Notes: More on When You Bit

The formality of the When You Bit… sonnets hinges on an original admixture of formal elements. Rather than usual pentameter line structures, here I tend to favor five beats per line, or what I call halved pentameter. What chopping standard pentameter lines in half will do to a sonnet would seem to be an open question; but certainly the formal nod is to brevity, concision, and the impulse to compress poetic data:

(a) Three sets of teeth: who
(b) can check for cavities?
(a) A three-way circuit: who
(b) will start the striptease?
(c) Three lovers in three ways:
(d) how merrily the dance
(e) begins. We spin, we spin,
(f) we forget our instincts,
(b) anima, the part of teeth
(h) that cuts. We are sluts.
(d) There is an “I” here that
(h) stands for all of us, but
(b) its eyes are shut. Sleep
(b) lulls it to rest, not think. Or speak.

Besides the feature of halved pentameter here, there is also a system of internal rhymes inset to enrich the end-rhyme scheme, which is (again) unconventional. Thus, (for instance), “three” and “teeth” in line 1 work with “cavities” in line 2; just as “three” twice in line 5 reinforce the end-rhymes of lines 2 and 4, “cavities,” “striptease.” Keats called this kind of melopoeiac reinforcement loading lines with ore; and he complained to Shelley in a famous missive how scant Shelley’s reinforcement techniques were. Surely, if the regular number of beats per line is halved, it stands to poetic reason that what is left must be as loaded with prosodic ore as possible, and I attempted to accomplish that here. It is also a feature of this particular sonnet (“Three Sets of Teeth,” which opens the initial third of the book called Sister Lovers) that the first quatrain (four line stanza) is written in the Shakespearean manner— Shakespearean sonnets tend to begin with a/b/a/b. Shakespearean rhyme-schemes in sonnets are dramatic to the point of being overripe; Shakespeare liking to imagine his sonnets being orated from onstage, perhaps. The sturm und drang facet of Shakespearean sonnets is not answered by the Petrarchan mold employed by Keats (and, of course, Petrarch), which is subtler, more intricate, more about interstitial craft then dynamic fervor and bloody passion. That, through the first quatrain, this sonnet emerges as “semi-Shakespearean” is something I would like to posit. In being semi-Shakespearean, I attempt to open the book in as dramatic a fashion as I possibly can; even as the last, “clustered” ten lines, in all their irregularity, move the sonnet into uncharted formal territory, towards a kind of wilderness zone which mirrors the narrative-thematic wilderness zone the protagonist of the book inhabits in his ménage with his two Chicago Muses in the first twenty sonnets of the book.