• Sam Ferrante

The Children of the Poor, Gwendolyn Brooks

Listen to the audio on this. I mean, listen to the audio on everything you can find, but particularly on this. It's a good reading, pausing at punctuation, but not at the line breaks. It almost feels more contemporary as the rhyme softens when it doesn't fall on the ear at the ends of lines. It sounds internal. The poem adheres to the conventions of the English sonnet (three quatrains and a couplet, iambic pentameter, that rhyme scheme), and it works so well because that structure is secondary to the narrative and emotional work the poem is doing.

O, Sonnets! They're everywhere. In my first semester at Butler, I wound up writing 21 sonnets (in form, if not in function). I loved it. I hated it. Danez Smith says some pretty incredible things about what form is good for in the Angel Nafis vs Observation episode of VS ( ). My big takeaway (an absolute REVELATION for those of us coming out of strict free verse and spoken word) was that the structure of poetic form is a vehicle for the emotional shape of the poem, NOT a construction for narrative. So, sonnets. Fourteen lines with a volta at line 8 or 10 or even 12 if you're Terrance Hayes or Wanda Coleman or just cheeky. The volta being the emotional turn, the ol' 180, the point at which you switch positions, make a counterpoint, grow.

Back to Brooks: read more Gwendolyn Brooks. The Children of the Poor is from Annie Allen, a collection of poetry published in 1949. Each section (each sonnet) is a different take on motherhood, on worry, beginning with a question, and meandering to a non-answer. You know, like poems do.

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