Claire Lehnert did not know what a sonnet was when her grandfather, Sandy Oskamp, of Buffalo City, encouraged her to enter the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest. After sifting through more than 284 entries, judges named the 14-year-old Oregon girl as a finalist in the national competition for her second-ever sonnet.
Photo by Chris Rogers
Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) Artistic Director Doug Scholz-Carlson reads a winning sonnet at the GRSF Maria Faust Sonnet Contest.
"I read examples online," Lehnert explained. After one practice sonnet, Lehnert penned her award-winning poem. "By the time I started writing that second one, I was more in the swing of it. Once I start writing, it kind of flows."
Lehnert and her mother were visiting Oskamp last weekend and were able to attend the sonnet contest on Saturday and hear Lehnert's "Nightmare" read by young GRSF actor Helena Scholz-Carlson. Lehnert's mother teared up as she sat next to her father and her daughter and listened to her daughter's poetry. Lehnert's mother, Patty, said that it was a powerful family moment to see Claire and her grandfather bonding over sonnets. "It was a neat connection for him, because as an 83-year-old he doesn't know what's going on in a teenager's life."
Lehnert may be a newcomer to sonnets, but she is an well-practiced poet. During seventh grade, she started writing a poem every day — at first for a class blog — but she never stopped. That required discipline and time management, Claire explained. Poetry is not a labor for her, though. "It comes kind of naturally to me," she said. "I can write about whatever I want and there are no rules."
Ted Haaland, who was married to the late Faust, said he was floored by Lehnert's visceral depiction of a nightmare in action. "When I read that I wondered, 'Has this young lady wormed her way inside my psyche?' I was quite moved by reading that there were so many bits and pieces that dovetailed with my experience."
Claire's mom, Patty, said, "It is a God-given talent. There is nothing I could have done to create it or make it go away."
A sonnet is a classical form of poetry that consist of 14 rhyming lines of iambic pentameter. Sonnets typically muse over a subject for most of the poem before making what poetry scholars call "the turn," which is often a new perspective on the poem's topic. Shakespeare is one of the most renowned and prolific sonneteers in history, and he developed his own, eponymous sonnet type.
Minnesota Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen, who helped select Lehnert's poem as a finalist, said sonnets "are just the perfect shape for a poem."