Everyone knows about sonnets- you know- 14 lines divided into an octet, a quatrain and a rhyming couplet at the end. Shakespeare wrote 154 of them ( including the ones in his plays) and Edmund Spenser and Sir Philip Sidney were both enthusiastic practitioners. Later on, Milton wrote sonnets, as did Wordsworth, but who reads them nowadays ?
Actually the sonnet has never quite gone away. “ Anthem for Doomed Youth “by Wilfred Owen is a sonnet….had you noticed that ? You don’t, straight away ,because you’re carried away by the anguish and bitterness of the poem. But you check- and it is. The fact that Owen packed so much emotional power, both personal and universal, into such a constricting format makes it even more impressive.Edwin Morgan, Robert Frost and Seamus Heaney have written sonnets as well.
And now I come to “ Some Things Matter” a collection of sixty three sonnets by James Nash, published by Valley Press. James Nash became interested in sonnets after going to a workshop in 2009. Two years later he had written more than 160- and this collection is the cream of the crop.
It’s the best poetry collection I’ve read in years- honestly.
Why ? Let me tell you.
Firstly, the range is immense. James Nash deals with love and loss- the stock in trade of every poet- but he also talks about sending old clothes to the charity shop, gardens, wasps- even a sonnet about bags for life. A sonnet about plastic bags ! That’s brave !
The language throughout is restrained, controlled. It’s emotional and deeply moving in places, but never sentimental. Look at the last two lines of sonnet on old clothes:
“ What if when these garments are gone at last,
I mourn those faded textures of my past”
Notice that he ends on a question. No easy answers here. What about “ mourn”- we mourn for the dead, yes, but also for our younger selves, as we get older. And “ faded textures of my past” sums up, not just a bag of clothes, but our feelings towards a past we can remember, but not return to.
The last point I want to make is about imagery. Good poetry has echoes, resonances, as well as explicit meaning, and James Nash is a master of this difficult art. Look at his Sonnet 24, which is about sitting in the garden one late summer evening “listening to the hidden blackbird’s song.” It’s a wonderful calm moment. And yet it will “ Not be long before the chilly wind arrives” “ Past memories must be hoarded still/ against the darkness and the loss.” Memories will help us carry on “ As darkness falls , and one of us has gone.” He means the end of a summer evening, yes- but he also means the death of a loved one.
James Nash manages to do what few poets can- he puts into words the feelings we all have, and yet are too tongue-tied to express.
You can buy “Some Things Matter here: