Tag Archives: Sonnet

Complex Art

My poem “Complex Art” is – more or less – a pastiche of “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.  I like to think of it as more of a tribute to the Hopkins poem than anything else.  The word “pastiche” is often confused with “parody”, and I certainly had no intention of making fun of Hopkins’ original.

In “Pied Beauty”, Hopkins (1844-89) – a fervent Jesuit – was giving praise to God for the teeming variety and unexpected contrasts manifested in nature and life in general.  The poem begins:

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple- colour as a brinded cow;

He goes on to list a few examples of this variety.  It is the first line of the second verse, however, that struck a particular chord with me:

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

I suddenly realised that what I wanted to do was a poem celebrating quirkiness, oddity, eccentricity in the cultural sphere.  To anyone interested in a wide variety of cultural events, it is easy to get depressed, these days, when the increasing commercialisation of culture seems to produce only bland bestsellers and “X-Factor” copycats.  Hopkins, himself, was a fine example of quirkiness.  Frustrated by the rigid conventions of standard verse, he devised his own form of poetry, with his notions of “inscape”, “instress” and “sprung rhythm”.  He described “Pied Beauty” as a “curtal sonnet”, comprised of eleven lines, instead of the normal fourteen.  My poem “Complex Art” is nothing like as revolutionary as Hopkins’ verse; but its sentiments are genuinely heartfelt.


Let us give praise to complexity in art;
to the odd, the quirky, the recondite.
Formulaic pap limits us; cuts us, like a knife.
Who can live, solely, on moronic pop charts?
We need the outré, the strange, to switch on our light.
No dumbed-down, blinkered vision; so much more to life!

All things left-field, twisted and tart,
can breach our defences; pierce us with delight.
Rigid uniformity leads only to strife;
hinders expression of the human heart.
Let complexity be rife!



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Tobacconist’s Shops

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the decline of the local butcher’s shop. Tobacconist’s shops are in a similar decline – due, of course, to the fact that smoking is, seemingly, in its death-throes. I was looking in the window of one of the few surviving tobacconist’s shops recently, and the rather bizarre assortment of objects I saw there inspired the following poem.

It was only after I’d completed the poem that I started asking myself whether it could be described as a sonnet. It gives the appearance of being one, at first glance, as it’s composed of 14 lines of (mainly) rhyming verse. I was fairly sure, however, that it didn’t fulfill all the technical requirements of a sonnet, and a consultation of The Oxford Companion to English Literature confirmed it. A sonnet is defined as “a poem consisting of 14 lines of 10 syllables, with rhymes arranged according to certain definite schemes, of which the Petrarchan and the Elizabethan are the principal”. In my poem, while most of the lines converge around 10 syllables, only 5 of them are exactly 10 syllables; and my rhyme schemes do not conform to either the Petrarchan or the Elizabethan models. So my poem could be best described as an “approximate sonnet”, or “almost a sonnet”. These technical definitions are a matter of no consequence for me, in any case. As long as the poem expresses my thoughts and feelings in a harmonious way, then I’m happy!


Solitary survivors, tucked away,
inconspicuous, in ageing arcades.
Surreal range of devices on display:
pipe-cleaners, grinders, rollers, “Rizlas”,
“Zippos”, lighters, in glinting array.
Memories of “Gauloise” and “Gitane”;
erotic cachet of French “chic”.
Pungent as garlic; harsh, acrid reek.
“Park Drive”, “Consulate”, “Embassy”, “Pall Mall”.
Moody B-Movies; Bogart and Bacall.
A spurious concoction, it all now seems.
Ersatz glamour; celluloid dreams.
A notice is hidden, behind rollers and mills.
Its bleak declamation: SMOKING KILLS.

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