Sonnets: Four Rhymed Sonnets, 2013
Acknowledgments are due to the following publications, in which these poems first appeared. John Tranter: Ten Sonnets, Vagabond Press (in the Rare Objects series), Sydney, 2013, and in The Australian (‘Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover’, 2012), and the Times Literary Supplement (‘Crowded Hour’, ‘Far North Farm’, and ‘Tasman Sonnet’, all in 2013).
The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover
Punish me with jugs of honey
Tie me down with bramble twine,
Stuff my mouth with wads of money –
Please be mine.
Kick me with your winklepickers,
Gag me with your wrinkled knickers,
Make me lick your brutal shoe:
Love me do.
Garnish me with couch and fescue,
Dress me in an acid dressing,
Telegram your roughest blessing,
Be my howling search and rescue –
When I’m lost and all alone,
Take me home.
A, Tangerine, lipstick 1962, daring
Hint of flame and wild behaviour,
E, lemon, sour surprise and rave, your
Suspicious self out for a welcome airing
On Fifth Avenue, your midday saviour
A transparent fellow spirit, the caring
Caress of a martini smoothly preparing
Your conscience to accept a second favour –
Bartender’s gift of one half-empty bottle –
I, corn silk hair, love at full throttle,
O, blue shadows, delicate gloom
Pricked with traffic lights in the evening air –
U, olive green of underwater hair –
Scuba, the acronym, in the crowded room.
Far North Farm
A, silver, E, snow, U, dead-leaf green:
Spoons with sugar and dripping water, hillocks of snow
Traversed by hopeful young men with a moneyed glow
And sleds and perspiration, silver-blue clouds again
Chilling the horizon, a thousand miles to go.
Leave these ‘adventurers’, laughing in between
Signing media deals and muttering something obscene.
Schoolboys worship them, writing out a motto
In Latin, about suffering and stiff upper lips.
I, salmon sandwiches and hot chips.
O, the empty bottle is the colour of fear.
Push on. You’ll make it home, at dawn.
Who cares that you look a right prawn,
Sipping absinthe in the Pub with No Beer.
A, green, the tint of absinthe dripping through
A wad of lawn clippings – E,
Chartreuse, colour that only monks can see –
I, cloudy violet with sparkling points of blue
Or paler, the fresh paint sheen of a car –
When new, easy to buy – old, hard to sell.
O, orange, the sound of a tolling bell
Travelling over town and factory, very far –
U, under clear water, underwear –
Your flight spoiled by lots of crying babies
Though all of Europe is reflected in your eyes.
You think you hear, as you brush your hair,
The howling of a kennel full of hounds with rabies.
A rainbow as you land; then a career surprise.
N O T E S
Alert readers will have noted that some of these sonnets are loosely based on Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘Voyelles’ sonnet which attempts to give colours to the various vowels (un sonnet en alexandrins d’Arthur Rimbaud écrit à Paris dans les premiers mois de 1872, Wikipedia), though with a more variegated palette. I mean, there are millions of colours, aren’t there? Taupe, for example, and bisque, and cadet blue… I should note that Rimbaud chose to sequence the vowels AEIUO, not AEIOU as is usually the case in French and in English, perhaps to coincide with the Biblical quote ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’
Metrically, most of the poems in this book [the book of Ten Sonnets, titled thus] are set in iambic pentameter, more or less, and three follow Rimbaud’s rhyme scheme. Two are modified Petrarchan sonnets, and one is in a rhyme scheme of my own invention — let’s call it the Tranter sonnet — rhyming abacbdcedfegfg. A further two are Shakespearean sonnets, and two more follow the rhyme scheme and (roughly) the metrical scheme of Pushkin’s ‘Onegin’ sonnet form, of which Wikipedia says
… the verse form popularized (or invented) by the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin through his novel in verse Eugene Onegin. The work was mostly written in verses of iambic tetrameter with the rhyme scheme aBaBccDDeFFeGG, where the lowercase letters represent feminine endings (i.e., with an additional unstressed syllable) and the uppercase representing masculine ending (i.e. stressed on the final syllable).
¶ Page 5, ‘The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover’, an ‘Onegin’ sonnet Title] The supposition that J. Edgar Hoover was secretly a cross-dresser or was gay (or both) has a weird aptness, but it is probably untrue. ¶ Page 5, Line 9: couch and fescue] two varieties of lawn grass. Couch is pronounced ‘cooch’.
¶ Page 11, ‘Far North Farm’ Title] ‘Far North Farm’ is loosely related to John Ashbery’s poem ‘At North Farm’, written in the winter of 1984–85, itself loosely based on the Finnish national epic The Kalevala. Ashbery grew up on a farm in the far north of New York State.
¶ Page 12: ‘Crowded Hour’ Scuba, the acronym] Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. The word ‘s c u b a’ was coined in 1952 by Major Christian Lambertsen, a physician in the US Army Medical Corps.
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