The Art of the Sonnet

Stephen Burt, Author, David Mikics, Author . Harvard Univ. $35 (451p) ISBN 978-0-674-04814-0

The sonnet may well be the poetic form that most often comes to mind when anyone thinks of poetry. Fourteen lines long, in open and closed structures, sonnets have been prominent over the past 400 years of poetic history. In this unusual book—half anthology, half collection of essays—Burt and Mikics, both prolific critics of poetry (Burt is also a poet himself) choose 100 sonnets and for each offer a thoughtful, scholarly, though highly accessible commentary. The oldest poem is Thomas Wyatt's “Whoso List to Hunt” (1557), and the newest is by the contemporary poet D.A. Powell, first published last year. In between, there's everything from Shakespeare and Wordsworth to Robert Lowell and Lucie Brock-Broido. Of “Redemption,” George Herbert's sonnet about the Resurrection of Christ, Mikics writes, “Herbert's Savior... shocks us into attention.” Of one of Ted Berrigan's sonnets, Burt says, “The disorientation, the wildness, is part of the point: no more organized poem would do.” While this anthology would make a wonderful textbook for a prosody class, its best audience may be anyone who wants to delve deeply into the heart of poetry. Learnéd as well as passionate, this book is a delight. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 04/19/2010
Release date: 04/01/2010
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