Tailed sonnet: Confession

Too long I’ve sat in silence in this cell.
Come, guards, unlock the door: it’s way past time
To step into the searchlight beam and tell
The truth, confess the catalogue of crime
I have committed in the name of duty:
Twisted my mother tongue, made her a liar,
Robbed her at gunpoint of her strength and beauty,
Stripped her of virtue, put her up for hire.
I just did as they told me; but excuses
Rehearsed through time unmeasured will not clean
The slate, absolve me of my vile abuses;
My fingerprints still dot the dreadful scene.
Pray God, the Queen and Shakespeare may forgive:
The humble English poet has to live
          And find a way, according to his lights,
          To hold to truth, yet set aside his joy
          In craft and meaning; bend his back to plough
          A barren soil; and wonder as he writes
          What fear compels his masters to employ
          So many words to say so little now.


In the middle of a long work jag, hence not much to see here lately. I’m working on some big corporate projects, which is death by a thousand clichés, but a man has to live. And whatever torments I visit on our long-suffering language in the name of making a buck, it’s nothing to what the suits get up to if left to themselves…
As so often, I’m indebted to Tom Davis for the impetus behind this poem – my first attempt at a tailed sonnet. The sonnet itself is, of course, your basic Shakespearean (a creature of habit, I) but with a few feminine endings sneaked in by way of variety. The coda is a simple abcabc, which may not be right, but I had to start somewhere! I like the couplet ending on the Shakespearean sonnet – it has the satisfying feel of a heavy door slamming shut when you finally get it – but I found the tail gave an opportunity to keep exploring, take ideas a bit further, and finish in a more contemplative mood. It’s not perfect, but right now, I’m just happy to be writing. N.

7 thoughts on “Tailed sonnet: Confession

  1. The abcabc coda is the usual coda, Nick, although there have been other patterns over the years. This is a twist on the Miltonian Sonnet with a Tail. I like the Shakespearean pattern, though, of course. I would, right? You are writing better than I am right now. I’ve been on a work jag too, writing grant proposals for funding Navajo Technical University, and between that and the remodeling my son in law is doing at the house, I don’t seem to have the energy for poetry. I am writing a new novel, though, so that’s going okay. At least Ethel likes it.
    As you know, the subject of this sonnet with a tail is one I know only too well, but, in the contemporary world, as you say, a poet’s got to live. I wonder, though, as technology and robotics gets better and better…we worry about people making a living now at fast food restaurants, what people are going to do for a living? Will they start paying for poetry and art, two activities that cannot be duplicated by a machine–although a machine could generate volumes of words. Still, poetry and art are, at least by my estimation, only poetry and art is done by a human being. Or are the suits going to continue dominating the universe and doing things that only increase efficiencies, bolstering the bottom line while letting most of the world starve? With the right team of people, I suspect that I could develop programs and technology that computerizes and roboticizes any process now needed to manufacture goods. Is that what will drive the economy in the future?
    I would prefer a sonnet by Nick Moore, especially if he’s going to experiment with forms and apply his superior craftsmanship to them. But in the United States, at least, education is all about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) right now. Most of my career I’ve pushed STEM education in American Indian communities, too, so I feel guilty about what has come to be, although, as T.S. Eliot in Prufrock once asked,
    Do I dare
    Disturb the universe?
    In a minute there is time
    For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
    so I guess I might as well get on with living with what I’ve done since I’m too old to reverse that.
    I, for one, absolve you of making a living:
    I just did as they told me; but excuses
    Rehearsed through time unmeasured will not clean
    The slate, absolve me of my vile abuses;
    My fingerprints still dot the dreadful scene.
    Pray God, the Queen and Shakespeare may forgive:
    As you say, poets have to make one no matter than skill, art, or craftsmanship in the contemporary age. A great sonnet with a tail is what I was going to say as I started this discursion, but then all of the thoughts pouring from the great sonnet with a tail kept going until I finally got to the end.

  2. Writing is coming pretty hard to me, too, at the moment, Tom. I wish I was working on something as worthwhile as an education programme: unfortunately, I’m slaving on behalf of the suits, in industries whose very existence seems to sum up a lot of what’s wrong with the world. I’ll put food on the table again this month, I guess, but that’s about all the reward in these projects; and there are times when it just isn’t enough. But at least I don’t have to work in that environment: I’m still able to escape with to walk the dog and ride the bike during the day; I’m wearing old jeans and a t-shirt; and I’m still getting paid for putting words in the right order. And I have to tell myself that Shakespeare himself wrote his plays for money and to please the paying public. So things aren’t all bad.
    Balancing the need to make a living with staying true to an artistic vision is one we all struggle with. I think. I was very struck by something I read yesterday about a conference in London on ‘inclusive capitalism’ from a movement called Critical Thinking http://freecriticalthinking.org/daily-pickings/426-means-to-life – I don’t know how it is over there, but here in the UK, the only way to live a free and simple life on a piece of land you can call your own is either to be born to it, move to the wilds of Orkney and Shetland, or make a million pounds first. Looks like I’m here for the duration!
    Hope the Muse returns soon. We’re all the poorer without your work to sustain us. N.

  3. Normal people can still make a living off the land here, Nick, although they struggle. The big factory farms have mostly taken over. Capital dominates more and more. I agree with the piece on freecriticalthinking referenced above. Education would seem to be critical if we are to shift values toward work that is really valuable, but corporate America is pretty much dominating education here now. I have been thinking about writing a new non-fiction book on education, but don’t seem to have the energy for it, even though I am increasingly frustrated with the effort to fashion a corporate education model that completely misses the purpose of education, at least as I see it. I haven’t published a non-fiction book since State University of New York Press came out with Sustaining the Forest, the People, and the Spirit. Although I have not made a living off the writing I value, like you, I still have made my living by writing. There is value in that even though it is not an optimal value. Working with words everyday, even if they are not meaningful in a Shakespearean sense, still keep our skills sharp, which then allows us to translate into poetry with some ease. You are truly a good poet and craftsman, and that, in my values, is a good recommendation for anyone.

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