Sonnets are fourteen lined poems, traditionally split into stanzas of 8 lines and then of 6 lines. The rhyme scheme may vary, depending on your taste. Traditional sonnets would have clear end-rhymes and be written in iambic pentameter, although modern poetry has moved away from a strictness of form. Also, traditionally, sonnets would be written about love or philosophy – but that seems no longer the case, modern poets write sonnets about anything!
The key to a classical sonnet is the ‘turn’; which occurs at, or around, the point where the two stanzas separate and the idea is that the exploration, or argument, in the first eight lines should ‘turn’ or be viewed differently – or at least from a different angle – in the second stanza. This has the effect of creating a polarity, or ambiguity, for the reader and their internal resolution of such tension can generate an ‘aha’ moment which is subjective, pleasurable and creative.
The ‘turn’ is often signaled linguistically by the word ‘but’ or ‘and’, ‘however’ etc. although, if you read a few sonnets you will find that poets use a plethora of subtle, and not-so-subtle ways of embedding a signal for the turn within language. Here is a sonnet I wrote about my son - with a very unsubtle turn!!!
The real Down’s question
Hiding’s not possible when he decides
to talk to you; to ask a question like
‘have you a beard?’:- and everything falls still,
or ‘Are you mad?’:- and you pause in the void,
or ‘are you bovvered?’:- and silence abounds
catching your breath because spotlights are on
and you might say the wrong thing:
bearded, or bovvered or mad – Well??
And it’s ridiculous how quickly you blush
just because it’s not so easy to answer
routinely. Beyond the question
lies a sly question, a poke
bringing you live to connection, ‘can you connect?’
and there’s a boy laughing and doing his work.