I waited a long time before I decided to publish this review of 100 Sonnets. Honestly, I really hate to write negative reviews. But I felt like it was an honor issue. The poet sent the book expecting a review. He put out an expense in doing so – in giving away a free copy and in mailing costs. The least I could do was to give my honest opinion.
Some publications will not publish negative reviews. I, however, believe that negative reviews serve a worthwhile purpose. For one thing, an insightful poet can read the review and learn a thing or two – not necessarily the poet being reviewed, but any poet reading the review. If anything, a good negative review (I’m not saying my reviews are any good) can cast some light on the subject of poetics and lead readers to a deeper understanding of the issues that poets have to deal with when crafting their poems. And if that leads to better poetry being written overall then I say bring on the negative reviews in droves.
Still, I’d much rather write positive reviews. Even middle-of-the-road reviews.
Why I Offer To Write Book Reviews
I initially offered to write poetry book reviews because I wanted to share insights into poetic philosophy with my readers. I believe there isn’t enough honest discussion about poetics, particularly among independent poets who publish their own work. I thought, when I started reviewing books, that most of my reviews would end up being of independently published authors, and I was right. I was hoping they’d end up being better poets. But one doesn’t always get what one asks for.
Occasionally, however, I do find that rare gem of a poetry book that I love to tell people about. And that’s why I write reviews.
For instance, Jeff Rath’s The Waiting Room at the End of the World is one such book, though it isn’t a book of sonnets nor is it self published. Patrick Carrington’s Thirst is another book (actually, a chapbook) of non-sonnets I can recommend.
As for books of sonnets, The Poets Don’t Write Sonnets Anymore by Robin Ridington is an excellent book I don’t mind recommending, not so much for the poetry, but for the commentary that goes along with it.
I wouldn’t exactly call Ridington’s sonnets “sucky”. But they don’t make me kick my heels together either. Nevertheless, I loved reading the commentary/memoir mixed with thoughts on a myriad of topics important to Ridington that encompassed the poems. I think Ridington did well in putting together his book of sonnets and prose lead-ins. It’s a great book if not great poetry.
One Sonneteer I’d Recommend For The Poems
Truth be told, the sonnet is not exactly my favorite form. I’ve never been really good at writing them myself. That may be because I just haven’t taken the time to honestly practice the form. There are other forms I’ve done well with because of the practice. But the sonnet isn’t one of them.
Still, I love reading a good sonnet when I find one. And one person who writes sonnets that I think are just golden is a poet by the name of Barry Ballard.
Barry Ballard’s Green Tombs To Jupiter is an amazing collection of Petrarchan sonnets written in blank verse. They cover a wide range of topics, but they remind me of the metaphysical poets, only they deal with subject matter from the late 20th century, subjects that John Donne would not have imagined.
I used to read with Barry in Fort Worth, Texas when I lived down there. His delivery is as astounding as his pen and that’s another reason I’d recommend his poetry. I don’t know why his book sells for $173.91 at Amazon. That must be a typo, but it is definitely worth a read if you can get it for less.
If you’re going to write sonnets, it helps to read a few from classical and contemporary poets who write them well. Barry Ballard should be on your reading list.