As MFA classmates, we had the fun and honor of learning how to write short forms with a master of both the prose poem and flash fiction: the speculative writer Bruce Holland Rogers.
Bruce is famous for coming up with ingenious assignments, which play on/off traditional forms, and he came up with a particularly great way to deal with the sonnet—which is an intensely compressed and challenging traditional form using both meter and rhyme.
You probably know how much the sonnet scares a lot of people because of poets like Petrarch and Shakespeare and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Eek.
But we say, Don’t be scared!
So, in honor of National Poetry Writing Month, we’re going to get some help from Bruce on how to write something he calls a prose poem sonnet.
Bruce is a genius math/science type and he has come up with an appropriately nerdy way to tackle this challenge. Here is what he says:
My prose version of the Italian sonnet… starts with not an Italian writer, but an Italian mathematician. Leonardo Fibonacci was the first European to note the properties of a particular sequence of numbers, starting with 0 and 1, that is derived by summing the two previous numbers in the sequence: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144… This sequence appears in natural shapes (the branching of trees, the curl of a nautilus shell, the arrangement of seeds in a sunflower) and in population growth.
Bruce’s suggested rules for a Fibonacci sonnet are as follows:
Two paragraphs. Each paragraph consists of sentences that are defined by word count, the number of words determined by the Fibonacci sequence. A paragraph may count up in the sequence or down in the sequence but always starts or ends with two sentences of one word each. One of the paragraphs is once sentence longer than the other.
For example, a Fibonacci sonnet might have a first paragraph of sentences containing the following number of words in each sentence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21. The paragraph might be sentences of 34, 21, 13, 8, 5, 3, 2, 1 and 1 words, respectively.
Yes, this sounds insane. But it produces something pretty cool. Just use your word count function if—like Stephanie—you have trouble counting past 5.
Here’s Stephanie’s attempt at a Fibonacci sonnet, written during WrestleMania weekend:
What? Why? Professional wrestling? Isn’t it fake? You say it’s an art? What in the world does “scripted outcome” mean? Why does anyone like watching half-naked men do tricks called “piledriver” and “moonsault?” A lot of women wrestle now too, and you say they’re good—but, seriously, what the hell makes it worth watching?
Listen—you need tix for a live show as close to the ring as you can afford, because if it’s a decent indie promotion—not that WWE bullshit—those wrestlers will get CLOSE. They are going to vault over the ropes and fly right over your head at a certain point onto the floor. They might land ON you, unless you stand up, fold your chair, MOVE. That’s not fake, that’s them really soaring, tumbling. They chop in the aisle. Now, back ringside. Wrestling is beautiful. Intense. Embodied.
Consider joining us for more fun and frolic in Writing Short: The Art of Flash and Prose Poems. Class starts May 9, 2019.
Stephanie Barbé Hammer is the author of a novel, The Puppet Turners of Narrow Interior (Urban Farmhouse Press, 2015); a poetry collection, How Formal? (Spout Hill Press, 2014); and a chapbook, Sex with Buildings (Dancing Girl Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in Pearl, Hayden’s Ferry, the Bellevue Literary Review and S/tick, among other places. She’s currently at work on a novel and a poetry collection.
Samantha Claire Updegrave writes creative nonfiction, profiles, book reviews, and poetry. She’s an MFA candidate at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts and assistant editor at Soundings Review.