Rogue Ink

June 19, 2008

Sonnets Are Sexy

Filed under: Copywriting,Writing — Tei @ 4:15 am
Tags: , , ,

This is true. Nothing you say will deter me on this point. There is nothing sexier than the rhyme and meter of a sonnet, particularly when transposed to the modern day. I am about to make a point on writing in general and how you can take a little lesson from the sonnet when you feel all restricted about the structure many of us are forced to follow when writing, say, guest posts, or articles, or web copy chock full of keywords.

Before I do that, however, I must prove my point. To wit: three modern sonnets that are sexy as hell. None of them are Shakespeare. I figure you had enough of high school when you were in high school. Won’t make you do that again, much as we do love Big Willie. Plus, I doubt any of you are writing in Old Elizabethan English, because if you were, I would have to skewer you for using creative spelling. I realize there wasn’t a formal dictionary in Shakespeare’s day, so I would not dream to correct the Bard himself. Or Milton, for that matter. If I see anyone who was born past 1933 appending extra ‘e’s to words whence they do not belong (yeah, that’s right, I said whence) I will hurt them badly, and dance upon their grave here in blogland, under the heading “The Vanquished Terrorists of English.”

Why 1933? First person who can tell me gets a pony.

Right. So. Modern Sonnets. I defy you not to get all hot and bothered by the time you’ve finished these.


This is for the afternoon we lay in the leaves
After it had been winter for half a year,
And I kissed you and unbuttoned your jeans
And touched you and made you smile, my dear.
And of all the good things that love means,
One of them is to touch you there
And make you smile, among the leaves,
And feel your wetness and your sweet short hair,
And kiss your breasts and put my tongue
Into the delirium between your soft pale thighs,
Because the winter has been much too long
And soon will come again, when this love dies.
I will hear sermons preached, and some of them be true,
But I will not regret that afternoon with you.

C.B. Trail

Yeah, you thought you’d be bored by now, didn’t you? Suckers. I started you off with the easy one. Here’s another one, by the good Kim Addonizio.

First Poem for You

I like to touch your tattoos in complete
darkness, when I can’t see them. I’m sure of
where they are, know by heart the neat
lines of lightning pulsing just above
your nipple, can find, as if by instinct, the blue
swirls of water on your shoulder where a serpent
twists, facing a dragon. When I pull you
to me, taking you until we’re spent
and quiet on the sheets, I love to kiss
the pictures in your skin. They’ll last until
you’re seared to ashes; whatever persists
or turns to pain between us, they will still
be there. Such permanence is terrifying.
So I touch them in the dark, but touch them, trying.

Kim Addonizio

You and I both know I’ve already won this bet, but here’s one more, not specifically about sex, just to bring home the point that sonnets are sexy regardless of subject matter.

The Desire Manuscripts
V. In the Mourning Fields
(The Aeneid, Book Six)

The world below is starless, stark and deep,
and while you lay beside me, my golden bough,
plunged in the shadowy marsh of sleep,

I read about the infernal realm, and how
a soldier walked forth in the House of Dis
while still alive, breaking an eternal law

by braving death’s kingdom, a vast abyss,
the ground sunken in fog – eerie, treacherous –
guarded by a mad beast, three-throated Cerberus.

Tonight I read about us – foundering, hopeless –
in the Mourning Fields and the myrtle grove,
wandering on separate paths, lost in darkness.

It is written that we were consumed by love,
here on earth, a pitiless world above.

Edward Hirsch

(Note to the authors of all these poems – I am not intending to disrespect your copyright laws, just sharing the love. If you want me to take ’em down, by all means, say the word. I linked people to Amazon for your books, though. Trying to increase the poetry readers in the world. Don’t hate me.)

Now then.

What the hell do sonnets have to do with copywriting?

The English majors among you are just itching to get down to the comment box, where you are going to inform me that none of the above are technical sonnets, because they casually break some rules of strict meter. Hate to ruin your fun, but this is about to be my point, and I need it to prove to you that the sexiness of sonnets is relevant, so you’re out of luck. Feel free to rant anyway, it’s just that you’re going to sound silly now. Sorry ’bout that.

