Reading the Old Poets

I like all kinds of poetry—modern, medieval, formal, experimental, you name it. The only thing I haven’t read much of is epic poetry because I like shorter poems.

Admittedly, I gravitate to free verse in my writing because of the immediacy of expression: I can focus on imagery and wording without considering whether something will rhyme or fit in a meter.

That said, I love the challenge of traditional forms because it requires a different type of creativity. Haiku, Rubaiyat, Luc Bat, and other forms have delighted and tormented me with their specifications.

Sonnets are possibly the best known poetic form, and one I find myself returning to. It is a relatively brief form of 14 lines. Sometimes, the 14 lines are grouped into three quatrains (four line sections) and a couplet (two lines). The other main type of sonnet is the Italian sonnet, in which the 14 lines are grouped into a section of eight lines followed by a section of six lines.

Quatrains often follow ABAB, AABB, or ABBA rhyme schemes, though there is a long tradition of “blank” (non-rhyming) sonnets as well. In a strict sonnet, the rhyme scheme for each quatrain is pre-deterimined. I have tended toward more flexible rhyme schemes myself. One of my sonnets even has an eight line rhyme scheme of ABCDDCBA.

Sonnets are also usually metered. Meter involves a repeating pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. The most common meter is iambic pentameter. But there are many other meters to choose from.

Below is a sonnet I wrote called “Reading the Old Poets.” As the title suggests, it’s a poem about reading poets from the past, which uses an “old” poetic form. It’s also about how old poets open portals to other worlds where people saw and thought about things differently than we do. This poem will appear in my third book of poetry, Shadow and Memory, which I hope to self-publish in 2023.

Reading the Old Poets

I like to read the old poets that time
has shelved.  Though not in bloom, their leaves are herbed
with the scent of old books, which drifts from each turn
of phrase and page: a breath from other climes
whose forgotten soils drink of chthonic streams.
Though the same sun shines here as there, the light
jigsaws through foreign trees, so that we see
in different shades.  Then in the sky at night,
among starry eyes, the moon dreams and glows
while glassy ponds return its smile.  Who knows
what secrets pass between a mirror and
a dream?  Or between a memory and a man?

It’s in that space between I sit with old
poets and muse about what can’t be told.

Published by mrteague

Teague McKamey lives in Washington state with his wife and two children. Teague’s poetry has appeared in several journals and in self-published books. He blogs at thevoiceofone.org and awanderingminstrel.com. In all areas of life, Teague desires that Christ may be magnified in his body (Php. 1:20).

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