Versions of the Sonnet: Tradition and Form in Don Paterson’s 40 Sonnets

Michael R Glenfield

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paper


Don Paterson’s 40 Sonnets uses different versions of the sonnet to explore the
boundaries of the form. The central moment of the sequence is ‘The Version’, a seventy- sevenline prose poem written as a translation of an ‘untranslatable’ sonnet. This paper aims to determine how a long form prose poem can be defined as a sonnet. By examining Paterson’s use of the form in sequence it asks: does 40 Sonnets contain forty sonnets? This paper conducts a brief survey of historic sonnets to define a series of features, including proportion, length and topic, which can be considered typical. Paterson’s poems conform to some, but rarely all, of the characteristics of a traditional sonnet. 40 Sonnets includes variety and experimentation by employing word, visual and prose sonnets. Paterson uses versions of the form in different voices and styles, altering each sonnet to fit the voice. This method culminates in ‘The Version’, dedicated to the anti-poet Nicanor Parra. The poem becomes an anti-sonnet, creating a paradox which challenges the concept of poetic form while employing it. The paper concludes that Paterson uses versions of sonnet voices to innovate within traditional formal boundaries. This allows him to create a sequence of forty sonnets which includes both recognizable and experimental examples of the form.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sept 2019
EventInternational Conference on Poetry Studies : Poetry between Creation and Interpretation - Birbeck, University of London , London, United Kingdom
Duration: 21 Sept 2019 → …


ConferenceInternational Conference on Poetry Studies
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period21/09/19 → …


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