Noelle Kocot, Sonnets, (Clinic, 2017)
I usually think in terms of the Bernadette Mayer-sonnet, the Ted Berrigan-sonnet, the Jen Bervin-sonnet, the Sophie Robinson-sonnet more than I think of the Thomas Wyatt-sonnet, the Franceso Pertrarca-sonnet, the William Shakespeare-sonnet, the Edmund Spenser-sonnet. And now, with this new (& beautifully designed) pamphlet of sonnets by Noelle Kocot, there’s a new (& wildly exciting) reshaping of the form to think through.
What are some of the features of the Kocot Sonnet? For this reader:
1. a deceptive uniformity of structure and form: the sonnets are all arranged on the page into 3 x 4 line stanzas and 1 x 2 line stanza. The language constantly exceeds, ruptures, vibrates beyond this form but it is always there visually on the page.
2. The language (which is lavishly fresh and distinctive) gets churned and whipped up to a degree that it gestures and ripples towards other sonnets and sonneteers: e.g. Shakespeare (and through Shakespeare, Bervin, and via Shakespeare Pertrach) in “To not cease, but to be and be. Our problem is that / We are not cut out for the mind’s eye, a rooster-like device”; the aggression of Mayer in “you think word doesn’t get around / that you’re a bad driver? / It does” and “Are you climate controlled? Just asking”; the exuberance (and bleeting greeting) of Berrigan in “The ripped apart molecules / Of hello? Hello!”; the rapt internal crises of Wyatt in “Retrograde, are / You ending soon? Don’t start with me, okay?”; the Spenserian jangle of the heroic (or anti-heroic) couplet of “Splurge like the answer from coast to coast. I / Am barely there, as you have already ascertained.”
3. The sonnet is almost always a form with attitude, with swagger, with a performance of feeling. Kocot’s sonnets take this to an extreme. They are intensely witty and funny and bristling all over with expressions of the most thrilling daring and boldness: “Kleptomaniacal fool – put that mushroom back / From whence it came this instant!”; “The creatrix / sulks around like a bag of beans. I’ll call ya!”; “And in the courtyard, I became ‘extreme,’/ While I mourned your life forever”
4. This doesn’t stop them also veering into intensely genuine moments of revelation (always politically astute and aware): “The sky unrolls onto a vast / Expanse of spring dirt, and you go on sparkling.”
5. The politics of the poems is woven through every utterance, attitude and phrase: “Is this the end of your empire, / Or is it just the world, coming as it is?”; “The / Blood around the desert – we call this ‘sport.’” ; “A kangaroo was asked to leave / McDonald’s.”
6. The sonnets have titles. They announce themselves as poems. You realise they’re packaged up and presented as poems, as wonderful (unpredictable, sometimes scary) gifts.
7. The sonnets make much of opposition and conflict and paradox and contradiction, e.g. “By that, I mean its opposite”; “The weapons (oh, you know how the present / tense can be)”
8. You can never predict what’s going to happen next. E.G. a poem beginning …“The Booby // The booby is bubbalicious! The booby is quite / Delicious. The booby is a remarkable phenomenon.”… and ending… “You / will know where to go and what to do and needless / Suffering is out of the question. Another time.”
There’s a lot more thinking I need to do around what the Noelle Kocot-sonnet does and doesn’t do, and that's an excuse to keep reading and re-reading this book and these poems, which, as one poem puts it are “the equivalent of our extremities in perfect focus”.