Friday, January 30, 2015

Kenn's How To Write Poems: Session One - Sonnets

Image via Shutterstock
Hello my fellow bloggers and poetry enthusiasts, and welcome to my first How To Write Poems session. During these "How To" sessions I will be revealing some secrets that I use to write certain forms of poems. For this session I will be revealing the secrets to writing a sonnet.

Before we go into the details I'm going to delve into some of the history of the sonnet. A sonnet is a poetic form that originated in Italy where Giacomo Da Lentini was credited for its creation. The term sonnet derives from the Italian word "sonneto" which roughly translates to "little poem." As early as the 13th century the sonnet was traditionally written in fourteen lines that followed a strict rhyme scheme. Those who write sonnets professionally were known as "sonneteers." Commonly known as the Italian sonnet, it is also known as a Petrarchan sonnet. 

Traditionally the Petrarchan sonnet included two major parts: a proposition followed by a resolution. This traditional style was written in a strict measurement. The proposition consisted of an octave (two quatrains) which described the problem, and then it was followed by a sestet (two tercets) which proposed the resolution. 
Image from An Unrestrained Engagement of Literature

Here is an example of a traditional Petrarchan sonnet written by Lentini called "A Vision."

A Vision

A Vision gives me a light step, 
A glorious Vision multiplies my hopes, 
A Vision never stops caressing -
A vision marvellous excites my thoughts.

A Vision of that lady, who is raying light, 
In lips she sets the laugh confusing, 
A Vision, that is rumoured all around: 
That no one could be compared, surely

Who'd seen such magic eyes in their vision, 
In them you'll see the burning love, 
And laugh so sweet from lips, that rises feeling? 

I'm speaking with her- I'm close to die.
I think that this is to Edem ascension
And feel myself the best of lovers ever.

The rhyme scheme for a sonnet usually follows like so, with each letter representing the last word of the line: abba, abba, cde, cde. Other representations were created later on such as: abba, abba, cdcd, cdcd. 

Here is a poem written by John Milton called "On His Blindness," that uses the traditional rhyme scheme.

When I consider how my light is spent (a)
 Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide, (b)
 And that one talent which is death to hide, (b)
 Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent (a)
To serve therewith my Maker, and present (a)
 My true account, lest he returning chide; (b)
 "Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?" (b)
 I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent (a)
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need (c)
 Either man's work or his own gifts; who best (d)
 Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state (e)
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed (c)
 And post o'er land and ocean without rest; (d)
 They also serve who only stand and wait." (e)

Today a lot of modern poets write sonnets in a similar style as their predecessors, and the content of these sonnets usually relate to the themes of love or some kind of humanity movement. I personally prefer to use the sonnet to describe some sort of passion, or to relate some kind of philosophy about love. Much like what Shakespeare did with his sonnets. 
Image from UDL Editions by CAST

Now that you've come to better understand how a sonnet is written, let us proceed with my secrets to successfully writing a sonnet. 

Step One: Contemplate your deepest desires and emotions, and let them flow openly.
Step Two: Write down any particular words, ideas or conceptions that come to your mind.
Step Three: Come up with a theme for the sonnet you wish to write. Do not stray from this theme. 
Step Four: Begin writing your sonnet using the rhyme scheme as a guide. Don't worry if you erase anything along the way. Your writing should come out willingly. 
Step Five: Cross reference your draft with another sonnet. This helps you check for subtle changes.
Step Six: Rewrite the sonnet if need be, as many times as it takes, until you feel the poem is complete.

I recommend this guide to those who are new to writing in this form. Later on you might not need this guide anymore, and you may as well created your own task measures. The beautiful thing about poetry is that it is personal to the writer, and that it progressively gets easier the more you write it. Practice certainly does make perfect. Also, keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to write a poem. It is completely up to personal preference. Modifying a traditional style to your own means you understand the form, and you are ready to create your own personal form of said style. 

I hope all of this was an eye opener for you all. If you have any questions for me personally, or about sonnets in general, then please feel free to leave your questions in the comments below. I will gladly help in any way that I can. Also, if there are any poetic tips you'd like me to address, please submit them in the comments. 

Take care my "sonneteers!" 


  1. Wow, Kenn, I am totally impressed with this post. I have always found sonnets difficult, and thus I appreciated reading your approach. This post is a 'keeper.'

    1. Thank you Mary for reading. I'm going to be posting "How To" pieces once in a while. Trying to freshen up what I post on the blog. Sonnets can be really difficult to write though. I still have problems, well snags I should say, every once in a while. I usually write in free form, but once in a while I like a traditional sonnet. Keeps the brain thinking.

      I'm glad that I could be of some help to you though. If you ever have any questions please feel free to ask me. After all, we are all fellow aspiring poets right.

  2. Thanks for this info. I like poems with rhyming patterns I always find them easier to read. But wow so many variations of sonnets. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. I'm happy to have shared it with you Suzy. I believe that rhyming poems tend to sound better when read out loud.

  3. Kenn, Sonnets are one of my favorite forms.. and in this time of very short poems sonnets have become almost like a long poem. I think that I unconsciosly have developed a similar method to yours (with lots of struggles). But I have also came up with a few deviations.

    One thing I really want to do is to make the sonnet become a contemporary poem, and actually the best praise I can get is when I receive comments that they see it as free verse.

    Another thing I have done is to let the rhymes drive the narrative rather than the other way around. I know it sounds strange, because I often let the words steer where I'm heading and sometimes modify my original of the idea of what I was going to present. To some extent you could say that I introduce a concept of "found poetry" in my sonnets.

    Also ... many of the sonnets on my blogs are in reality drafts... I would love to take time to rewrite a few of them to something that better fitted coherent thoughts.

    One big deviation from traditional sonnets is that I push the boundaries outside the traditional subjects.

    I would be glad to continue our discussion separately.. you have put some very interesting points forward. You can mail me at if you feel like it.

    1. I actually laugh when I see someone comment about a poem that I write and claim that it is free verse. While I do like to write in free verse, I also like using traditional styles as well. It is interesting to see whether people really understand the form or not.

      I too have been experimenting with form for the last couple of years. One of my newer editions of form involved synonyms. Basically you choose a word as the focus for the poem, and include all kinds of synonymous words with that word choice within the poem. I think it created a rather interestingly themed poem.

  4. Kenn, also check your email...I sent you a note.

  5. Very interesting post, Kenn. I have not touched sonnets other than reading or studying them but when I decide to write one I will use your post.

    1. That is much appreciated and obliging if you do. I'd gladly read a sonnet that you have written.

  6. I enjoy writing form poetry--especially when I'm a bit stuck. This is a clear presentation on sonnets--a form I've neglected for a while. Thank you, Kenn

    1. Your welcome Victoria. I'm glad to have reestablished that connection to you. Sonnets are one of my favorite forms of poetry.

  7. intriguing...i have written very few sonnets...i am much more a free verse kinda poet..
    but i have learned much over the last couple years by trying form, but also not being
    afraid to break it to suit the needs of the poem...nothing i hate more in a poem than
    words that are forced to fit so that the form is makes it rather trite....

    1. I have a knack for taking form and breaking all the rules of said form. Kind of like E.E. Cummings.

  8. I have tried my hand at a few sonnets some are better than others. I come up with a theme first and then go from there, sometimes I just wing it and do my own thing. I enjoyed reading this post.

    1. Finding a theme for a sonnet is usually a good place to start. It really helps a person collect their thoughts and weave together a cohesive poem.


All comments would be appreciated.