From 13th-century Sicily to 21st-century Brooklyn, the sonnet has remained one of the essential poetic forms for 800 years. Just a few decades after its first use by English poets, Shakespeare was already satirizing it for invention’s sake (see Sonnet CXXX.) But even now, despite inevitable love-dove clichés and hackery, poets keep finding new ways to finesse meaning and tonality from its simple, if challenging, constraints. In this five-week online workshop, we’ll write toward a greater verbal, formal and imaginative resourcefulness, in hopes of producing real live poetry in this short, fixed verse form. To that end, we’ll read groundbreaking sonnets from every period and in various modes, including traditional sonnets and nontraditional rhymed, blank and free-verse variations. A primary aim of the workshop is to move beyond the idea of the sonnet as a poetic formula and toward a deeper grasp of it as a surprisingly versatile means to a huge variety of expressive ends. Readings will include sonnets by Petrarch, Wyatt, Shakespeare, Sor Juana, Keats, E.B. Browning, Rimbaud, Borges, Auden, Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Stephen Edgar, A.E. Stallings, John Murillo, Terrance Hayes, Deborah Paredez and others. Class sessions will meet synchronously via Zoom every Thursday, and assignments, poems and critiques will be shared via Wet Ink.
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Joshua Mehigan’s first book, The Optimist, was a finalist for the 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His second book, Accepting the Disaster, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2014 and cited as a best book of the year in the New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement and other publications. His poems have appeared in the New Yorker, New York Times, Paris Review and Poetry, which awarded him its 2013 Levinson Prize. The recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, Mehigan has taught English and creative writing at Brooklyn College, College of Staten Island and other CUNY schools and is a faculty member of Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference. He was an artist-in-residence at Northwestern University from 2017 to 2020. He lives in Windsor Terrace.