A sonnet has 14 lines
St. David's Day, March 1, has come and gone once more. I spent the eve of it listening to local poets read selections of their original work. Last year, I wrote a story on the 18th annual St. David's Day Open Poetry Reading. But in case you don't...
St. David's Day, March 1, has come and gone once more. I spent the eve of it listening to local poets read selections of their original work.
Last year, I wrote a story on the 18th annual St. David's Day Open Poetry Reading. But in case you don't feel like digging through the archives to read my brilliant research, allow me to summarize the event for you.
St. David is the patron saint of Wales, vegetarians, Pembrokeshire and poets. The poetry reading on this feast day was the brainchild of Duluth poet Louis Jenkins back in 1996 and it has been going strong ever since.
Half of the reading is dedicated to original work and the other half is dedicated to favorite poems by other authors. I attended the event last year at the Underground and nervously read a brief poem about losing things by Elizabeth Bishop called "One Art."
This year's event was held in the intimate space of the Prøve Gallery on Lake Avenue. The original poems were short, but all so sweet. Mary F. Lee read an especially funny piece about "The Lesser of Two Elvis." I sat by my former literature professor Phil Fitzpatrick, who shared a poem dedicated to his parents. Paul Lundgren's short poem inspired by a Magic 8 Ball made all in attendance rock with laughter. Julie Gard's winning poem "Codes" was an entertaining play on the phrase posted in every Minnesota gas station: "A person fueling a motor vehicle must be in close attendance to the dispenser nozzle during the fueling process."
I was far more prepared to read at this year's event. I had picked my piece on Thursday evening and practiced it at my weekly Toastmaster's meeting with fairly good reviews. I was going to recite "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll. I'd memorized the poem a few years earlier when I was going through an "Alice in Wonderland" phase.
But when I was practicing on Saturday afternoon, it felt wrong. It was too much like a performance, too much like a story I'd tell little kids, not something for a poetry reading for adults.
I opened up the poetry app on my phone to look for a different piece in my favorites list.
"Bright Star" by John Keats? Too lovey-dovey.
"'Faith' is a fine invention" by Emily Dickinson? Too short.
"Forget Not Yet the Tried Intent" by Thomas Wyatt? Too preachy.
Then I found it. "Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10)" by John Donne. This was the poem.
I handwrote a copy of it on the back of a spare sheet of paper, read through it twice and started my car. On the drive to the Prøve, I thought about how I would introduce this poem.
I thought of a joke: "Hey everyone, things are about to get physical up here. Metaphysical!"
I thought of no explanation: "This is 'Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10)' by John Donne."
But in the end I went with the truth and a bit of humor: "I feel like I'm about to be the Debbie Downer tonight. Everyone has had these lighthearted poems about love and nature and now I'm going to bring the death. I have a bit of an introduction to this poem and I know you're probably worried I'm going to talk forever, but worry not. What I am about to read is a sonnet so it is a short 16 or 18 lines ... However many lines a sonnet is." (Laughter)
"This poem means a great deal to me. I first heard it in a beautiful play I was in back in high school called 'Wit.' The timing was appropriate because in the two years that followed, I lost an aunt, an uncle, my only living grandparent and a dog. This poem really helped me reshape my thoughts about death and gave me a lot of comfort."
I read the poem slowly and carefully, taking care to not trip over my words. I finished it and sat back down. Mr. Fitzpatrick leaned over to say, "Beautifully read," before being called up to the stage.
"I want to thank Teri Cadeau for not blaming me for being remiss in teaching her that a sonnet has 14 lines. Remember that, 14 lines," Fitzpatrick said.
Oh, right. That's how many lines there are in a sonnet. I laughed and gave him a thumbs-up.
Later, after all the readings, a few people told me they were glad I read that poem. One woman who had recently lost her father told me she really connected to the poem. And that's what poetry readings are all about.
Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Duluth Budgeteer News.
Related: Poetry: Say it out loud