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This report is taken from PN Review 118, Volume 24 Number 2, November - December 1997.

On Writing (But Not Always Publishing) Sonnets Mordecai Rosenfeld

I had not written any poetry until May 1995, when I composed two sonnets. One was poor; the other dreadful.

I was driven into that sudden literary frenzy when I chanced to see a notice posted on behalf of The Formalist, A Journal of Metrical Poetry. It is not a periodical that is hawked from your neighborhood news-stand and, frankly, I had not known of it before. It was that message that set forth the details of the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award, and invited the submission of original but as yet unpublished sonnets by the deadline of 15 May. The winner's poem would be published in the magazine's Autumn/Winter issue; and the author would receive, in addition to the glory, a prize of $1,000.

I had not written anything literary because, until I retired in 1993, I had been a lawyer. Accordingly, my style was as wooden as the Queen's Bench, as drab as black stone. But seeing that Formalist communication ignited some hitherto hidden spark, and I resolutely resolved to accept the challenge: I would enter the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Competition. With my bulldog legal training, I would go about my task methodically. First I needed a topic, a theme. Since Shakespeare wrote most of his sonnets on love, I thought it best to avoid a direct head-to-head comparison by selecting a subject that was entirely different, something topical that had occurred long after he had gone. I had those ruminations just when there ...


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