Book Review

Grace Marie Grafton, Whimsy, Reticence & Laud: Unruly Sonnets, Poetic Matrix Press, 2012

by Trena Machado

In Conjure, the first unruly sonnet, “They care about their ability to dance,” and so, with this, Grafton uses the sonnet form to dance. She leaves behind the precise rules of the sonnet, the iambic pentameter lines, the well-defined octave setting up the question and the answering sestet, the end-rhyme patterns, e.g., cdecde or cdcdcd—and, although the ten syllable line and fourteen lines are used mostly, they are not always. What is left to let us call these poems sonnets? Unhampered by rules, there is still much that gives us the sense of the sonnet. With only the shadow of the octave and sestet, not based on line count and bridged by the flow of association, the transformative volta, wherever it falls in the line scheme, is still the element that makes the shift in meaning and propels us to the ending as in Relative:

…. Bucks drop their racks
each year. Old and worn. Carried maybe by
snow, pushed as drifts sift. Color of my skin,
maybe laughter. Chalk. A gift. Just a part
of the beast….

The open format of Grafton’s lines allow subtlety of interior states, expressing a modern sensibility of the transient carrying our wisdom. In Root:

A down-low wander, color that couldn’t
matter to a fish or a cold-blooded father.
He let me hang on to his neck
When he swam crisscross the current to
another side. So I forgave his blue heart.

But, even with the open format of lines, the warm, everyday images keep us close to the body, senses, desire. There is sure-footing here, these sonnets are about warm-blooded “living.” In Current:

…Not caring for story
first and then next, nor what happened to make
it all start, nor how it ends. No, here
is the green of it and there…

We are given the middle region, between the unknown and known, where we live in our memories, reflections, plans—in our daily discoveries. In Radiant:

…Her great-grandchildren played near
her feet and heard her tune. This was the song
she had come to live by, it contained praise,
relinquishment, rain, the senses, and it was
inarticulate. No one asked her
what it meant. Most of the children forgot it
as soon as she sang it. I just want
to excavate bedrock ’til I hear it.

Grace Marie Grafton has given us a book of sonnets. A departure from her other books, Other Clues and Chrysanthemum Oratorio, both books flights of freewheeling language and images, not limited by a preplanned form and both very different from each other and this book. Despite the unruliness of the traditional elements of the sonnet in terms of structure, the heart of the sonnet, the mini-stage upon which we know ourselves, has been fully kept. All the “big” things we think about and live with, resurrection, rapture, revelation, nirvana, death—and the small, the child wanting to know what the word “protection” means—are held with care here and we feel a satisfied warm glow of being human.


In the black basket, blue torn-paper scraps.
Thoughts someone forgot, beautifully,
cruelly liberated? Maybe cornflower
petals or lapis lazuli’s breath
no conscious mind ever pretended
to see before. The way tricycle wheel
spokes become blurry when a child dressed
in a blue jumper pedals hard. She wants
to know the word for what the spokes become
but mostly, she needs to get over the ground
fast. Tricycle’s painted blue, her brother
wants to take it from her, maybe
the basket holds her mother’s protection.
She wants to know the word, protection.


Tambourine notes in the autumn tree, patch-
work color, a click-clack, a nerve shaken.
The way sap wants not to settle into cold,
though cold can betoken a fixed-lace fan.
To surrender really means to light an
inner fire. Were I to die in the
bulk of December, wouldn’t it be best
to have seen the last scene as an etching?
Almost of bare-branched letters, almost of
revelatory words, those secret sounds
my life has been leaning towards, now shown
mercifully to be the angles and
shine of trees before storm, of the ice that
pins birds mid-flight, their eyes fixed on the sky.

Trena Machado is the publisher of RAW ArT PRESS. Her main interest is in writing that experiments with language to develop content in new ways.