The above sonnets continue to follow the basic rules of sonnets – fourteen lines, specific rhyme scheme, and more or less correct meter. The reason the poets get away with breaking some of the rules is because they are versed enough (heh, writing puns) in the rules of a sonnet to break them, gently, so that neither you nor I notice until we go back and start counting off syllables on our fingers. Which brings me to my first point.

You can break the rules if you know what the rules are.

In copywriting, there are basic rules. One of the obvious ones is: Use correct grammar. However, this rule can be broken, and not even the immense wrath of the Rogue will befall you, if you know what you are about when you use incorrect grammar. For example, I can say the following:

Sonnets bring with the sexy, dudes.

And none of you are going to freak out, though ‘bringing with’ is not a recognizable thing to do with sexy under anyone’s formal rules of grammar. This is slang, and it is used for comedic purposes, and I am allowed to do it because I know what I’m doing. If my entire blog post were composed of slang like that, you would all want to beat me over the head and tie me to my skateboard and send me rolling back down the hill to groovyville where I would belong. Since I do know what I’m doing, you just rolled your eyes and let me be. See how you’re still reading? You wouldn’t be, if I didn’t know what the rules were. You’d be all pissed at me, and you’d leave and never come back, and I’d be sad, because then who would debate gender bias in my comments? The pixies, that’s who. And they don’t even have genders.

You can break the standard rules. You can put more text on a web page than is recommended if you know what you’re doing. You can break rules of grammar, of sentence structure, and of formality. You cannot do any of that if you don’t know what the rules are to begin with. You will sound like an idiot, and you will sound like an idiot who does not know what he is doing. If I misuse grammar on this blog, you all know that I either did it because it’s a casual turn of phrase used conversationally (because this is a pub, not the platform of the inaugural address) or because I am being hilarious.

Laugh it up, denizens. Ain’t nothin’ but a butter biscuit.

If you sound like you are following the rules, you are going to bore us all.

One of the things I love about Addonzio’s sonnet is that I damn well did not realize it was a sonnet until I hit the last rhyming stanza. That is some skills, y’all. (Looky there, did it again. Breaking rules left and right today. I must be a grammatical genius.) The best sonnets are not so obviously sonnets that they beat you over the head with it. Poets should not so painstakingly follow the rules of sonneting that doing so compromises the flow of their language.

Same holds true for copywriting. If you are writing a keyword-rich article, and someone tells you the best length for a paragraph is 200 words and the optimal number of times you can use the keyword is once per paragraph, you are going to sound a damn fool if you adhere to those rules so strictly that it compromises the copywriting. This is a rookie mistake. There’s a lot of copywriting strewn about the web right now that is technically correct. Problem is, it sounds dumb. None of the writers is paying attention to the way it sounds. They’re too busy trying to get the right number of words in the paragraph.

Listen to the way your writing sounds. Read it out loud if you have to. (Note: I would not entirely recommend reading those sonnets out loud at the office. Just a small piece of advice from me to you. Unless you work in a sex shop or something. In which case, I just upped your chances of selling something battery-powered. You’re welcome.) If your writing would sound better if you bent one of the formal rules of your chosen genre, then by all means, bend it. Wrench it sideways. Contort it into Cirque de Soleil. Then read it out loud again. If it sounds good, I guarantee you no one is going to care that you broke a formal rule.

Why? They won’t even notice you have broken it. It’s crazy how that works. If you are skilled enough, your bent rule will sound so natural that unless you have the anal editor from doom on your hands, they won’t pay your contorted, backbending, pretzel-twisted rule any mind at all. And even then, evil editors from doom often know from good writing.

Sonnets are crazy sexy.

Just felt like reiterating that. If you want your copywriting, or any other kind of writing, to be crazy sexy in a similar fashion, though not so rhymey, go ahead and bend a few rules.

