves.
What of their burial? Borne on our backs
were all who came before. What of their strife?
I kept the broken few and artifacts
even as a few fragments clung to life.
Before exhaling — for all who were killed —
a ship to hold the world, I held each breath
within my body's boat. Consumed, I built
over my past, wordlessly talked of death
as though wine. What was left, I tried to guard
like painted cups, faded — the rainbow's glow.
I kept the ancient spear tips — and the shards.
My ancestors are mute. That's all I know.
— Annabelle Moseley, Huntington, NY
“Could you confirm whether, to the best of your knowledge, it's ‘hers’? I haven't seen other examples of it, but my knowledge isn't as exhaustive as yours.
At first glance I thought that what Ms. Moseley had done was to write two sonnets using the rhyme scheme of the first sonnet backwards in the second sonnet, which was an idea that didn’t impress me much because the idea would simply double all forms, and people could then write "mirror terzanelles," "mirror sestinas" and so forth and claim they had "invented" the form(s). But a second glance showed me that the poem is much more clever than I had surmised on first reading. Ms. Moseley actually had written the second sonnet backward line by line, using the same lines as in the first sonnet, so that it made sense! The system got her into a few awkward spots, but it worked. It reminded me a bit of one of the poems I used in last week’s “Form of the Week 4: Paren(t)hesis” titled "Time Goes Down in Mirrors." Those who are interested might take a look at "Paren(t)hesis" again.
Ned wrote back, “Thanks very much for your help, Lew…I'll recommend that the reviewer give Annabelle credit. I like the poem and think the form would be fun to try.”
I replied, “All poems are nonce forms the first time they're written, and they remain nonce forms until other people use them. Has anyone else ever written a ‘mirror sonnet’?”
Ned said, “If they have, I don't know about it. Annabelle may be the first.”
“Then it's still just a nonce poem,” I said, and all Annabelle had done was to invent a form for her personal use, just as John Berryman wrote poems in the form he invented, the “dreamsong,” a description of which will be found on page 193 of The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, Including Odd and Invented Forms, Revised and Expanded Fourth Edition. However, the “mirror sonnet” is quite a clever idea, and perhaps others would like to try the form. The rhyme scheme is simply that of the English sonnet, ababcdcdefefgg —ggfefedcdcbaba and, of course, the meter is iambic pentameter. More on the sonnet form is on pp. 353-357 of The Book of Forms cited above.
Suggested writing exercise:
Write a mirror sonnet.
The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, Including Odd and Invented Forms, Revised and Expanded Edition by Lewis Putnam Turco, Hanover, NH: University Press of New England (www.UPNE.com) , 2012 • 384 pp. 3 illus. 5 x 7 1/2" Reference & Bibliography / Poetry 978-1-61168-035-5, paperback.