Some Ideas

When people discuss sonnets, they usually argue for two forms: Petrarchan and Shakespearean, although we can also talk of Spenserian. If you are uncertain about these structures, which are largely to do with rhyme scheme and metre, and want to find out more, click here. They proved popular forms and have been much imitated, but they are not by any means the only forms for a sonnet. After all, like other poetry, a sonnet does not have to rhyme. And just as the Shakespearean sonnet form was an innovation on the Petrarchan, so your sonnets can be innovatory too. This is the 21st century. You can imitate a traditional style with modern content, or play with the style too and come up with your own format within the 14 line basic rule, which is the only structural rule we are operating.

Sonnets are actually incredibly flexible, despite the apparent constriction of the line number. If you do want to rhyme, what about breaking with tradition in any of the following ways?

Using some triplets. For example: 4 sets of triplets and a finishing couplet, or abbbcccdddeeea, or abbbcccadddeee or any combination of triplets and couplets *.

Rhyming penultimate words, or floating the rhyme in different positions in each line.

Rhyming 7 lines apart (1 & 7, 2 & 8 etc).

Traditional sonnets often have some kind of change of thought or pattern between the first 8 and the last 6 lines, but what about playing with numbers in the way lines are joined together by sense or rhyme? It's a bit like deciding your attacking//defensive pattern in football with 14 aside - look at some sample combinations:
4,4,4,23,3,3,3, 23,3,2,3,36,4,47,75,4,3,2

What about playing with line lengths? While the traditional sonnet tends to use the iambic pentameter (10 syllables in unstressed, stressed pattern) because it seems to suit English well, there's no need at all to stick to it. Line length is your choice and doesn't need to be the same for every line. Rhythms are your choice too.
The tone can be lyrical, angry, conversational, introspective, gritty, bubbly - whatever your poem demands.
[* If you are new to the use of letters to designate rhyming schemes, the first line rhyme is marked as a and any line that rhymes with that is also designated as a. The next new rhyme is b and any lines rhyming with that are also b, and so on to line 14, each new rhyme moving on a letter.]

Yes it does by our rules, although it is unlikely to be the best poem we receive! That said, much can be conveyed in a few words, as shown here (though not a sonnet): Sleeping Child

As I carry you
sleeping in my arms,
I picture refugees
and feel the dead weight of you
against my heart

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Poetry competition 2007