Thursday, March 30, 2017

AP English: Discovering the Sonnet

The Sonnet: a fourteen-line poem written in iambic pentameter (five feet of stressed and unstressed syllables).  
As we get ready for a visit from the lovely poets at Port Veritas next week, we've started to read poetry--lovely, concise, perfect poetry.  From the Greek verb poiein, meaning "to make," poetry is one of our oldest genres of literature, positioning the writer as a "maker" of rhythms, images, and verse.  In fact, many scholars surmise that poetry historically grew out of the rhythmic chanting and singing of oral traditions.  It is possible that poetry is one of our oldest modes of communication, and it is rooted in the human drive to communicate clearly, concisely, and with great feeling or meaning.

Poetry's link to oral traditions.
Yet what's really interesting about poetry is the way in which it allows the writer to use language in its most condensed form.  While it might take me 500-words to explain an idea, it might take a poet fifty or a hundred words to communicate the same thing.  Because of this compression, I have often thought that reading poetry required more work, but with greater benefit.  Poems don't always make their meaning obvious to readers, and they require a level of collaboration with the text that you don't usually see when reading a novel by Charles Dickens.

"Collaboration with the text?"

Basically, becoming involved in the creation of a poem's meaning.  By nature, reading is a passive act, but poetry doesn't allow its readers to be passive.  Readers go back, ask questions about a poem's meaning, look for repeating images, sounds, ideas, and "unpack" a text as they work their way through its short lines and intentional movements.

Here is an example of a poem our class worked with on last year, "Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent's Narrow Room" by William Wordsworth:

Wednesday's poetry explication: "Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent's Narrow Room" by William Wordsworth.

I put the poem on the board as a way to show how readers shouldn't just read a poem--they have to have a relationship with it.  This relationship is especially important because Wordsworth's poem is a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem written in iambic pentameter with alternating end rhymes for each line of the work.

This particular example by Wordsworth is a Petrarchan Sonnet that is divided into two parts: an octave, or 8 lines, at the beginning, and a sestet, or six lines, at the end.  Usually, the octave will suggest a situation or an idea and the sestet will comment on that idea, offering a solution.  In the image above, our class identified the rhyme scheme (abba, abba, cddccd), the main idea at the beginning: nuns, hermits, students, maids, and bees are happy in their monotonous, "restricted" lives, and the solution or resolution at the end: the "speaker" believes that the "prison unto which we doom / Ourselves, no prison is" (lines 8-9).  This argument is a lovely way of contradicting the idea that nunneries/monasteries, cells, and citadels, just like the Sonnet form (line 11), are not places of restriction but opportunities to express meaning in a structured way.

Ultimately, Wordsworth is using the Petrarchan sonnet form to explain why he (or any poet) uses the sonnet form: its classical restrictions still offer modern poets (nineteenth century) the ability to express themselves.

Could our class have gotten to Wordsworth's argument without first annotating his poem?  Maybe, but not likely.  Like most poems, sonnets beg to be poured over and engaged.  It's one of the things I love about poetry and the reason for tonight's homework!

Rough Draft: DUE Friday, March 31, 2017
Revised Draft: DUE Monday, April 3, 2017
Write a 14-line sonnet about a topic of your choice following the Shakespearean model: three quatrains (4-lines each) and a rhymed coupled (two lines at the end of the poem).  The turn in the Shakespearean sonnet occurs at the end of the third quatrain with the rhymed couplet commenting on (or resolving) the topic/issue/idea your sonnet is about.

Your sonnet can be on any topic you like, but it must be 14-lines and use the following rhyme scheme:

line 1 - a 
line 2 - b
line 3 - a
line 4 - b
line 5 - c
line 6 - d
line 7 - c
line 8 - d
line 9 - e
line 10 - f
line 11 - e
line 12 - f
line 13 - g
line 14 - g

Monday, March 6, 2017

9/10 English: Think - Puzzle - Know

Writing Warmup:
Last week, we spent some time reviewing the parts of speech you need to know when thinking about a sentence's grammar or writing complex sentences.

Please answer the following questions in the comments section below.

1) What do you think you know about parts of speech?
2) What puzzles (confuses) you about parts of speech?
3) What would you like to know more about parts of speech?