Invented Poetry Forms – The Monosyllabic Sonnet

P1010048.JPGInterestingly, you will find many invented poetry forms tend not to be created brand new from whole cloth, but rather are either a variation on an existing traditional form or a mash-up of two different ones. The former is certainly true about a form I recently discovered while perusing Miller Williams’ excellent book “Patterns of Poetry: An Encyclopedia of Forms”. Created by the British scholar, publisher, and light verse poet Frank Sidgwick in the early 20th century, the monosyllabic sonnet (also known as a word sonnet) follows most of the rules of a traditional sonnet with one exception (as its name indicates). It has 14 lines and usually uses either the rhyme scheme of an Italian or English sonnet, but each line consists of just one syllable instead of the 10 syllables of iambic pentameter. You may notice I said, “usually uses either the rhyme scheme of an Italian or English sonnet.” That is because Sidgwick’s original monosyllabic sonnet “An Aeronaut to His Lady” actually combines the two, beginning with the rhyme scheme of the opening octet of the Italian (abbaabba) and ending with the closing quatrain and couplet of the English (cdcd ee). I think you will agree when you read it below, it would be near impossible to write a more elegant and perfect monosyllabic sonnet than this:

An Aeronaut to His Lady

I
Through
Blue
Sky
Fly
To
You.
Why?

Sweet
Love,
Feet
Move
So
Slow.

–Frank Sidgwick

As you see, it is indeed a tricky form to write well, but that didn’t stop me from giving it a couple of tries. My first uses the rhyme scheme of an Italian sonnet (abbaabbacdecde):

To My Little Boy
(Who Doesn’t Want to Go Home Quite Yet)

Why
Do
You
Cry,
My
True
Blue
Guy?

Be
Still.
Hey,
We
Will
Stay…

The second is my take on a monosyllabic sonnet utilizing the English sonnet rhyme scheme of ababcdcdefefgg:

Elegy For an Aspiring Surfer/Gravedigger Who Drowned

For
Bob,
Poor
Slob,
You
Tried
To
Ride
Big
Waves,
Dig
Graves –
Boo
Hoo!

If you do decide to take up the challenge of trying to write your own monosyllabic sonnets (and I hope you do), my advice is to do what I recommended with previously discussed poetry forms with minimal words (such as the rothko, the two-by-four, and the Lewis Carroll square poem) and come up with appropriate titles to provide exposition and set up the premise of your poems. Monosyllabic sonnets are a bit difficult to write, so don’t get discouraged! Just keep playing with the form until you come up with something that you feel works for you. And please don’t be shy about sharing your efforts. I’d love to see them!

21 thoughts on “Invented Poetry Forms – The Monosyllabic Sonnet

    1. You are very welcome, Jamie! I do highly recommend William’s book, it is such a great resource for any one interested in poetic forms. However I do want to let you know that Williams does not actually give this quirky variation of the sonnet a name (I dubbed it a monosyllabic sonnet myself) or credit its creator (I was able to discover it was Frank Sidgwick with a little research on the web).

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I very much enjoyed your post regarding this quirky poetic form, this is my first attempt, I hope you may enjoy my try at writing in the form. And thank you, for bringing the Monosyllabic Sonnet to my attention!

    Spenserian sonnet form

    On the question of whether or not
    this is love, with somewhat blunt answer …

    Why
    now?
    Try!
    How?

    Thou
    states
    frau
    hates,

    baits
    you …
    Fate’s
    true –

    Love?
    Shove!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Paul, I love finding new poetic challenges to try out! I’m very fond of sonnets, and this new, (to me), scaled back version appealed to me immediately when I read about it in the email telling me about it on your blog!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You are very welcome, Carolyn! I too have a fondness for sonnets and even created a variation of my own which is basically a traditional sonnet with a unique rhyme scheme. Perhaps I will publish it here on my blog in the near future.

        Like

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