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This review is taken from PN Review 254, Volume 46 Number 6, July - August 2020.

Cover of The Sonnet
Rory WatermanThe Sonnet
The Sonnet, Stephen Regan,  (OUP) $90
‘The aim of this book,’ writes Stephen Regan in his introduction to The Sonnet, ‘is to provide the first comprehensive study of the sonnet in English from the Renaissance to the present.’ It is surprising that no such book existed already: as Regan contends, to ‘trace the influence of Milton in the sonnets of Shelley and Wordsworth and Tony Harrison, or to note the ways in which Edna St Vincent Millay and Sylvia Plath resist the sonnet strategies of their poetic predecessors, is to have a better understanding of the sonnet tradition as a whole’. He has a point, and endeavours to bear it out through carefully-chosen, cross-referenced close readings. These are aided by his habit – gifted by the brevity of the form and the fact that so many sonnets are long out of copyright – of quoting poems whole, so we might more easily judge for ourselves.

Regan’s six hefty chapters each comprise an introduction and a series of sections titled by name of author, from ‘Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Early of Surrey’ (the poets credited with bringing the sonnet to English) to ‘Andrew Motion and Alice Oswald’. The latter pairing is indicative of Regan’s tendency to stick with the mainstream near the end of the book, though the avant garde certainly isn’t ignored. (Ted Berrigan, for example, is given two pages, though mainly to outline his subjects and unusual technique rather than to close read any of his sonnets.) Inevitably, the central focus of The Sonnet is overwhelmingly ...

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