Friday, September 9, 2016

How to Write a Sonnet: A Student Guide

Are you writing a sonnet -- maybe for a class, or just for fun? Here's a guide for you.

My name is Gideon Burton and I have written thousands of sonnets -- and helped untold numbers of students compose their own. I've taught the history of the sonnet form, and frankly, I just love this form of poetry. Some do not. Some people HATE sonnets. I get it. They are hard. They have rules. Bad ones are painful to read. Good ones can be tough to compose. Hopefully this will take the sting out if it just a bit and maybe get you on the road to something of which you can be proud.

I've divided this guide into four parts:
  1. Know the Form
  2. Read Model Sonnets
  3. Imitate and Experiment
  4. Select a Subject

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Day of Wrest

I stopped to watch this western sky today.
Day of Wrest
by Gideon Burton

The sabbath: day of wrest. I twist away
from all the rest. I shear and cut. I break.
This will not pass and press as other days
whose worried layers mud my mind. I make
a pause of purpose, better if I shake
up rhythms, sabotage, dislodge and blunt
efficiencies. If slow enough, I make
my week lie weakened, muted, stunned.
With time untied to let what's running run
itself away, I can be still -- am stilled,
and bold enough to hold, to wait, the sun
in slow progression warming -- if I'm still
     enough, apart enough, and emptied, calm
     enough to let Him salve me with His balm.

I drafted this three years ago in February 2013 and just discovered it in a notebook and revised a sagging stanza. This poem fits with what my church leaders have encouraged of late: more reverence for the Sabbath, more pondering, more spirit of worship. Taking time to be holy.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


by Gideon Burton
inspired by Walt Whitman's "A Noiseless Patient Spider" (below)

Not anything can measure it, not light
nor miles nor time nor words like "depth" or "height"
and I am, insect-like, a speck, so slight
so blank so mute so pale within the white
yet poised along the cusp of sound and sight
some primal part, down deep where neurons bite
where forces stir that blurred primeval night
with white-hot wonder, blazing through the fight
to see: the sea, the scene, each atom bright
from here from me somehow so wide despite
my jellied lenses, dulled by mortal rites
yet lasering through all till all ignites.
   Some filament is cast that cords the kite,
   I board the flight, I soar though sore in sight.

image: creative commons licensed by John Barton

A Noiseless Patient Spider 
by Walt Whitman
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

No Love for Mustard

Mustard contest or fraternity dare?
The fact that you can't tell the difference
tells you everything
In the spirit of my other food sonnets, I have penned this one about my least favorite of the condiments, mustard. This one I wrote with some imagery help from Janessa, a well-read sixth-grader with equally disapproving tastebuds. If this poem pleases you, you might also enjoy the vituperation of another would-be food, white chocolate. Anyway, my apologies to all the mustard lovers out there. No, I take that back. I stand by the poem.

No Love for Mustard
by Gideon Burton

Let's just be honest: mustard is a slime,
a sour, gooey, beige-brown-yellow paste
ground up from foot-long garden slugs who dine
on maggot larvae and on cabbage waste.
That color --oh, so cheery. Neon fraud
disguising moldy pesto, eye of newt.
But go ahead and lather up your dog
or victim burger with that poison stew--
that con of condiments, a pretzel's bane,
that choice of kings (if kings have gone insane),
that turdy must that does all food profane,
that musty turd, so wrong except in name.
   If heaven's food is fair, then oh, not this--
   the bug guts Satan smothers on his grits.

image: creative commons licensed by Swamibu (Flickr)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Write It

Write It
by Gideon Burton

Know this: if but an inky remnant scrawl
awakens memory, then wake. The wake
of thunders sunders, echoes, spreads and sprawls,
and you have heard and known it for your sake,

as though He tuned the atmosphere to breathe
your breathing. Rhythmed right, alive to light
too light to sink or wince or falling leave
the falling leaves their crimsons breaking bright.

So fight, so grasp two-fisted, whitely tight
what was to you so present thick with fire
with floods of rushing hushing stillness. Bite
the sugar-stinging bloody orange. Wire

and weld the ever wonder, page to ink,
to keep untamed, alive in all you think.

composed 12-9-12

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Another Weekend Drinking With the Sinners

Another Weekend Drinking With the Sinners
by Gideon Burton

Another weekend drinking with the sinners,
the wine like water freely freely passed around.
We regulars are here, plus some beginners.
We sometimes laugh, or drink without a sound.

Hung over from another weary week,
we're drinking to remember, not forget.
To fix what's broken, get up on our feet,
it's easier together, dry or wet.

In time you get to know the others' troubles,
at least you read the reasons why they come.
It's hard to razor smooth the bumpy stubble,
but harder still to walk away or run.

A piece of bread, a friend to hold the cup,
a reason to look down, and then look up.

Composed 8-19-2012. Revised 2-24-2013
Image: creative commons licensed, More Good Foundation

Thursday, October 11, 2012

To Carry Sorrows

creative commons licensed - fotopedia
To Carry Sorrows
by Gideon Burton

To carry sorrows, this the pressing weight
the press and wait, uncertain how much more
or what it's for, these carried sorrows, freight
toward a destination without shore
nor harbor, harboring the laden craft
suspended in a deepening depth, a grief
whose eddies slowly spin this shaking craft
til all is tearing, torn upon the reef.
To carry sorrows, bury sorrows deep
within the organs' darkened tissue rich
with wrong, the layered cankered cancers keep
their host and host the oily muck and pitch
and how can I abandon cells and skin
to leave these sorrows, even now, to Him?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

Good Friday
by Gideon Burton

When I forget--this settled peace, erased;
this stillness-fullness broken, emptied, pale,
the numbing noise of business in its place;
this freshness forced to something sick and stale;
my piece of peace a sharpened, cutting shard;
my wholeness raked with ragged ripping holes,
and everything once easy, cold and hard;
this world off-rhythmed, wobbling on its poles--
then come, Redeemer, come unpawn, untie,
undo, bind up, relieve, remind my timid eyes
to look again, to watch, to wait, to try
this trial, wrench from it the brighter prize,
and let you fight for me on bloody knees,
where praying shakes the silent olive trees.

photo: creative commons licensed from aftab via Flickr

Sunday, March 25, 2012


by Gideon Burton

in memory of our first grandchild, Olive Burton,
who came to us, and left us, on March 25, 2012 

The ultrasound technician didn't know
the baby couldn't stay. Her mother, close
to dying, wouldn't last to keep the flow
of growing until safety interposed.
"And that's her arm, and here's her beating heart.
She's healthy, normal, right on track with growth."
We watched my son with tender groaning start
their child-grief, Adam clutching Eve and both
a witness to the miracle, the spike
of seeing such divinity in reach
that in our darkness nothing seems more light,
more fleeting-weighty than a parent's weeks.
     Oh, little Olive, here and gone again;
     we'll dance with you when time at last unbends.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love Rocks

creative commons licensed by James Jordan
Love Rocks
by Gideon Burton

for Karen

On balance, I am not -- not balanced, all
these years of trying (and I know I'm trying):
I run, careening, leaning, then I fall
again. (Just saying, not at all implying.)
And what a lovely sentiment to state
"You are the ballast force, the leveling,
the plumb line, ever true, my steady mate,
as constant as my constant life disheveling."
But you, my equal, mess with gravity,
creative force disordering with grace.
A steady state? to you, depravity:
you smiling think, and soon explodes our place.
   Our love has rocked us sleeping and awake,
   a living rhythm, holding as all breaks.