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This review is taken from PN Review 186, Volume 35 Number 4, March - April 2009.

FAST AND LOOSE The Reality Street Book of Sonnets, edited by Jeff Hilson (Reality Street Editions) £15
ALICE NOTLEY, Above the Leaders (Veer) £4
JOHN WILKINSON, Down to Earth (Salt) £12.99

Envisioned as a corrective to big-press anthologies which omit ‘linguistically innovative’ poetry - roughly equivalent, the editor Jeff Hilson admits, to the terms ‘avant-garde’ or ‘experimental’ - The Reality Street Book of Sonnets gathers a rich and varied challenge to any possible fossilisation of the form, featuring 84 poets from the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Displaying not a mistrust of the sonnet but a profound willingness to investigate and defamiliarise the outer limits of its architecture, the work here ranges from variations on Petrarchan and Shakespearean structures, to found poems, word-art, paintings, cartoon strips and ‘decomposed’ poetry. Hilson’s ‘sonnet umbrella’ shelters writers and artists alike, and the result is an anthology which stretches the definition of verse as well as sonnetry.

One of the more inspired pieces is ‘Moon Shot Sonnet’ by Mary Ellen Solt, presented as ‘a silent poem found in the first pictures of the moon’. Reading the interpretative accents superimposed on photographs to mark off the lunar surface as a deromanticised,scientific language, Slot uncovers a recognisable fourteen-line structure. The first stanza reads:

Image of first stanza, Moon Shot Sonnet

Offset by the anthologist against Philip Sidney’s ‘With how sad steps, Oh Moon, thou climb’st the skies’, Slot’s poem answers the astronomical awe of previous generations with a silent, symbolic manifestation of our satellite’s contemporary status as an object of study to be mapped and analysed.

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