Anatomy of a Poem: Chokes and Warbles

Anatomy of a Poem: "Chokes and Warbles"

by Michael Channing

Sometimes, you just gotta sonnet. (I just now found out that “sonnet” is also an official verb, so I deleted two words from that last sentence--yay!--and added all these explaining and bragging on my wordmanship--boo!). So I tried to sonnet.

I honestly don’t know if I succeeded. I’m leaning toward not, but maybe I really did. I’m talking about last week’s poem, “Chokes and Warbles.” Here it is so you don’t have to open a second tab:


Chokes and Warbles

Laden with the wings of a dreamless bird,
I tend my seeds planted in pebbly dirt,
sing light and night from one into the next,
sing under walls and roofs, blankets and breath.
My loveliest chokes and warbles fall, rise,
echo unheard, return to earth and die.

I need but a small patch to plant my words,
to greet the sun and weave my simple nest,
and the music needs to be louder
to sell what ripens to whomever buys.
If no one listens, do I, though unheard,
sing to the darkness, to myself, till death
plucks these feathers from a dim, crowded sky?

I sing in air for anyone to see.
But even alone, I still sing for me.


Count the lines, and you’ll find 14. Count the syllables of each line, and you meet 10. That puts the poem at least in the proximity of sonnetdom. It even ends with a couplet, so it barks and quacks like a sonnet, but look at the rhyme scheme. It’s AABBCC ABCABC DD. If Shakespeare were my teacher, he’d hang his head in shame, probably invent a new insult to write at the top of my paper. Of course, the Shakespearean way is not the only way to write a sonnet. But can you just make up a rhyme scheme and call it a sonnet as long as you got the requisite meter and line count? The whole point of the regimental structure is to show off your skills of a poet. The challenge is to operate within the restrictions and still manage to produce something new. Or at least interesting. If you can break the rules willy-nilly Nelson, then you are just not that great a poet.

I guess what I’ll have to do is write a whole lot more poems using that same rhyme scheme, and it will become the Channingian sonnet. Man, I can’t wait for poetry to get popular again.

Adept at Adaptation


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