On July 30, 2016, Tim and I traveled to Winona, Minnesota for our annual treat–listening to the reading of the winning sonnets from the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest–a closing event for the famous Great River Shakespeare Festival. We then spent the day along the Mississippi River to celebrate our anniversary which falls in early August.
Since I first learned about this contest in 2013, I have been not only impressed by the great variety, beauty, and power of the winning poems, I have begun, much more frequently, to “think in sonnet form.” What I mean by that is that the meter, rhyme schemes, and rhetorical structures offered by the sonnet form(s) are now etched more deeply into my poetic consciousness. Consequently, while I have been writing sonnets for thirty years, I write many more of them these days–Shakespearian, Petrarchan, the odd “curtal sonnet” (with homage to Gerard Manly Hopkins), and fourteen-line poems I call “sonnet-like objects.”) Of course, with all of these sonnets arriving, every year I select a few to enter in the contest, despite knowing that the competition is steep.
This year, I was surprised and pleased to get a phone call the week prior from Ted Haaland, husband of the late Maria W. Faust, who runs the contest. He told me that my own poem, “Carp,” written this spring, was one of this year’s winners, and asked whether I would like to read it at the event. It was great fun.
A list of winners from all nine years, and the texts of winning sonnets for 2015 and 2016 can be found HERE. For those of you who want to try your own hand, the site also has a very helpful section on the mechanics of sonnet creation. Contestant poems can be received sometime in January for the 2017 contest–you can also bookmark the site and check back in the New Year for the exact date.
Meanwhile, do enjoy reading the work online, and consider purchasing the beautifully made anthology showcasing winning poems from the first five years (2008-2012) of the contest.
(Copies can be ordered from Ted Haaland, whose contact information can be found at the link above.)
And when you think of Winona, nestled into the limestone bluffs next to the storied waters of the Mississippi, think, too, of the annual movement of fine sonnets, from all over the nation and beyond our borders, flowing into the little jewel of an art town.
When I think back over the past three months–glad that I will not be assigned an essay!–I still I wonder just what I did with my summer vacation, and how I will use my time this fall. As I review June, July, and August, I see how much did happen, though not always what I imagined would occur.Two themes, celebrations with friends and literary preoccupations, dominated. Here is a long summary, (kind of a flip book of pictures), of those lazy but oddly hectic months–they made for a lovely summer, yet I am eager for the next adventure of autumn.
First, Julia left for Maine, traveling with friends, mostly on the train for her third trip to the Darling Marine Center near Damariscotta.
The day after her departure, Tim and I embarked on a home improvement venture: repainting the living room and dining room. From “Lapis Lazuli” in the north-facing dining room and “Alice Blue” in the living room, these spaces are now united in color: a grey-green “Horizon” on the walls and a pale purple “Lavendar Whisper” on the ceilings, the same as in my office upstairs. We thought two weeks of effort (including a week of vacation for Tim) would be ample, but it was a full month of effort to see it through. We love the results, though–still haven’t put up any pictures, because we’re still enjoying the serenity of fresh paint.
Even the primer made a dramatic difference! (Accent flowers from the Corrine and Elvin Heiberg cheered us on amid the disruption.)
Peanut tried to help lend a paw, but it was renting scaffolding that truly made a difference. Julia returned at the end of the month and held an early birthday party for herself so all her friends could attend.
Meanwhile, I took lots of photos in June, worked on a quilt, culled twelve bags of books to give away, wrote a dozen poems, and began planning a short story based on a memory of my father’s mother, and launched into study of the craft of fiction with another writer (using Janet Burroway’s book called Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft). The novel drafts, however, languished, and I took a break from sending out poems to journals, though I did submit my book-length collection, Reading the Bones, to several contests.
