Friday, 13 February 2009

Sydney in Sonnets

I came across a reference to this by chance - a novel in sonnets published daily in the Sydney Morning Herald! Imagine such a thing in a British newpsaper... No, it would never happen - and yet Australia is stereotyped as a land without 'culture'.
The tetrameter sonnet is a fine form in which to write a novel - ideally the Onegin stanza, as in Vikram Seth's extraordinary The Golden Gate. This is devilish difficult in English (as I know from experience) but can work wonderfully well, the demands of the unnatural rhyme scheme (aBaBccDDeFFeGG) creating new, unexpected,often playful modes of expression, swerving and jinking while the meter drives the action along. And, unlike other sonnet forms, there are no natural divisions - even between stanzas, in a sequence. Enjambment is of the essence. The springy form dictates briskness and lightness of tone, but it can also (as in Pushkin, as in Seth) be intensely moving. A good Pushkin sonnet, according to Nabokov, should be like a spinning top, with the upper part (the opening lines) and the bottom (the closing couplet) standing out clear and apparently at rest, while everything dissolves into a blur in between.
There are too few novels in verse - time for a revival, I say. There's far too much dreary prose out there.


  1. Stick this up yer tetrameter, Aussies...

    Drinking twelve tinnies a day
    counts as practically teetotal
    in Australia, they say,
    (though that's only anecdotal),
    But it's true they like a bet,
    And keep crocodiles as pets,
    And they've never heard of rain,
    And they all cry "Bowling, Shane!"
    And they're never heard to whine
    (unlike the bloody pommies
    Who all cry for their mommies
    And cheat with Bodyline),
    Now since it's an Aussie poem 'n all,
    It must end in a rising terminal?

  2. Pushkin would have been proud to sign his name to that, Brit!

  3. Looking at it now, it's got more than a touch of the Flanders and Swann to it. Or worse...dear God I thought I was Enderby but I'm actually the new Richard Stillgoe.

  4. More trauma resulting from this episode here, Nige.