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Posted on FB 19th of March 2020
We think of the beautiful people of Italy who live in complete lockdown. Italy, as we learnt in school, invented the sonnet. Petrarch is the most famous early practitioner. The English went mad on the sonnet in the Renaissance, and the 20th century was even madder. “The lunatic, the lover and the poet / Are of imagination all compact” according to Shakespeare, whose own relationship with the sonnet is pleasingly complex and an inspiring model. As we know from his plays, he also had a thing about Italy.
Sonnet School is in, now that self-isolation and online learning are what we wake up to each day. My friend Robert Whalley writes: “I have a suggestion for these trying times: could you lead some of us, who’ve never had the courage to try a DIY sonnet, through the mechanics of said beast? We can even share our works in progress for your counsel.”
So, I invite you to write a sonnet, with Robert’s suggested process as our guide. Let me know if you’d like to give it a go. There’s plenty of time to write your sonnet, and plenty of time to write more sonnets. Google ‘sonnet’ to find out how the form is constructed, then find a theme that suits your current mood. As I remarked in an earlier post, “The sonnet is one of the best forms as a trial exercise as you are stating an argument briefly but dramatically and you work with fun limits. The main fun limit is 14 lines, which means you only have 120-180 words to play with and must say everything with those words. I'll keep people posted on this mini-Decameron idea.” Text, message, email, whatever, I’m here to listen and advise, even though they are your words, not mine.
The Decameron is a famous work of Italian literature written by Boccaccio, friend of the aforementioned sonneteer Petrarch. (See photograph of them chatting together, hands sanitised, and in suitable robes.) The Decameron’s context is a plague year in which people practising social distancing and self-isolation tell each other stories to while away the long hours indoors.


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