26. How to Write a Sonnet

I like poems, so long as they meet a few criteria. If they rhyme, tell a story and/or are humorous they are great. Free verse is not all that impressive. It is just too easy. Let me illustrate:



Clear sky

Fall is falling

September skies are cloudless

I just wrote this poem in less than 30 seconds

Transparency reigns


AHAHAHAHhaha. Here’s another:




Tells a story

Of kids

Not presently swinging

HAHAHAha ok that was a 10 second one. And that includes the time it took to upload this picture to go along with it:

Still. Swing. Tells a story. Of kids. Not presently swinging.

Still. Swing. Tells a story. Of kids. Not presently swinging.

I mean yeah, ok I guess these qualify as poems but come on. That is not challenging. Writing a sonnet is challenging. There are several types of sonnets but here we will focus on the Shakespearean sonnet. Each line has ten syllables. And each line is written in iambic pentameter. The end-rhyme scheme is as follows: abab cdcd efef gg. I wrote a sonnet about writing sonnets with some more tips:

How to Write a Shakespearean Sonnet: A Sonnet

Use ten syllables per line. The end rhyme

Of each line rhymes with every other line.

To find rhymes, rhyme zone dot com will save time.

Iambic pentams are each line’s design.
I’ve had a hard time establishing which

Syllable is stressed or unstressed so I
Use artistic license. Don’t mind this glitch

Long as ten syllables are in supply.

Use thy, thou or thee if you so desire

But don’t feel compelled to write just like Bill*

Use your own diction and style or acquire

Words from a thesaurus. Write what you will.

Pick any topic from rain to roulette

Congratulations: You wrote a sonnet!

(*Bill= William Shakespeare)

So in this poem I mentioned some confusion over iambic pentameter. An iambic “foot” is two syllables. One unstressed, the next stressed. Like a heart beat. Here’s a heart beat in iambic pentameter: Da dum da dum da dum da dum da dum

Five iambic “feet” in a row. Ten syllables total. It is easy to see which syllable is stressed and unstressed in the heart beat illustration but it gets much more tricky when you start using actual words. So don’t stress (pun intended) over that part and just get ten syllables on each line and follow the end-rhyme pattern. Here is my favorite sonnet I’ve ever written:

Linoleum Lament

Linoleum, your washed out hues offend

The eye and my interior design.

Your cheap plastic sheen, bound never to blend

With my walls of buttery soft white wine

Is marred by craters that cling to gray dust

And nicks like everlasting chocolate smears.

I cover your square pattern in disgust

With handsome wool rugs that muffle your jeers.

From imperfect edge peeks unfinished wood

That tempts me to pry that tough, tacky tile

And realize my dream of floors that look good-

No longer suffer from wretched vinyl…

I look away and stop my lamenting

Its temporary, I’m only renting.

So do it! Write a sonnet. You may be reading thinking “But WHY?!” It is a really is a great exercise for your brain. What would I be doing at this very moment (9PM on a Sunday night) if I had not been writing a sonnet about how to write a sonnet? Probably watching really bad reality television. And a sonnet is something you will keep forever. I wrote “Linoleum Lament” for a poetry course as an English major nine years ago and I always go back to it and it always makes me laugh. I think the approach is fun way to modernize poems (without abandoning all rules and order and just writing free verse). Stick to the rules but write about modern topics. I think it is really funny to use the sonnet format to write about something extremely un-romantic (like linoleum). Here are some possible topics that would be funny in a sonnet:

Why power lines ruin sunsets

Why power lines ruin sunsets

The challenges of growing cauliflower

The challenges of growing cauliflower

Knick knacks

Knick knacks

Hope you are inspired to try writing one! If you do, please share it!

6 thoughts on “26. How to Write a Sonnet

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