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Poetry Book Review:

The Poets Don't Write Sonnets Anymore

by Robin Ridington

the poet's don't write sonnets anymoreThere are few poetry books where the poetry is sub-par that I'd recommend reading, but The Poets Don't Write Sonnets Anymore is one of them. This is such a fabulous read that to say the poetry is sub-par isn't really fair, but the verse is a far cry from genius.

Robin Ridington has written an enigmatic piece of literature that oscillates between humorous self analysis and serious literary criticism. Rolled into one hundred pages is a personal memoir, a poetic compilation of Shakespearean sonnets, a treatise on anthropology, a family portrait, a collection of critical essays, and thoughtful anecdotes on philosophy and religion.

Ridington shares his thoughts on everything from sex to science. Through prose and verse he is able to maintain a sense of humility about his own skills as a poet (he points out when he is being smarmy or cute, knows when his sophomoric lines reach into immaturity, and has a keen eye for his own weaknesses). The poetry is interspersed between journeys into a retired anthropologist's mind, which is itself a literary treat.

The subtitle "(Please read these disquisitions in the loo.)" are as much a statement of intent as they are a critical self analysis, and I might add quite appropriate (I took Ridington's advice more often than I should admit).

The poet takes his readers on a journey through his own life as a writer of sonnets. He explains why he writes solely in the form and why he has chosen the Shakespearean version over Spencerian or Petrarchan and curtly points out that, well, modern poets just don't do that. So he pits himself against the entire poetic establishment, not on warring grounds, but in a Pythonesque kind of cultural humor that is mostly aimed inward. In short, he loves to laugh at himself as much as he does you.

Referring to his brand of poetics as "neopremodern", Ridington steers far from overuse of critical terms and unless he is explaining, as if speaking to a non-poet or beginning writer, the devices he employs and why, he doesn't get too deep into the literary criticism. Many readers will appreciate his short lead ins to the poems, though often I found them unnecessary.

The Poets Don't Write Sonnets Anymore is broken into chapters, with names like "The Poets Don't Write Sonnets Anymore", "The Bard", "Sophomoric Sonnets", "Serious Subjects", "Goofy Sonnets", "Tropes and Anthropology", "Our Middle Ages", "Love Interest", "The Secret of a Successful Marriage", "Our Tribe", and "A Grand Finale". The prose is well written and the book overall is logically organized. I'd recommend it for teachers of poetry at the high school or undergraduate level simply because Ridington is able to communicate on a beginner level without pretense and maintain a sense of humor that makes his self analysis approachable. Plus, you are sure to get some great discussions from teh material.

The prose is the best part of the book. My favorite poems were the ones he correctly identified as sophomoric or that were just downright humorous. When he tackles more serious subject matter, the verse borders on schlock, but schlock as humor goes down like honey.

Ridington also includes a "Sonnet Kit", which is a sonnet where the lines are jumbled and the game for the reader is to un-jumble the lines so that the sonnet reads as it should (later in the book he gives the answer). While the rhyme and meter are for the most part pretty sound, the irony in Ridington's sonnets is that he goes out of his way to prove himself every bit of a classicist yet he manages to incorporate contemporary standards like conversational lines and rhymes that do not look like rhymes at first glance. He has mastered the art of enjambment and that's in his favor. He is also quite adept at alliteration and internal rhyme.

Some of the poems in The Poets Don't Write Sonnets Anymore are excellent. Some are less than good while most are probably in the mediocre range. But the best parts are the words and ideas in between. I'd recommend this book for anyone who wants to relax and just enjoy a well-written excursion into "neopremodernism".

As a sampling, I'll reprint one of the title poems (there are 8 poems with the title "The Poets Don't Write Sonnets Anymore"). "The Poets Don't Write Sonnets Anymore #1" appears in the opening jacket of the book and is a fitting introduction to Robin Ridington's millennial wit:
The poets don't write sonnets anymore.
Please read these disquisitions in the loo.
Dear reader, there's a narrative in store
For bathroom literati; yes for you,
dear reader. Scry my scary take on tropes.
Perambulate my smarm and don't mistake
my pessimistic postulates for hopes
about a brighter future. Please forsake
all sense of constancy and clemency
and go to the Jurassic ball with cash
in hand or claw. Dear reader, bear with me
and watch our cunny species in its crash;
flash flood that flushes furiously and swirls
our coriolis pigs' ears into pearls.

There are better poems in The Poets Don't Write Sonnets Anymore, but you'll have to buy the book read them.

Order your copy of

The Poets Don't Write Sonnets Anymore
by Robin Ridington


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