What is a sonnet? Truthfully, I have not thought about sonnets in years, and had to refresh my memory with some quick, online searches. Simply put, a sonnet is a song. In terms of structure, a sonnet is a fourteen-line poem written in iambic pentameter. The two basic sonnet forms are the Petrarchan and the Shakespearean (from poets.org). Paradise Drive features modern sonnets that tell the story of Pilgrim, the narrator and persona of these poems. I may as well define Pilgrim as well. A pilgrim (from the Latin peregrinus) is a traveler who is on a journey to a holy place. Often this is a physical journey to some place of special and/or religious significance (definition from Wikipedia). It can also refer to a metaphorical journey. This is an apt description of the persona in Paradise Drive, Pilgrim, who has traveled from Altoona, PA to Marin County, CA, and is now on a different sort of journey.
This collection of work is introduced by Tom Lombardo, the Press 53 Poetry Series Editor. The first sonnet in Paradise Drive is titled Paradise Drive. It describes the colors and physical beauty of Marin County, of Phoenix Lake and Mt. Tam, a natural paradise. In the next poem, though, we meet Pilgrim, and we feel the angst. She lives in a large house, and her children are gone; she is an empty-nester. (Hopefully, Rebecca Foust does not hate this term; I'm not sure how I feel about this term; my kids are not living at home right now, although my college-age daughter, my youngest, is a freshman in college, and comes home during breaks.)
In Cocktail Party (and also in Another Party, Another Bathroom), Pilgrim describes being at a party and escaping to the bathroom so that she can read in peace; books and reading provide solace from the surrounding superficiality, and indicate Pilgrim's quest, for something deeper. These sonnets are humorous and intelligent. Party Etiquette (1. Remain Upbeat and Polite) has a sardonic tone, in contrast to the "Tupperware optimistic" of PTA moms. In the sonnet, The Quest, Pilgrim searches for something more elusive, "Maybe the chance to do an angstrom of good, make beauty or protest or laughter". At this stage in her life, Pilgrim does not want or need things. She has done well financially and is comfortable. Pilgrim cares about her inner life, and she wants her time to be valuable and meaningful, not frivolous. In Party On, she laments "the fear of falling in love with it all", because she is content but doesn't want to become complacent--she wants something deeper and more meaningful.
While reading this collection, I wondered if the book was autobiographical. I found out (in the same Marin Independent Journal article referred to above) that the book is semi-autobiographical; Rebecca Foust says that 60% of it is about her, and the other 40% is "wildly" made up. Unfortunately, the suicides of three Marin women were real. These tragic deaths inspired the poet's work, at least in part.
Over the course of several days and evenings, I read these beautiful, haunting sonnets, using a cloth butterfly as a makeshift bookmark. Rebecca Foust succeeds in achieving what Pilgrim in the book sets out to do: to find a deeper meaning or purpose, precisely through her creative work and fulfillment as a poet. The Notes in the back are interesting and shed more light on the background and content of these sonnets. Rebecca Foust has certainly mastered the sonnet as a form of poetry, as a form of art. Paradise Drive made me think about many things, and about sonnets, in a general sense. I wondered if I still had my copy of The Sonnets by Shakespeare. As you can see in the photo below, I found my copy, in a bookshelf.
Have you ever written a sonnet, maybe in school? It's not an easy feat. (As we used to say in French class, c'est difficile!) I've attempted to write a sonnet (Shakespearean), below, about Paradise Drive (which I will edit further), which will be best understood by someone who has also read the book.
Ode to Paradise Drive
Rebecca Foust's Pilgrim, like Anne Bradstreet
An idealist, an eloquent Persona
In sonnets, the poet's chosen choice
Animate Pilgrim's strong, vibrant voice.
Subjects are diverse--her "asparagus" son,
The Seven Deadly Sins (Overheard at the Party)
I read about Greed, Pride, Envy, Lust, Wrath,
Gluttony, and Sloth, I read about Dogs and Loyalty.
Pilgrim has a lot to say, that's no jive
She's risen above her Altoona past
But riches alone are not enough
Despair hovers (hidden), alongside perfection.
Life is just a party, but parties weren't meant to last
Pilgrim's quest is deep, meaningful, and vast.