While I was studying poetry in college, I was forced to write a sonnet. Forced, you say? Was a gun held to my head? Did a professor surreptitiously slip a pinless grenade into my palm, step back cautiously and demand, “Write the damned sonnet!” No, but my instructor did string my GPA up by the neck with a thick noose and threaten to kick the desk out from under my GPA’s feet if I didn’t write the stupid thing. Even though I write free verse. Exclusively. Rhyming is not one of my super powers. People who’ve heard me attempt to rap know this. My instructor didn’t care. You apparently can’t be a well-rounded poet unless you master the sonnet. Kinda like those chefs who think you can’t truly call yourself a cook unless you can boil water. Snobs.
For those of you who have never written a sonnet, you’re lucky bastards and I despise you. That said, hang in there with me even if you’re not a huge poetry fan because I’ll be humiliating myself in a big way in just a few paragraphs. For those of you who have written a sonnet and who have also successfully repressed “the rules” of sonnet-writing, let me re-awaken the slime-dripping, fang-baring monster that likely haunted your every dream throughout the semester you were enrolled in Poetry 101.
Shakespearean Sonnet Rules
For my purposes, I will be referring exclusively to the Shakespearean (or Elizabethan) Sonnet.
1) A sonnet must consist of exactly 14 lines.
2) Each line must have exactly 10 syllables.
3) A sonnet must consist of exactly three quatrains (four lines) followed by exactly one couplet (two lines).
4) The rhyme scheme in a sonnet must be exactly as follows: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.
In English, this means that in the first quatrain, the first and third lines must rhyme and the second and fourth lines must rhyme. Same goes for the second quatrain, but it’s critical to note that the rhymes must be unique from the first quatrain – C and D can’t rhyme with A or B. Same goes for E and F and G.
Note: We haven’t even made it through all the rules yet, but the word exactly has already appeared FOUR times. Starting to see why sonnets and Satan both start with the same letter?
5) Each line must be written in iambic pentameter.
If your response wasn’t “Huh?” or “I only speak a little Spanish,” then you’ve clearly written sonnets before – and enjoyed the process. Before things get ugly, you should just muddle on over to the Mensa website because we won’t tolerate any of that Shakespearean-sonnets-are-the-bomb attitude here.
If you’re still going, “What the hell is an i-am-buck pentacle,” then you’re in the right place. First you have to know what an iambic foot is. Though it sounds like something a podiatrist would diagnose and prescribe a brace for, it simply means an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. da-DUM. Iambic pentameter consists of five iambic feet in a row: da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM. Or for those Dirty Dancing fans out there, remember that scene where Patrick Swayze tries to teach Baby rhythm by tapping his chest in time with his heartbeat? ga-GONG-ga-GONG-ga-GONG-ga-GONG-ga-GONG. Yes, Swayze was a hunk and his heart was a master of iambic pentameter. Basically, this is just one more thing that you have to worry about when writing a la Shakespeare – if the correct syllables aren’t stressed in the proper order, your sonnet’s pretty much crap.
So why did you need to know all this? Why did you read this far without anything really, truly funny happening? Because I am now going to share with you the World’s Worst Sonnet Ever! It’s horrible on so many levels, but before I go into detail, I will simply allow you to read it and let it speak for itself.
By the way, it is also my sonnet. Yes, I wrote it. Twenty-two years ago. I am responsible for this flaming pile of poo. Thus, there is absolutely no need to try to console me or assure me that the poem isn’t shit in your comments below because I fully recognize that I have made the world a far worse place by writing all 26 lines of the following sonnet. What? Twenty-six lines, you say? But I thought a sonnet had 14 lines. There you go…you’re already discovering why this is:
The World’s Worst Sonnet Ever
When I saw her, she was shrunken hollow
her body pressed to the back of the cage.
Eyes enormous, spittle wetting the hair
beneath her blond muzzle, six months of age.
Driving her home, our pygmy Lassie peed
on the plush velour seat and my bare skin.
I laughed. She shrank further inside my arms
and froze, ears perked, a doggy mannequin.
She learned to sit, roll over, beg and jump
on command. She could climb up my knees, legs,
elbows and shoulders to the top. Her paws
on my head, eyes open, ready to beg.
She never learned how to play dead until
last week. It took fifteen years to teach her,
fifteen years of loyal love and wet licks
on my hand, as I softly stroked her fur.
Every girl’s dream come true was my Daisy,
even as she aged and became a weight
upon our shoulders, a burden to scorn,
a family member we grew to hate.
Alone I cry as Mother speaks of cysts
which invaded her body like Martians,
feeding it death as they grew in numbers,
her life chained to a grave by Lilliputians.
Daisy plays dead now like an Oscar nominee
As she lies wrapped in sheets beneath our dogwood tree.
I’ll give you a moment to recompose yourself. Take a second. Wipe the vomit off the front of your shirt. And, you, stop ROFLing all over the carpet. Nobody really ROFLs. An LOL would have been satisfactory. Have some dignity, man!
Yes, I wrote this poem about my dead dog, Daisy. I remember trying to write the darn thing about at least ten other topics like flowers and forests and unrequited love because that’s the kind of crap that sonneteers, as they were called, wrote about. But let me clue you in – these aren’t things I spend much time writing about. Really? But that seems so unlike me, right? I’m all about spending 14 lines of poetry to describe the curve of a rose petal and the sharpness of its thorns as they pierce my fingers – and metaphorically, my heart. Here, let me hand you a bucket. Keep that thing handy, would ya?
