In the post I just published, “In Celebration of Sonnets”, there is a new feature: audio clips of me reading the first four sonnets. This did not translate into email, at least not in my inbox. It is there on the website: www.winonamedia.net. To find the post with ease, return to the original emailed post and just click on the blue headline!
I love sonnets. I have been writing them since I was in college. I respond to and create both the two dominant classic forms, Shakespearian and Petrarchan, and have attempted a few Spenserian sonnets. I have a whole host of fourteen-line poems that are variously sonnet-like, and discerning readers will have noted that the poem I published here last December, entitled “Winter Walk”, was an entwined double sonnet of my own devising. Some years ago, at the turn of the year, I was able to channel the grief I felt at the anniversary of my father’s death into art: in the space of twenty-four hours, I found I had written a five-sonnet sequence.
Why sonnets? They are the perfect size to establish, develop, and then reverse or sum up an idea. With fourteen lines of iambic pentameter one has 140 syllables at one’s disposal. A poet whose work I revere, and was very kind to me as a mentor, Amy Clampitt, told me that when she had a poem that was going on and on and she couldn’t tell where the heart of it was, she would try writing it as a sonnet, because that always clarified the essence of the work at hand. I enjoy the rhymes or slant rhymes, depending on the choices of the poet–I especially love to read a poem and then review it to realize it is a sonnet when I didn’t first observe that because the rhyme and enjambment was so skillfully handled. I also love the turn a sonnet reliably provides. Sonnets have enough room to be discursive, even chatty, but they are also succinct. They take just over one minute to recite slowly, with expression.
When Tim and I married, we included a favorite by Shakespeare in the service.
The World is Too Much With Us
2014 Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest: Deadline
As many of you know, the 2014 Great River Shakespeare Festival/Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest is now open. Full Contest rules and details are found at GRSF.org/SONNET. This contest is now in its seventh year. For sonnet writers all over the globe, it is a wonderful chance to compete in a range of sonnet formats and tones–from Shakespearian, Petrarchan, and non-traditional metrical and rhyme schemes, from straight-forward love poems to humorous observations, story-telling, and impassioned social commentary.
Contest organizer, poet Ted Haaland, has edited a beautifully made anthology of the sonnets from the first five years of the competition (2008-2012).
This Melody Weaves In and Out, showcases the possibilities of the sonnet form. Copies are available for $10.00 (postage included), and proceeds are added to the pool of prize money for future sonnet contest winners. If you’d like your own copy–to inspire your own sonnets or simply to enjoy–send a check for $10 and your mailing information to:
Ted also says, “This year, to mark this 7th annual Contest, the 3rd in memory of Maria, you are invited to join us at a Sonnet Contest “Kick-Off” event on Saturday, April 26th (during National Poetry Month) beginning at 11 AM, at Jefferson Pub and Grill’s 2nd floor meeting room, here in downtown Winona on Center Street. This is a free event, and is held on the last day of the Mid West Music Fest. Room seating capacity is around 60, and since this event is a first for us, we’ve no idea how many to expect, so we encourage promptness. This is an opportunity for some of us to learn about sonnets, and others of us to read sonnets,either their own or those of favorite poets. We anticipate that Winona’s present and past Poets Laureate will be attending. We will have a drawing for a book of collected sonnets spanning several hundred years, and, of course, coffee and snacks will be available. Since some of us can’t seem to avoid rhyming, we say, ‘Come & celebrate Will’s skills with quills.'”
Tintern Church of England School for Girls
With plaits and dresses neat, we stand
to see the sheep and shearer meet.
We have our cotton gloves in hand
to fan away November’s heat,
and we pull our stockings to our knees
while Third Form herds its project in.
The black-faced ewe weights down the breeze;
her rank coat makes the shearer grin.
“Stand and deliver!” He grabs the ewe,
wrapping her legs in one strong hand.
His shears are rough and bite a fold
Of clumsy skin. As bright as dew
The blood drops bead, then scatter on the sand.
Despite the heat, I shiver, shorn and cold.
The above sonnet was written some years ago, and it is based on a memory of an enrichment event at an Australian girls’ school I attended. (Interestingly, I never heard anything about Wordsworth’s masterpiece, its long title usually abbreviated “Tintern Abbey”, until I was a senior in college.)
I entered it in the Maria W. Faust Contest in 2013 and was awarded a prize. I have already addressed an envelope for this year’s submission, and am listening intently. I have several sonnets that I might send, but if I catch wind of an engaging iambic pentameter line, who knows, I might find myself with an even better candidate. Stay tuned! Better yet, try your hand at a sonnet and send it in to the contest!
Portrait of Maria W. Faust
“So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
“So long this lives and this gives life to thee.”
(William Shakespeare, Sonnet XVIII)
Thank you for reading this! If you think of someone else who might enjoy it, please forward it to them. And, if you are not already a subscriber, I invite you to subscribe to the Wednesday posts I am sending out each week–it’s easy, it’s free, and I won’t share your address with anyone!
