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The Art of the Sonnetby Stephen Burt and David Mikics
You can read this book for its remarkable selection from 450 years of English-language sonnets, or delve into the accompanying essays through which Burt and Mikics shed light on why — and how — the sonnet has remained one of the longest-lived verse forms. Notes on language and historical context make older sonnets more accessible; for instance, Mikics points out how Lady Mary Wroth, writing in 1620, inverts standard Petrarchan imagery as she becomes the mirror into which her beloved gazes upon himself in "Pamphilia to Amphilanthus 46" (not to mention his unpacking of those names!). These insightful essays also enrich the reading of contemporary sonnets, as when Burt speaks of the influence of rock-and-roll music on Denis Johnson's "Man Walking to Work" (1987). With 100 poems, The Art of the Sonnet is more than just a reference; it's an energetic romp through a surprisingly versatile art form.
Synopses & Reviews
Few poetic forms have found more uses than the sonnet in English, and none is now more recognizable. It is one of the longest-lived of verse forms, and one of the briefest. A mere fourteen lines, fashioned by intricate rhymes, it is, as Dante Gabriel Rossetti called it, "a moment's monument." From the Renaissance to the present, the sonnet has given poets a superb vehicle for private contemplation, introspection, and the expression of passionate feelings and thoughts.
The Art of the Sonnet collects one hundred exemplary sonnets of the English language (and a few sonnets in translation), representing highlights in the history of the sonnet, accompanied by short commentaries on each of the poems. The commentaries by Stephen Burt and David Mikics offer new perspectives and insights, and, taken together, demonstrate the enduring as well as changing nature of the sonnet. The authors serve as guides to some of the most-celebrated sonnets in English as well as less-well-known gems by nineteenth- and twentieth-century poets. Also included is a general introductory essay, in which the authors examine the sonnet form and its long and fascinating history, from its origin in medieval Sicily to its English appropriation in the sixteenth century to sonnet writing today in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other English-speaking parts of the world.
"The sonnet may well be the poetic form that most often comes to mind when anyone thinks of poetry. Fourteen lines long, in open and closed structures, sonnets have been prominent over the past 400 years of poetic history. In this unusual book — half anthology, half collection of essays — Burt and Mikics, both prolific critics of poetry (Burt is also a poet himself) choose 100 sonnets and for each offer a thoughtful, scholarly, though highly accessible commentary. The oldest poem is Thomas Wyatt's 'Whoso List to Hunt' (1557), and the newest is by the contemporary poet D.A. Powell, first published last year. In between, there's everything from Shakespeare and Wordsworth to Robert Lowell and Lucie Brock-Broido. Of 'Redemption,' George Herbert's sonnet about the Resurrection of Christ, Mikics writes, 'Herbert's Savior... shocks us into attention.' Of one of Ted Berrigan's sonnets, Burt says, 'The disorientation, the wildness, is part of the point: no more organized poem would do.' While this anthology would make a wonderful textbook for a prosody class, its best audience may be anyone who wants to delve deeply into the heart of poetry. Learnd as well as passionate, this book is a delight." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
First Things Notable Book of 2010
About the Author
Stephen Burt is Professor of English at Harvard.David Mikics is John and Rebecca Moores Professor of English at the University of Houston.
University of Houston
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