Kevin J M Keane

Relating the Formal Characteristics of the Sonnet: A Theory of Centred Form


The sonnet is characterized formally by the separated categories of number of lines, stanzaic form, volta, isometry and rhyme scheme. This inquiry sets out instead to uncover and weigh evidence for the claim that a sonnet unfolds from its centre to form a pattern in which its formal characteristics inhere. This idea is referred to as the theory of centred form. Theoretical evidence is provided by the construction of a working model from first principles and the subsequent modelling of the formal characteristics of five classic sonnet traditions. From simplified rhyme schemes, centre arrays and two-array centre matrices of four and five elements are deduced and tested by developing them into array models. In each of the models presented, equivalents of the sonnet’s formal characteristics unfold from the model’s centre: the equivalent of isometry results from the development of a fixed array of elements; the equivalent of the volta is deemed to occur at the point of greatest contrast between directionality flows in the models; the equivalent of stanzaic form results from changes in directionality; rhyme scheme equivalents result from cyclicity in array development; and the equivalent of fourteen line sonnet length in the models is effected by the limit between array innovation and redundancy. To mitigate the risk of error and bias in the array models, a second type of model is developed independently of them to act as a cross-check on their results. Finally, practical evidence for the claim is furnished in the centred form sonnet cycle, Memorial Day: the Unmaking of a Sonnet. The balance of evidence strongly supports the claim: A simple binary pattern unfolding from the equivalent of the sonnet’s centre relates equivalents of the sonnet’s so-called formal characteristics and, in so doing, suspends the boundary between reflective thought and creative writing.

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