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This review is taken from PN Review 185, Volume 35 Number 3, January - February 2009.

LITTLE BIG SONG The Making of a Sonnet, edited by Edward Hirsch and Eavan Boland (W.W. Norton) $35.00

The Poetry Arm of the publishing industry is ever busy turning out anthologies of all types and varieties of poems from around the world, organised on principles ranging from the encyclopaedic to the thematic to the personal choice of the editor. Whether this multiplicity of editions is cost-effective for an industry that is constantly moaning about declining profits is unknown. In the welter of competing anthologies, the series of volumes published by the W.W. Norton company stands out: especially reliable, useful, and well-edited surveys and compendiums; indeed, owning the company's two volumes on English-language poetry pretty much means you don't have to bother with other anthologies unless you have a specialised interest. The current Norton volume, misleadingly titled The Making of a Sonnet, indicates that the publishing house is expanding into thematic explorations of poetry to supplement its traditional, chronological surveys. The sonnet is such a powerful and influential form of poetry that this thematic approach is useful, especially when edited by two skilled contemporary writers, Edward Hirsch and Eavan Boland.

The title misleads because it suggests either a textual examination of how a sonnet is made or an instructional manual to teach the reader how to construct one of his own. Instead, the editors take a pretty conventional tack: the sonnet, in all its varieties, is defined, its advantages and history as a poetic form are assessed, and a good sample of examples, organised by century, are presented to illustrate the strength of the ...

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