Ella has invited me to confront the tyranny of the blank screen and blinking cursor while she attacks her latest English assignment, writing a sonnet. I remember a few writing assignments from my own senior year of high school. Once, after a series of assigned poems by Donne and Shakespeare, I tried my hand at the fourteen-lined beast. I recall an attempt to satirize the motives of 16th century scribbling swains, ending with a line something like : ‘or better try immortalizing girls.’ At least I could handle iambic pentameter. And wouldn’t “The Scribblin’ Swains” make a great nickname for an elite northeastern liberal arts college? But I digress.
Poetry can be troublesome stuff. I recall writing another sonnet in high school, an ’80s update of ‘come live with me and be my love…” The notion that “we could all the pleasures prove” (I’m paraphrasing from memory) was a pretty enticing image for a prep school boy, and I gave it a mod twist, part Mick Jagger, part Elvis Costello. My teacher found it clever – especially given that it was done for fun, not as an assignment. I tucked it away until Freshman year of college, when once again sonnets were on the menu. I was so proud of my sonneteering that I slipped a handwritten copy of that HS come-hither ode into one of the last essays I submitted to my first semester instructor. And thought nothing further of it.
Just a week or so into the next semester I received a surprising handwritten invitation to tea — from my first semester English instructor. Did I mention she was young? And, as luck would have it, female? I responded to the invitation and arrived at her campus apartment at the appointed hour. We sat down and chatted. I opted for the Early Grey, no sugar. We chatted a bit more. Then she pulled out the sonnet. I recall she seemed to suddenly adopt a coquettish demeanor, quite unlike her classroom presence. “You know,” she began, “this is quite lovely, but I suppose you realize I’m married.”
“Yes, of course,” I replied, still too slow to grasp the situation. “That was just something I wrote in high school. It has a second part I didn’t show you, after she turns him down and he’s all like ‘the hell with you, I never liked you anyway.'” She looked a bit crestfallen. Slowly the light dawns. “Oh, but you thought….”
“Lets just enjoy our tea, shall we?”
Sure thing, Ms. Professor, let’s do just that.
Ok, so that’s the substitute blog post from Dad. Sonnets are fun, but they can get you into trouble. So wear protective headgear.