The Poetic Turn: The Seat of the Soul of the Sonnet

24 07 2011

In her introduction to The Penguin Book of the Sonnet: 500 Years of a Classic Tradition in English, Phillis Levin discusses eloquently the power of the volta, or the turn, in the sonnet.  Levin states:

“…the arrangement of lines into patterns of sound serves a function we could call architectural, for these various acoustical partitions accentuate the element that gives the sonnet its unique force and character: the volta, the ‘turn’ that introduces into the poem a possibility for transformation, like a moment of grace.

“The volta, the sonnet’s turn, promotes innovative approaches because whatever has occurred thus far, a poet is compelled, by inhabiting the form, to make a sudden leap at a particular point, to move into another part of the terrain.  Reading sonnets, one constantly confronts the infinite variety of moves a poet can make to negotiate a ‘turn.’  Though a poet will sometimes seem to ignore the volta, its absence can take on meaning, as well–that is, if the poem already feels like a sonnet.  We could say that for the sonnet, the volta is the seat of its soul.  And the reader’s experience of this turn (like a key change) reconfigures the experience of all the lines that both precede and follow it.  The volta foregrounds the paradigm, making us particularly conscious of the rhyme scheme; likewise, the poet’s anticipation guides every move he or she will make.  The moment a pebble is dropped into a pond, evidence of that action resonates outward, and at the same time continues to draw the eye back to the point from which all succeeding motions ensue.”

Along with three other experts on the sonnet–Heather Dubrow, Paul Muldoon, and Susan Wolfson–Levin discusses the above idea, and many other ideas about the sonnet, in a panel called “The Art of the Sonnet.”  A video of the panel discussion can be found here:

And it seems as though video poet Tapas de Luna had some fun with this panel, taking her own turn with the presentation, having some riotous fun…  Enjoy!