Sonnet#101: Put crabs in Willy’s boxes

Celebrate World Poetry Day with this poetic essay in modern sonnet form by Michael Dom

“In fairness however, in the contest between free verse and so-called fixed forms, many modernists did reject the sonnet as an over-rehearsed exercise. William Carlos Williams famously shunned it as an artificial frame imprisoning the energy of modern America, famously likening it to ‘putting a crab into a square box’ (Interviews, 30). His provocative image also pleaded for poetry’s right to go sideways, to eschew the sonnet’s well-trodden rational or argumentative path, a claim made by today’s postmodern poets, who struggle with the commodification of all forms of discourse, poetry included. Therefore what seems at stake in writing the sonnet today is a tension between truth to materials – the aesthetic imperative for a poem to be written in a certain form – and a (post-)modernist critique of representation, the scepticism over one’s very means of expression.”

Mapping the Contemporary Sonnet in Mainstream and Linguistically Innovative in late 20th and early 21st Century British Poetry* By Carole Birkan-Berz
Sonnet #101: Put crabs in Willy's boxes

E! Willy, when we’s went crabbing det time,	(1)
we’s put dem crabs in small boxes but not
tied wid strings – see? – We waded mud an’ grime
on det grassy lime-green shore. We forgot
how kwik dey could run sidewise an’ fearsome
flail der claws – make us fingers regret it!
But, we got dem all good an’ proper. Put 	(2)
dem in 10×14 boxes cut-to-fit.			(3)
Boy or girl! It sure was sumting to see		(4)
all d’ose boxes zooming sidewise across 
da beach, bumpin n’ bumblin out to sea,
pointy claws pokin thru holes on da sides.
An’ d’ose seabirds, like one ol’ seaman’s rime,	(5)
followin d’ose boxes down da shoreline
  • * Atelier de la SEAC, congrès de la SAES “L’appellation”, mai 2013. Published in Etudes britanniques contemporaines, nb. 46.
  • 1 The tone and flow of the poem was modeled on English speech pattern of Hiri Motuan people, familiar at least to the author while growing up in Port Moresby during the 1990’s.
  • 2 Traditional sonnet structures are ten syllables (pentameter) in fourteen lines, with each verse structure serving specific functions, like boxes, for making the poetic argument. This line does not ‘fit’ the pentameter scheme.
  • 3The turning phrase (‘But’) arrives on the seventh line, unlike traditional sonnet eighth or ninth line, and within the first part of the structure is not posed as an argument, seemingly in agreement with William Carlos Williams ‘boxing of crabs’. Rather, the opposing argument is presented as an imaginary observation in the second part of the sonnet, where the crabs have burst through the boxes, fleeing blindly across the beach, pursued by curious seabirds.
  • 4 A play on the gendered expression ‘Boy oh boy’ which concludes the misused collective pronouns ‘us’ ‘we’ and ‘our’ in the Petrarchan octet (ABABA’BBB) and simultaneously form the volta into the sextet (CDCEAA’’).
  • 5Reference to lyric poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which argues how a ship thrown off course ends up in the Pacific and how the protagonist finds his way back to his own country. He shoots an Albatross that follows the ship after a storm and from there his story unwinds. This line is a heroic couplet with an open end.
  • Lae, September 26, 2021

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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