Go learn what the rules are first, though. You cannot gently bend rules if you don’t know what they are. You are liable to bend something else by accident, like a gerund. And nobody likes a bent gerund, do they?

Subscribe. I’m bringing sexy sonnets back.


  1. That was hot. My Amazon wish list thanks you.

    I agree: it’s all about the audio. Good writers do Dolby. In the puddles of consciousness between draft and finished piece, I often substitute words with temporary ‘holding rhythms,’ then come back to balance them later. I know I’ll need four syllables to make that phrase or sentence feel right, so I’ll fill it in, hash it out, and da diddy da.

    Comment by Nick Cernis — June 19, 2008 @ 8:54 am | Reply

  2. Tei,

    “You can put more text on a web page than is recommended if you know what you’re doing.”

    Oh, thank GOD.

    The first one turned me completely red. I’ll be blushing for half an hour now. Good grief. Sonnets are apparently crazy sexy.

    Shakespeare’s sexy sometimes, too, but I never blush.

    Your Grandma was born?
    Your Grandpa was born?
    The chocolate chip cookie was invented.
    The singing telegram was introduced.
    King Kong was released.
    Prohibition was lifted (Lusty Weevil pub says hurrah!).
    First modern sighting of the Loch Ness Monster.
    First drive-in theatre opens in Camden, NJ.
    FM radio is patented.

    Read it out loud. Best rule ever. Write the way you speak. Pretend it’s a conversation.

    Great post. It’s shower time anyway. I think I’ll make mine cold.



    Comment by Kelly — June 19, 2008 @ 10:57 am | Reply

  3. Awfully early in the morning to get my blood boiling that hot. Dang, John just left for work too. I am a rebel for breaking rules. So I am totally on board with this. Oh, and I did have that Anal Editer on my hands. He didn’t understand the concept of *Creative License*

    Rule makers…..

    Comment by wendikelly — June 19, 2008 @ 12:15 pm | Reply

  4. Sometime reader, first time commenter. Haven’t finished reading this article, but wanted to point out what my first hunch told me: 1933 was the year the first complete Oxford English Dictionary was published. Wiki confirms it:

    I originally thought it was Webster’s (though that was published in 1807, if I read correctly), but that originated American English, so I guess you view it as less of a standard.

    Comment by FekketCantenel — June 19, 2008 @ 12:44 pm | Reply

  5. Nick: Da diddy da, indeed, my friend. I have nothing that can follow da diddy da.

    Kelly: Crazy crazy sexy, baby. Ain’t nothing like it. And, though all excellent 1933 events, all wrong.

    Wendi: Indeed. Rule Makers. Ptooie.

    Fekket: You win the pony. I’ll have it shipped to your personal fairyland. Well done, indeed. The OED is my favorite dictionary. It’s a personal love, and nothing more, not a judgment upon the Webster’s. I like knowing origins.

    Comment by Tei — June 19, 2008 @ 3:56 pm | Reply

  6. Tei,

    Good one! I was hunting for something to do with language, but when I remembered Prohibition I stopped looking. You running a pub and all.

    No pony for my fairies to ride. They’ll have to catch the bus. 😦

    Until later,


    Comment by Kelly — June 19, 2008 @ 8:08 pm | Reply

  7. Sorry I got here to late for the 1933 guess, as I have recently been reading up on the history of the OED recently, and the year stuck in my head.

    Even better, I have a wonderful spouse who has shared the secret username and password from said awesome spouse’s workplace which gives 100% free access to the complete OED online.

    Envy me!

    Comment by jimsmuse — June 19, 2008 @ 11:08 pm | Reply

  8. @Tei: I agree.

    Phew. So I must not be Anal Evil Editor then. Also, I love to read Cormac McCarthy, who breaks so many rules he made me short-circuit the first time I read him. But I got over it long ago and actually came to love it.

