Last night we had an excellent, lively, productive meeting. We began with a workshop on Mastering the Form and Transcending the Form. We started out by reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, “My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun.” We read it through, then made sure we all understood it pretty well. Then we looked at how Shakespeare mastered the sonnet form. This was a really popular kind of poem at the time, and he had all the techniques down pat. He could do all the rhyme schemes, rhythmical patterns, internal structures, types of imagery, and so forth that were expected.
But then we looked at the ending to see how he transcended the form. Take a look at the final couplet:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
We noticed that “compare” is used like a noun there, so we would say: “The woman I love is as beautiful and unique as any of those girls who are lied about in false comparisons.” So what are those false comparisons?
Well, they are other sonnets: traditional love sonnets that over-praise the lady by comparing her eyes to stars, her cheeks to roses, etc. We took a look at a couple of Sir Philip Sydney’s “Astrophel and Stella” sonnets to see the kind of thing Shakespeare was bashing. So basically Sonnet 130 is not about a girl at all: it’s about poetry. It’s not saying “My girlfriend is prettier than your girlfriend”; it’s saying “my poem is better than your poem.” It’s an advertising stunt.
So the point is that Shakespeare took the love sonnet to another level. He wasn’t tied to the cliche of the form, but went above and beyond and made something that totally kept the rules, but still surpassed the limitations.
That’s what we want to do! We don’t want to write more of the same cliched praise choruses or Christian romance novels. We want to master and transcend the form.
On that lofty note, we moved into the sharing-and-critique phase of the evening. We had a varied and high-quality selection last night:
– a one-act play by Jeffrey Harvey entitled “Hail Mary”
– a chapter from the Jack Windsword universe by Richard Berrigan
– a landscape pen-and-ink drawing by Sharon Gerdes in memory of Judy Harvey
– an illustration of the Armor of God by Eric Muller
– a short story about the importance of worship–and what happens when you don’t–by Carl Hoffmeyer, entitled “Casting the Stone”
– an acting-for-the-camera monologue from “Spitfire Grill” performed by Marian Barshinger
– the first 4 pages of a short story by me entitled “Dig”
Go you forthwith and transcend the form!!