The Sonnet as Conversation: Experiments in Collaboration (with Simone Muench)
Over the last few decades, alongside the resurgence and experimentation of the sonnet there has also been a surge in collaborative poetry. Building on our work in editing They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing and our prior work as poets and teachers engaging the sonnet form, including Muench’s book of sonnets, Suture, co-written with Dean Rader, we have been developing a book of collaborative poetry. While exploring a variety of forms—from erasures to centos to glosas—we have discovered that many of our poems call out to be sonnets and that when a poem “isn’t working,” we can frequently salvage it by revising it into a sonnet. Like our project, much contemporary collaborative work experiments with the sonnet form, which seems organic to us, given its core rhetorical structure of problem/solution or question/answer, or what we frame as "call and response." In fact, the tradition of collaborative sonnets, in the form of the bouts-rimes, has been around supposedly since the 17th century, and was famously resurrected in 1865 by Alexander Dumas who published a book of bouts-rimes. Our talk will examine the seemingly inherent conversational invitation of the sonnet, which may hold particular appeal to American writers immersed in a culture that favors the colloquial. We also note that while contemporary sonnets tend to eschew the formalities of meter and rhyme, the use of the volta at the heart of a sonnet's framework provides a signature of reference to, perhaps an honoring of the tradition, as it allows so beautifully for the dialogical quality of the sonnet to emerge.
Jackie K. White, former professor of English at Lewis University, served as an assistant editor for They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Collaborative Writing. Other publications include three chapbooks of poetry and the collaborative chapbook, Hex & Howl, co-written with Simone Muench, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press, 2021.