As the author of such gems as “Amputee,” “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar” (about a transgendered person involved in a standoff with the police), and “Upon Seeing Jesus Christ in the Dollar Store,” flowers and unicorns rarely find their way into my verse. Since I detested – no, loathed – all the rules and sonnet regulations, I found the only way I could get through the process with an ounce of sanity was to pen a poem about something I actually cared about. In the process, I ended up with the worst tribute in honor of a beloved pet ever written. In fact, it’s so God awful that Daisy now haunts me like Jacob Marley, weighed down by the forged steel links that the Lilliputians used to chain her to the grave. She claims that if I don’t repent my poetic sins and buy some lame dogs a turkey that they can rip apart at Christmas, I’ll die forgotten and alone. As if my sonnet hasn’t already assured that fate.
Why My Sonnet Sucks
1) It’s Bad! You read it, right? It’s just bad. Really bad. So horrendously bad that it’s the Lindsay Lohan of poetry – a train wreck so terrible that you just can’t look away from the carnage. You’ve got to re-read it again and again to reaffirm that it’s as heinous as you initially thought. Don’t do this to yourself. It doesn’t get any better and you’ll get acid-reflux from all the puking. Or rug burn if you’re one of those people doing the whole ROFL thing.
2) Abominable Descriptions and Similes:
- “our pygmy Lassie peed” – Daisy was a Sheltie. You’d think I could have used the word Sheltie and avoided the word pygmy – which makes people think of short Africans, not miniature Collies. And she peed. This may have been the inaugural usage of dog urine in a Shakespearean sonnet.
- “a doggy mannequin” – Really? This was the best I could come up with?
- The entire second octave – Could I have listed more body parts? How did I leave out breasts, collarbone and ears?
- “Alone I cry as Mother speaks of cysts which invaded her body like Martians” – You know those Martian cysts, right? They’re black, can only be destroyed by the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator, and will make you “very angry, very angry indeed.”
- “Her life chained to a grave by Lilliputians.” – What do little people who live in a fictional land have to do with this? Maybe if Daisy had been named Gulliver this would have worked. But then she would have likely had gender issues or people would have called her “Liver Lips.” You can’t put a dog through that just so you can use a word in a poem after she dies.
- “Daisy plays dead now like an Oscar nominee” – Though I’m sure that Meryl Streep can play a corpse like nobody’s business, the hard fact is that Oscar nominees don’t win awards for lying motionless on film. In most movies and television shows, extras and unknown actors play dead people. Dogs who can play dead in the movies may, in fact, deserve Oscar nominations, but the Academy does not yet recognize the contribution of canines to film.
- “As she lies wrapped in sheets beneath our dogwood tree.” – For the record, Daisy wasn’t buried beneath a dogwood tree. It just sounded ironic – or what I thought was ironic at nineteen. I don’t actually remember what kind of tree it was. The truly ironic thing is that it died too. Good dog; bad fertilizer.
3) It’s Not Really A Shakespearean Sonnet
- It has 26 lines and six quatrains – What part of ” a sonnet must have exactly 14 lines and three quatrains” did I not get? Why would I write 12 lines more than I needed to? I must be a masochist. Or maybe I was punishing my professor. You gonna make me write this crap; I’m gonna make you read a lot of it, a whole fucking lot of it. It will feel like it’s never ending, much like the Star Wars franchise. Perhaps the first three quatrains are actually the prequel for the final three quatrains. And the couplet, that was the animated version. You don’t like it; blame George Lucas.
- Use of the word “Lilliputians” put me over my syllable limit – For 23 lines, I stuck religiously to the 10 syllable rule and then I broke it so that I could use the most ridiculous word in the entire sonnet. Seriously, Lilliputians? Sounds like stooped-over, little old ladies who collect Lilly Pulitzer dresses and meet for tea on Worth Avenue.
- Final couplet has 12 syllables per line – Just couldn’t shut up, could I? Drag the agony out a little bit longer.
- My Rhyme Scheme Uses Most of the Alphabet – If you recall, the rhyme scheme should follow this format: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. My sonnet’s rhyme scheme is as follows: ABCB DCEC FGHG IJKJ LMNM OPQP RR. Now I know my ABC’s, next time write a longer sonnet so we’ll get to Z.
- I thought iambic pentameter was B.S. – To be blunt, I just didn’t even try. It was too much work, and it became clear very early on that this sonnet was a box of hardened fudge nuggets wrapped with a decorative Shakespearean ruff. Editing this monstrosity would have been a futile exercise in turd polishing.
So now that I’ve borne my soul naked and bare for you, sharing my most embarrassing writing endeavor with the world, I ask you to do the same. I would love and appreciate your comments on The World’s Worst Sonnet Ever, but I also invite you to share your worst poem – sonnet or otherwise – right here on my blog. Just post it into the comments section. Let’s make this a celebration of suckiness. Let’s make a pact to strive for mediocrity so that one day we may post The World’s Most Average Sonnet Ever.
As I await your responses, I’d like to dedicate this post to my dear friend, Evan, who loves “How Ironic.” In fact, he claims that it’s his favorite of all my poems. Of course, he eats babies for breakfast, lives in Portlandia and thinks he’s a trickster God, so what do you expect? Anyway, yesterday was his birthday. Happy Birthday, you freak!
Now let the comments and sucky poetry commence!