I write a lot of sonnets. I wonder if this is a bit odd for someone whose first favorite poems, bought in a slender volume with my allowance, were the skinny, quirky works of e. e. cummings. My current top favorites don’t have a single traditional sonnet among them, either. Yet I get tremendous pleasure from meter and rhyme, and use them often. Why? I am not part of any movement, knowing nothing of such things. I’m certainly not trying to make a political statement. (Someone once told me many “formalists” are republicans. Is this true? How peculiar. I am not a republican.)
No, the cause of my sonnet-writing lies in my teen years, when I had a poster of Shakespeare’s Sonnet #116 taped to my wall. The sound and structure of that poem are so deeply etched into my brain (did I spend too many hours in my room back then, staring at the wall?), every poetic idea I entertain is now filtered through it. Not filtered; formed: it resides in my head as a sort of insistent but unpredictable neurological sonnet machine, hand-cranked by a homonculus. Some ideas come out of it in well-formed blocks, the excess shaved away, the gaps filled in with unexpected materials. Other notions—like Odilon Redon at the Musee d’Orsay—escape like smoke through the cracks and spiral away into their own shapes. Many poems come out as strange hybrids, a bit of iambic pentameter here, an oddly-placed rhyme there—genetic mosaics, like multi-colored cats.
I’m grateful for any poems at all. When I began writing poetry (again) in the late 90s, it was after a twenty-year silence (broken only a very few times, usually on occasions of falling in or out of love). I had always meant to write, but somewhere in Oregon (at college) became distracted, wandered off in various directions, and forgot where I’d been headed. I studied biological science, then philosophy (Western philosophy, I should say), and finally, martial arts, to the latter of which I now devote myself nearly full time through practice and teaching.
The poet asleep within was shaken awake when I happened to hear, while driving home one evening, a radio broadcast of Kay Ryan reading her poems. I turned up the sound, laughed out loud, and pulled a U-turn, heading for Berkeley where the bookstores would be open late. Those books of hers that were available—Elephant Rocks and Flamingo Watching—I devoured immediately. I resolved then to begin writing again, and soon did so.
Ms. Ryan’s work reminded me of something I had simply forgotten: that poetry, besides being a wonderful source of musical delight and emotional expression, is a fine medium for conveying factual and philosophic truth. It may even be better for it than plain, expository prose, because a poem done well can plant the knowledge right in your mind with a laugh and a telepathic jolt. Something worth trying for, in the long run. Meanwhile, the multi-colored cats.
— D. R. Goodman, 2003
*Note: These paragraphs were originally published as an author statement for the online archive of Notre Dame Review, Issue 16. The links to the archive don’t work now, but through the miracle of the Wayback Machine, the text has been retrieved for publication here. For a more traditional bio, please visit my Able Muse author page at d-r-goodman.com.
Thanks for visiting, and please feel free to contact me via drg[at]drgoodmanpoetry.com