July began with “Zhivago Fest”. My friend, Ann, and I have for several years read ahead for a summer visit and discussion. Each year, we choose a new topic. This year, at my request, we planned a visit around a remedial read for me: Boris Pasternak’s novel, Dr. Zhivago. I have learned a little about Russian literature in the past few years, and I knew of Pasternak’s reputation. I also knew that I would not be able to learn Russian in order to enjoy the poems that made his reputation; on the other hand, all I knew was the blockbuster movie from the 1960s. Sad to say, for me Omar Sharif was Yuri Zhivago. Thanks to Ann’s willingness to keep me company, I have now a little better sense of the book behind the blockbuster. In addition, we worked in some related activities for fun.
Here is a photo Ann took of me in front of the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis. We also went to Moscow on the Hill, a restaurant in St. Paul, to sample to borscht, watched two film versions of the story, read some translations of the poetry,listened to lectures and read some criticism of Pasternak’s work, and made collages to commemorate the year-long enterprise.
Then I turned from Pasternak, briefly, to Dostoevsky. In preparation for a two-session online seminar with Julia Denne through www.bytheonionsea.com, I read his novella Notes from Underground. Very glad I was to have read this work and to have had a teacher to supply context.
August was a month of celebrations, on the road and at home, beginning and ending with birthdays. First, we hosted a mystery destination picnic for a friend.
The destination was Red Wing, Minnesota. Encouraged by the example of our culinarily superior neighbors, the Noers, who introduced us to the magic of Julia Child’s Queen of Sheba chocolate cake, I tried my hand at it. Both the recipe and the YouTube video were available for free online, confirming my wonder at the magic of the Internet.
Then Tim and I celebrated our anniversary with a road trip. We first went to Winona’s Great River Shakespeare Festival for the reading of the 2014 winning sonnets in the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest. They did not disappoint! Then we had lunch at the restaurant attached to the Blue Heron Book Store in Winona before crossing the Mississippi to idle our way up the western Wisconsin side. I understand why it is renowned as the most beautiful drive in the country–it is definitely a contender.
First we stopped in Pepin,
Then we stopped at the Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery and a wonderfully curated store called A Cultural Cloth that brings artisans and beautifully made hand-crafted items from all over the world to Maiden Rock. Finally, we had a splendid dinner at the unpretentious Chef Shack Restaurant in Bay City, where the cuisine outshines most of the upscale Twin Cities offerings.
Later in the summer, we feasted with our friends the Dennes. I was glad to have had help with making a Pavlova dessert, and old favorite from the middle school years I spent in Australia. Back then, you couldn’t attend a summer “barbie” (bar-be-que) or open a women’s magazine without encountering a “pav”, so for me this fruit-and-meringue treat was a blast from the past.
We were lucky that the Dennes could stay for several days. We even got to pitch a tent for the girls, make a first visit to Garrison Keillor’s book store in St. Paul (superlative poetry section), and see the “Marks of Genius” exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
August wouldn’t be complete without the joyous capstone event for the Northfield Sidewalk Poetry project.
We ended the month with two more events, a lunch with three students from Doshisha University in Japan (followed, the next week, with a lovely dinner made by the Japanese students at Carleton)
and, to cap everything off, a “Sundae Party” on Sunday, August 31, which was our friend, LaNelle Olson’s 85th birthday.
Just a week or so into September, the summer seems very far away. As I write this, we’re socked in with a long forecast of chilly rain, and Julia is well launched into her fall activities. Projects that languished a bit for me in late summer are now beckoning, and will be the subjects of later posts–memorizing poems, finishing that star quilt–and I have begun a new personal endeavor: writing my autobiography.
As I conclude this review, I wonder what the summer was like for you, so if there is a highlight you’d like to share, please post a comment or drop me a line.
For sonnet writers and lovers, there are two important dates approaching fast: July 1 and August 2.
Entries for the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest need to be postmarked by July 1. For clarification about the contest rules and the sonnet forms allowed, click here: Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest. Everyone is eligible.
