The available words in whatever order works

Today’s Reading: K. Silem Mohammad, Sonnagrams 1-20

I could wax academic about how these anagrammatic scramblings of Shakespeare’s sonnets reclaim lost affective territory for poetry, how they recover the “superficial” values of wit and formal skill from the cult of meter-making argument and content-extending form. I could add that using Shakespeare as source material is the perfect way to make such a reclaimation, since the Bard is both the literal poster boy for the kind of poetry-person who sneers at such “mere” cleverness, and a classic practitioner of it himself.

But any kind of dissertating would seem counter to the spirit of these poems. They’re simply fun, and funny as hell. Like Christian Bök in his Eunoia (a clear influence), Mohammad has set himself a formal challenge so elaborately impossible-sounding that content can be left to shift for itself—there’s delight enough in seeing him crack yet another lettristic rubik's cube and still manage any kind of sense at all.

Mohammad clearly realizes that fact, and he uses it as fodder for a couple of pretty good self-deprecating jokes (“something something something, rhymes with girl”), but also, more radically, for self-celebrations that seem part battle rap, part ghazal: “I am the holy idiot of rhymes; / I dish these tasty iambs in my sleep,” “...I pray this adage may hold tight: / Mohammad sweetens seagull panties right.”

When is the last time a poet was allowed that kind of swagger? And really, in the net-down world of post-confessional, free verse lyric, what could a poet ever do to earn it? Prior to all of the very legitimate conceptual readings that can and should be offered about these poems, it’s a joy to see a poet simply taking joy in the endless recombinatory possibilities of language.

There’s “the best words in the best order,” and then there’s this.

Lots of Sonnagrams around the web, here are a few:

Lemon Hound
Wag's Revue