(with gratitude to Bernadette Mayer)
1. Time experiments: Write a sonnet during a limited amount of time. Begin with one- or two-minute increments, lengthen to five or ten. Try writing a sonnet every day at the exact same time. Or write one word or line or one stanza a day for fourteen days. Try writing a sonnet in an unlikely circumstance. For instance, if you wait in line every day for five minutes write a sonnet then, on a bus, waiting to buy coffee or before or after brushing your teeth while standing at the sink. The idea is to write not in the usual spaces or circumstances where you fall into a habitual pattern. Standing up trying to write on the wall or on a little pad can be part of the experiment. Try dictation into a recorder. Have someone write down what you are saying. Try writing upon waking or before sleep. Set a certain number of days to try a practice, such as a week or more.
2. Create a sonnet through erasure and/or palimpsest from/upon another text. As an example of erasure, look at Jen Bervin's from the book Nets.
3. Write a sonnet by lineating found text or prose or a prose poem. Write several versions of the same poem, experimenting with line length, breadth, prose. You can use found material, a poem you have already written, a piece of prose, etc.
4. Write a dictionary divination sonnet. Open the dictionary at random. Write a poem using only the text that appear on the facing pages in front of you.
5. Write an I see sonnet by writing using only words for things you can literally see wherever you are. Try this in different settings (indoors, outdoors) and at different times of day and night. 6. Write a sonnet in response to a sonnet. Some ideas on how to do this: a) Use a line from a sonnet as springboard or as the first line of your own poem. b) Use the text from a sonnet to cut up and create your own sonnet. c) Use end or beginning phrases or words from another sonnet in your sonnet (see Aaron Shurin's Involuntary Lyrics). Use a chance operation to rewrite or create a new version of a sonnet by yourself or anyone else. Write a sonnet which repeats a mood, rhythm, or idea in a poem you admire. For example, see Jarnot's "O'Hara Sonnet" and O'Hara's "You Are Gorgeous and I am Coming." d) In all of this writing from another poem, consider the following possibilities: i. Write a sonnet inspired by another sonnet. ii. Write a sonnet inspired by a piece of writing that is not a sonnet.
iii. Write a poem inspired by a sonnet that is not a sonnet.iv. Invent a new form that somehow begins with reading or writing a sonnet, then morphs into something else.
7. Write a mock historical sonnet, a sonnet you are writing as if some other (living or dead) person has written it. Experiment with voice, tone, assuming authority, meekness, antiquated or futuristic speech. How do you imagine someone else would write your poem?
8. Write a homophonic translation in the form of a sonnet. Experiment with online translation dictionaries such as babblefish. Read from Jackson Mac Low's French Sonnets and his explanation of process.
9. Translate a sonnet as a commentary on a sonnet. In other words, read a sonnet or any text, then write your own version of the thrust or intent of the poem. This can be done with poems you like or dislike. Don't think of this as paraphrasing but another way of reading. And also possibly a way to reversion, or re-vision, responding in writing to a poem. Read Sparrow's "Translations from the New Yorker" in America a Prophecy.
10. Write in someone else's voice, kids' voices, borrow from children's iterature and media, or write in overheard language, particular professional language, code, or character. Be someone else for the duration of fourteen lines. Be anyone (for the sheer liberation of it) and see what happens.
11. Write a collaged sonnet composed of one or various found texts. Experiment with cutting up text, picking words or phrases at random from a series of books, limiting yourself to a limited found vocabulary, and so on. Try this: Go to a library, pick fourteen books at random (preferably from different areas/subjects, include a reference or technical book). Place the books in a stack. Systematically open each book and randomly point to a sentence or phrase. Transcribe one sentence or phrase from each book. Then translate your found sonnet by writing a line responding to each found line or phrase. Include some of the text you have found in your poem. Or practice getting lost in the accidental relationship created by the juxtaposition between the lines. And write from that place of collision/adhesion. This experiment works well to supplement/enliven any text you are working on. It works in bookstores, waiting rooms, dumpsters, Goodwill, the street, etc. Enlist a friend to help you rewrite their sonnet and have them rewrite yours.
12. Write a collaborative sonnet. You can do this in person as an exquisite corpse, via email, voicemail messages, various ways.
13. Write a sonnet in a gallery or museum in response to something you see: art, people, noise, etc. Intersperse found text—art titles, catalogue copy, segments on the history of art—into your poem.
14. Write a sonnet while doing something else, such as listening to a poetry reading, a concert, watching a dance performance, etc., and allow the experience to filter into your writing. This can be done while doing dishes, waking up—don't discount any activity as material (though writing while driving can be hazardous). The idea is to allow the outside to be filtered into your work. Experiment by writing while listening to Ted Berrigan read his sonnets online. Explore rich resources for listening to other poets read their work online. Let poetry fill the air while you do other things as a means to inspire. Try listening while not trying to listen. How is this different? How is it different on more than one listening or reading?
15. Create a visual sonnet.
16. Write a sonnet that defines your vision of a sonnet. Your definition can include: the purpose of the form, affirmations and prohibitions, a list of reasons to write sonnets, comments on favorite or despised sonneteers, new thoughts on rhyme, meter, lineation, and themes.
17. Write a fractional sonnet, for instance, one-half sonnet, 6/14th sonnet, one-and-one-half sonnet, etc. Experiment with the number of lines written, implied, missing, added. How does this change the form and the intent of form?
18. Write a sonnet in which each line functions independently, serves as a title for another poem, or refers to another poem or cycle of poems.
19. Write a sonnet that hinges on associations and definitions of one word. Explore word play, various spellings, families of words, etymologies, sound.
20. Write a sonnet, then write several versions of the same poem from memory. Or rewrite the sonnet as a homophonic translation: from English to English (based on sound) or to any language you like. Do this collaboratively or independently.
22. Write a sonnet composed entirely of questions, or composed entirely of answers.
23. Write a sonnet or a series of sonnets addressed to a person, or for a particular occasion.
24. Write a sonnet that is a series of guesses to an implied, mysterious, or stated riddle/question.
25. Write a sonnet that is a list poem: list of days, list of reasons, calendar, list of favorite or most despised something, etc.
26. Write a sonnet or a series of sonnets using the daily news (print, Internet, radio) as source material. Write a commentary on a commentary. A response to a news flash or editorial. Consider how poetry is legislation or propaganda. Rewrite an article in the form of a sonnet or series of sonnets.
27. Write a sonnet over and over again in various styles such as in Queneau's Exercises in Style.
28. Write a sonnet in love with numbers. Explore the number fourteen, equations, counting, numbers of letters, or the qualities you associate with numbers, significant historical years, sums, numerical questions.
29. Create a poem by mishearing or misreading. One misreading experiment: You need three people: a speaker, a scribe, and a text holder. If you wear glasses or contact lenses this experiment is easier. Begin by taking off your glasses. Have the text holder hold any text just far enough out of your visual range that you can barely make out the letters but not exactly read them. Begin to recite what you see, not reading, but guessing and speaking. The scribe will transcribe your creation.