And on August 2, there is a special free event for sonnet lovers: the awards event on Saturday, August 2nd, at 10:30 a.m., on the Winona State University Campus (Miller Auditorium). MN Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen has confirmed that she’ll be there–with luck, she’ll be joined by St. Paul Laureate Carol Connolly, as well. (Check the link above for maps and directions.) This is a wonderful opportunity to meet poets, learn first-hand of the winning entries for 2014, and here them read by the practice dramatists of the of the Great River Shakespeare Company.
I definitely plan to attend!
For more on sonnets in general, including audio clips of me reading some of my favorites (and one of my own) see my February post “In Celebration of Sonnets”.
(Below, a current collection of images on our refrigerator Above, the image of the utility pole is from the front of our garden. I was out taking photographs of flowers and found this on the pole to our streetlight. I guess it is clear: Shakespeare (and sonnets) are illuminating, part of the structural integrity of a civilized life!)
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.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
This sonnet is one I know so well that I have it memorized. I have even tailored it by one syllable to make it more universal: in the last line, I change “man” to “one”.
For our tenth wedding anniversary, I wrote the following sonnet, in the Shakespearean style for Tim.
(August 6, 1998)
So now our marriage completes its tenth year.
Surely this occasion is consequential,
but how to pluck one day apart, to say, “Here
we celebrate”? Fuss seems tangential,
after-thought. Each day unfolds like a rose,
gold or crimson, in its turn, opening to sun;
then, as petals drop, the heart is free to close,
to brood and transform, to ponder two-in-one.
A decade ago, we publicly pressed our lips
together, setting sail into these middle years.
A start, but a loss, too. The honey of rosehips
tastes of tart autumn, tinged with cold and tears.
Each flower holds it sleek, obsidian seed.
I hold fast to you. I know what I need.
Below, I have included some sonnets in the other dominant English-language form, the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet: two by William Wordsworth and one by me. (How to tell these two sonnet forms apart? The rhyme scheme is the first clue. Shakespearean sonnets end with a rhymed couplet, and the couplet supplies the “turn”. Petrarchan sonnets only occasionally end with a couplet–in some variations–but the logical turn happens much earlier, usually in the ninth line.)
The World is Too Much With Us
The world is too much with us. Late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
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)
Roses in front of the beautiful Northfield Public Library
Scorn Not the Sonnet
Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frowned,
Mindless of its just honours; with this key
Shakespeare unlocked his heart; the melody
Of this small lute gave ease to Petrarch’s wound;
A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound;
With it Camöens soothed an exile’s grief;
The Sonnet glittered a gay myrtle leaf
Amid the cypress with which Dante crowned
His visionary brow: a glow-worm lamp,
It cheered mild Spenser, called from Faery-land
To struggle through dark ways; and, when a damp
Fell round the path of Milton, in his hand
The Thing became a trumpet; whence he blew
Soul-animating strains—alas, too few!
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’tshare your address with anyone!
Summers mean local produce is in abundance here. Our family been part of the Community Supported Agricultural movement (CSA) for the better part of two decades–since before we ever heard that recent dictionary entry: locavore. In a CSA, consumers buy a share of the harvest prior to the planting season, then share in the abundance of the just-picked harvest and the drama of the weather’s impact on the crops. Depending on the week and the year, we will be surprised by a mix of vegetables, greens, herbs, and even sometimes flowers or fruits. Part of the pleasure is discovering the flavors of new varieties of old favorites (tomatoes) or learning about entirely new delicacies to cook (Celeriac? Tomatillo? What do I do with these?)
Above is a photograph I snapped by chance as I went to pick up this week’s share at Big Woods Farm CSA. Right now, our refrigerator is full of the freshest and most flavorful cucumbers, zucchinis, carrots, beets, and greens, as well as a just-blended dressing of cilantro and lime juice. And the kitchen counter holds an enormous bowl of various types and colors of tomatoes. This year, thanks to a new cookbook from the Duluth Grill, I am experimenting with making my own ketchup.
