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Sonnets (06/10/2013)
By Frances Edstrom

Maria Faust died in late 2011. To honor her memory, and her love of the arts, her husband, Ted Haaland, approached the Great River Shakespeare Festival about a collaboration on GRSF’s annual sonnet contest. The result is the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest.

Haaland’s idea not only is a wonderful way to honor Maria’s memory, but has also solidified the contest as a local effort in its own right. The GRSF company members are still involved, of course, and we benefit from their professional reading of the winning poems at the awards ceremony and their including the contest on their website.

The sonnet contest has been a favorite of ours since its inception in 2008. Both John and I (he was by far the more accomplished and prolific poet) enjoyed its annual challenge to write a sonnet. The sonnet form, if the poet follows the centuries-old formula, is a demanding one. In a Shakespearean sonnet, the poet must complete his thought, tell his story, in 14 lines, using iambic pentameter.

If you have forgotten your poetry unit from high school English class, I can refresh your memory on iambic pentameter. “Iambic” means foot. A foot in English poetry is one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. So, got it? No? For instance, the word appear comprises one iamb: Ap-PEAR.

The poet needs five of those iambs to achieve iambic pentameter. (Math class? Pentagram? The Pentagon, a five-sided building. Pent means five.)

One line of iambic pentameter: “I’m Will. I write the plays and, dude, I’m good” is a line from a sonnet by Winonan Ken Mogren. Read it this way: I’m WILL. i WRITE the PLAYS and, DUDE, I’m GOOD.

All you need is fourteen of those lines. And a rhyme scheme. I’ll let you do your own research on that. Suffice it to say that writing a sonnet is not simply writing down a few beautiful thoughts.

Given its demands, it is sort of amazing that the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest receives so many entries, not just from the Winona area, but from all over the country and a few other countries as well. After the poems are judged by the Winona Poets Laureate — Jim Armstrong, Ken McCullough, and this year’s laureate Emilio DeGrazia — an event is held to announce the winners, let the audience hear the poems read by the GRSF actors, and mingle with the winning poets in attendance. The most amazing people write poems, you will find: insurance salesmen, bankers, teachers, pastors, doctors.

Ted Haaland has recently released a volume of the winning sonnets from the contest since 2008, called This Melody Weaves In And Out. It is for sale around town, and here at the Winona Post. The cost is $10. It is a fun little volume full of thought-provoking poems. It is further enhanced by cover and interior art by local artist Julia Crozier. It was designed by Jill Krase.

This year’s contest deadline is July 15, and rules can be found at http://grsf.org/education/for-everyone/sonnet-contest. The winners will be announced on August 3 at a reception at Winona State University’s Science Atrium at 10:30 a.m. It is a free event.

I’ll leave you with a poem by Greg Beam of Brooklyn, New York, which won in 2011.

Sonnet for Recent Graduates

The watchful student never knows quite when

To give up and admit he’s been misled

By entering the brood of learned men

And gobbling up the trough of thoughts they’ve spread.

The ecstasies of academia,

The choruses of mad, reflexive praise,

Inflame him more than septicemia

When he looks back on all those wasted days:

The pallid, precious, undue dedication,

Increasing quite incredibly the sum

Of vapid intellectual masturbation

Engaged in by each cherry-cheeked alum.

I don’t mean education’s for the fool

Just that it happens mostly out of school.

P.S. Don’t miss the new GRSF video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBDoVFLzdZ8 


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