How long have you been interested in studying the Greek language? How old were you when you began? I have been interested in the Greek language for eleven years, since I was three years old. I became interested through reading the Greek myths in a wonderful work by a husband and wife author-illustrator team, Ingir and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire. Those pages made the myths alive. When I was a little older, I liked to pretend I was Iris, Goddess of the Rainbow, and a messenger from Olympus to Earth. I would take messages from my dad, who was working in his office on the third floor, to my mom, who was in the kitchen or the garden.
From there my interest has grown.
What is the most difficult part of studying Greek? Of studying Latin? What are the most fun aspects?
For me, the most difficult part of studying Greek — now that I know the alphabet–is remembering the grammar. That is the same for Latin. The most fun parts of studying both languages are those moments when sentences just click and I can read along without struggling. I love that!
Do you think other kids would enjoy these subjects? Why? Are these subjects useful as well as enjoyable?
I think lots of other kids enjoy Latin, and a few others enjoy Greek. It is true that all the memorization takes time, but studying Classical languages definitely puts one in a better place to understand ancient peoples, as well as the way Classical ideas are still very much part of the modern world. These languages are definitely useful, too. Once you know them, you see what a large percentage of English words come from Greek and Latin. It is really fun to recognize derivatives of ancient words. If you recognize the root, you have a good chance of figuring out a word you have never seen before. This happens most often in science and medicine, but also in law and other fields like linguistics and literature. It is estimated that about sixty percent of English words have Classical roots. In the sciences, it is about ninety percent.
How did you begin this book? Why did you decide to do it? How did you come up with the concept and the title? Can you describe the process?
When I was beginning to learn Greek, my mom looked for a children’s book to get me started. There were lots and lots of things in Latin which shares the English alphabet (see the Winona Media Latin resource page for my favorites) but she couldn’t find anything for Greek. I was surprised! (We now also have a Greek resource page.)
And I was disappointed. I said, “Why don’t they make a picture book for Greek?” My mom did find a chart of the Greek upper and lower case letters. I ended up learning then largely by leaning the chart against the bathroom mirror and saying them silently while I brushed my teeth.) But I just couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a picture book. Finally, Mom, said, “Maybe ‘you’ are ‘they’. Maybe you are the one to write this book.”
I started the first draft in 2009, when I was nine. It seemed like a picture book would be a good way to introduce other kids, especially younger kids, to these different letters. And, at that time, I loved to draw. The title was basically a way to emphasize Greek’s prevalence in our language. There are abundant alphabet books for kids in English, and the word “alphabet” comes from the names of the first two Greek letters.
I decided to give one word for each letter. Each word had to be something I felt confident drawing and something that would have been recognizable to ancient people. For example, I had originally picked the word for “milk”, and drawn it as I thought of it–poured from a carton! When I realized that milk cartons are thoroughly modern, and thought of the difficulties of drawing milk (as opposed to another liquid, such as water) I chose another word. All the drawings have been revised over the years (some several times). My family even took drawing lessons one fall with a tutor so that I could learn some new-to-me techniques like perspective, creating shadows, and cross-hatching.
The drawings are in black and white. These were less expensive to print this way, and they can be copied and used as coloring pages. The longer a student spends on the page, the more chance the information will just be absorbed easily in a fun way, without actively studying.
SKETCHES FOR REVISED DRAWINGS
Another challenge was to figure out how to type the Greek letters and include the accents and breathing marks that Greek requires into a Word file. Overall, since I didn’t know what I was doing at first, everything took a long time, but I learned as I went. As you can see, I think the overall result is better because I took the time to revise.
Who is your target audience?
Anyone new to Attic Greek! I hope it will appeal to kids, but I also hope some adults will think it is a fun way to learn.
Did you do all the work yourself?
Many people helped me! It is amazing, when I stop to think about it, how many people helped me gain skill or confidence. Rafael Estrella helped me improve in my drawing ability. Professors Anne Groton and Christopher Brunelle from St. Olaf College helped me find my wonderful tutors, Collin Moat, and David Estle. And Professor Groton also was very encouraging of this book. She even took it to a conference of Classics educators in March 2012 and asked her colleagues to fill out surveys. Those surveys helped me a lot as I moved from draft two to the final draft. Of course, I want to thank everyone who filled out the surveys, with three in particular: Professor Bill North of Carleton College (who has helped in a multitude of ways and who also gave me a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Greek); Dan Menken, who encouraged me not to give up on incorporating breathing marks; and Aleka Pitsavas Wakely, who was full of enthusiasm and good advice, and who suggested some good alternatives to selected words. Also, I need to thank my dad, who helped me scan images, design the page, and wrestle with lulu.com’s conventions to get a cover I like; and my mom, who believed in the concept from the beginning.
Do you have a favorite Greek letter? A favorite Greek word?
I like all the Greek letters. If I had to pick one favorite, it would be “ζ”, or, “zeta”. I just couldn’t pick a favorite word. I would love to know, however, what other people think.
How can people get a copy?
Copies are available on lulu.com, at Monkey See, Monkey Read in Northfield (or online; they also carry The Howling Vowels and And Sometimes Y; these copies are autographed), and, if you would like a personalized copy, please send me an email request.