Making Our First Batch of Ketchup with Three Varieties of Tomatoes
If you don’t already lean toward the delicious and healthful and environmentally sound choice of organic food, you might be interested in the resources on the Local Harvest website, everything from farmers’ markets to CSAs in your own area. By supporting local growers, you also help to keep small producers–the new family farms–in the business of serving their neighbors and supporting their families. In addition, you reduce carbon emissions and prevent genetically modified organisms from entering the food chain, all while enhancing your own well-being and pleasing your palate. For us, this is a bargain no matter what angle we look at.
The one challenge we’ve found is making good use of all this abundance. Some of the fresh pickings that we can’t eat during the week, we give away to our friends and neighbors. We also preserve food by blanching and freezing it. It is time-consuming, but very satisfying to see the freezer fill up with grated zucchini and partially baked winter squashes (for breads, muffins, and stews), and with bell peppers, beans, onions, carrots, tomatoes, corn, and herbs (for soups, stir fries, and casseroles).
From Field to Doorstep: Beans from Big Woods Farm CSA
This year, we are also freezing blueberries, peaches, and apples–these last from trees planted by Tim and his siblings on the farm they grew up on.
First Step: Freezing and Stewing 20 lbs of Michigan Blueberries
We also seek out other local growers when we can. One favorite example is just down the road: Lorence’s Berry Farm. We depend upon their strawberries, raspberries, and asparagus in season, and also enjoy their frozen berries, jams, and syrups.
Julia’s Gluten-free Pizza with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, and Rice Cheese
Julia, a dedicated environmentalist (who has recently instituted a composting program for our kitchen) proved that we can take good, fresh food on the road. There will be more on our trip to Duluth in an upcoming post, but here is a photo of the ready-to-bake pizza she created in a hotel room with only a microwave oven–gluten-free and dairy-free, no less–using basil and cherry tomatoes from our first vegetable delivery from Big Woods Farm.
Using local produce from small farms and gardens grows on us each year a bit more. We continue to learn of new options and also to become better (more imaginative and healthful) cooks. And we’re curious about your discoveries! Please let us know your favorite sources, your plans for next season.
As for us, we have a scheme for growing hard-to-find Yellow Indian Woman soup beans at a well-cared-for garden we know about–stay tuned!
Now, for more on the poetry of the garden:
Silvered cabbages sparkle with dew,
appear like treasure in the field rows.
Peas twine along the chicken wire,
studded with fat purple blooms.
Sweet onions pulse toward the surface,
Their fragrant tops the green of park benches.
At the corner of my vision, lies a thin, black hose –
No, it’s a snake weaving through the baby beets.
Raspberries glitter, cherries dance.
Asparagus has gone to seed, red berries bejeweling
those tops like fluffy Christmas trees, while corn silk
drapes wet, sweet, unripe. A blush
of yellow-orange begins to gild the pumpkins
under the dragonfly-blue haze of August.
I think how this garden feeds my eye,
all of me, passes through me in many ways – death,
rot, renewal, and new fruit. I pick a nasturtium,
tuck it behind my ear, head up the hill, then pause—
there is a small rattling in the bluebird house.
Suddenly, the surprise of a rounded blue head, and
a rosy breast, flushed
like an embarrassed cheek or ripe peach:
duet tints of happiness.
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’tshare your address with anyone.
I was thrilled to learn that my sonnet, “Tintern Church of England School for Girls”, was named one of three “Top Choice” selections for the 2013 Great River Shakespeare Festival/Maria W. Faust Sonnet competition. I am interested that this news came soon after my post on not “pre-rejecting myself or my work”, because I wrote this sonnet thirty years ago. Although I have sent it out a number of times, it had not yet found its audience–until now! Click HERE to read all the winning sonnets.
And remember the Mars Haiku contest? The winners are in! Thank you to those who voted for my entry; although it was not one of the top choices those selected from 12,530 valid entries, I believe it will still keep those winners company on the DVD that will orbit the Red Planet. Thank you!