My daughter was asked to write a sonnet for homework. I hereby discovered that I am not entirely cut out to write deep and meaningful stuff. My mind is inevitably drawn to the trite. It’s wot I write. She was clearly sunk before the words ‘So can you help?’ had left her mouth.
She said that there should be a twist in a sonnet, which was news to me. I had thought that one only had to bat on about roses, love, loss or death of a faithful anaconda, not realising that it was necessary to throw in a dead body or a hilarious banana skin mishap. Or a quince eating challenge. Well, I haven’t got a GCSE in English, just an Oh level.
Part of the problem of writing poetry with a child is that they seem to think the whole point is the rhyme and that the sense of the poem is of secondary, or even tertiary importance, coming somewhere after the rhythm.
‘What rhymes with maraschino?’
‘Put in cherry, child of mine, and then you can rhyme it with very, berry or something a little more tricky, like merry.’
I expected we’d end up with something to the effect of:
My favourite pie is ripe, red cherry
I eat it when I’m on a ferry
I began to feel echoes of Dr Seuss floating around inside my head:
Writing poems should be easy
But rhyming makes me feel quite queasy
It’s clear you must be pretty thick
Persisting if it makes you sick.
But in your brain the lines get stuck.
Goodbye; I’ll leave. I’m off to chuck.
My point is proved, it must be said,
I’ll have to stick to prose inst… because I really can’t hack all this rhyming stuff. Pass the bucket, Sophie.
In trying to lever some sort of twist into a sonnet without putting too much strain on the classical bent, I suggested that she considered adding either that the murderer wasn’t the butler or that the longing and yearning to be with some empathetic soul would turn out to be about her cat. It was at this point that I lost it slightly and, trying to stick to child mode, suggested that she could end with:
I love every one of your beautiful whiskers
Even though you do not smell of hibiscus
My love is thick; in fact it’s really quite viscous
I thought I was doing brilliantly in my paedi-write attempt; it almost rhymed, had a trace of rhythm but made absolutely no sense. Sophie coldly declined to use this, so I tried again:
Of my imagination you are not a figment
Your fur is so black it’s a very strong pigment.
Eyes streaming, bladder control in danger, I felt I’d cracked it. I checked out Sophie’s face.
While I had been indulging in my dross attack, she had been writing quietly. It turns out I had underestimated my child:
I asked my mum what rhymes with maraschino;
She said to use cherry, but then what does she know?
The end, my friend.
Alison Gardiner 2014