    @Kelly: “Write the way you speak.” Ohhh, I have to disagree with that sometimes! In fact, I’ve been taught the opposite. But in general I think it depends on the authors. (And the rule-breaking rule. And the kind of thing they’re writing.) There are times I’ve been forced to say, “Listen to me: you simply cannot write that way. It’s all kinds of nasty and it’s not working.” Other times, though, yes, it works. For example, I enjoy that kind of writing in Tei’s posts (I do imagine her to speak exactly the way she writes these). For her, it works.

    Comment by Steph — June 20, 2008 @ 1:32 am | Reply

  9. Steph,

    Okay. Don’t write the way you speak. Write the way I speak. 😉


    Where did the post I just read in my email go?

    a. You have analysis paralysis, chick. Be Nike, for goodness’ sake. Just do it. Though I know exactly what you mean, that kind of writing is more taxing than coming over here and blabbing.
    b. You should send me the raw copy that’s killing you. Shh… we could work something out cheap. A Vision-finding edit. Email me. I’ll bet you’re not as far off as you feel.



    Comment by Kelly — June 20, 2008 @ 11:01 am | Reply

  10. Ok. That was incredibly sexy. Forget all the other things people say my marriage needs (porn, bondage, voyeurs, third parties and time off without the kids) – its settled. I need a man, preferably my adorable, uxorious husband, to write me sonnets.

    Comment by MonstersMama — June 20, 2008 @ 8:50 pm | Reply

  11. Crazy sexy sonnets, indeed. None of those examples, hot as they are, breaks the rules in quite the same sexy way as e. e. cummings, though. His sonnets are so hot, they’re puddle-wonderful. Millay and Neruda also wrote some sexy sonnets.

    The rule-breaking in these examples seems a little too bold to be completely sexy, for my taste, but naturally everyone is going to differ on that point. And the rules aren’t just about rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter–the ‘turn’ in the second half of the sonnet, you know, and such. I also find a sonnet which maintains strict meter until the last line, which might be a fourteener or something, to be incredibly sexy.

    Great post. Thank you for pointing out the sexiness of the sonnet.

    Comment by Curtis — June 21, 2008 @ 2:37 am | Reply

  12. Hello Tei,

    Would you like to exchange links? I’ll add a link to rogueink on my Birthdays of Poets blog if you add a link to my blog on rogueink. Let me know, thx. :^)


    Comment by Andy — June 21, 2008 @ 3:31 am | Reply

  13. I have died and gone to reader heaven, please do not wake me!


    Comment by Karen Swim — June 21, 2008 @ 10:09 pm | Reply

  14. I like the Byron that ends:

    In secret we met–
    In silence I grieve,
    That thy heart could forget,
    Thy spirit deceive
    If I should meet thee
    After long years,
    How should I greet thee?–
    With silence and tears.

    Comment by Anthony Lawrence — June 22, 2008 @ 2:07 pm | Reply

  15. Hekko Tei! Would you please contact me via my email as I would like to talk to you about writing a piece for our site. Thank you!

    Comment by shawn — June 28, 2008 @ 5:14 am | Reply

  16. i’m definetly impressed. i had no idea sonnets were sexy. i’m going to have sleep on this.

    Comment by mrs. sarah OTT. — July 1, 2008 @ 5:33 am | Reply

  17. All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now,
    and after this one just a dozen
    to launch a little ship on love’s storm-tossed seas,
    then only ten more left like rows of beans.
    How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan
    and insist the iambic bongos must be played
    and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines,
    one for every station of the cross.
    But hang on here wile we make the turn
    into the final six where all will be resolved,
    where longing and heartache will find an end,
    where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen,
    take off those crazy medieval tights,
    blow out the lights, and come at last to bed.

    -by Billy Collins

    Comment by Tessa — July 17, 2008 @ 4:02 pm | Reply

  18. […] jaws should desist and sigh with relief at the knowledge that yes, I know the rules of grammar, so I have the right to break them, […]

    Pingback by I need a %@#*%@$(@#^!%ing holiday « because I said so — July 19, 2008 @ 12:42 pm | Reply

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