The chapter headings in Only Breath (coming June 19, kindle pre-orders available here) make up a sonnet in the Shakespearean tradition, namely 14 lines in 3 4-line stanzas (quatrains) and a two-line unit (couplet), all iambic pentameter. The couplet turns attention inward and usually is indented slightly to set it off.
Some who read Mikawadizi Storms thought it had too many chapters (45, each for a separate character). These readers will be delighted to hear Only Breath has 14. Okay, why twist the entire structure of the novel into a sonnet? Good question.
A deep theme in Only Breath is the ‘inner voice’ and it’s role in self-consciousness, especially as conflicted spirits work through their troubles using internal dialog (or monologue, depending on how you count). There’s a theory out there, springing from Paul Oppenheimer’s 1989 book, The Birth of the Modern Mind: Self, Consciousness, and the Invention of the Sonnet, that modern thought and literature were born with the invention of the sonnet in 13th-century Italy. According to Oppenheimer, the sonnet is the first lyric form since the fall of the Roman Empire meant not for music or performance but for silent reading. It is designed to portray the self in conflict and to explore self-consciousness. Other interesting developments came about in Europe (very generally) around the same time – writing in the languages of everyday speech, more general literacy and access to written works. Some say the very idea of reading in one’s head (not aloud) developed early in the middle ages. St. Augustine reports in his Confessions that he was surprised to see St. Ambrose reading to himself – this would have been around 383 AD. Can it be that ancient Europeans all moved their lips when they read? It’s hard to picture Plato doing that.
So, on Oppenheimer’s theory, Petrarch lusts after a beautiful married woman, and the sonnet structure provides him the perfect canvas for the churn in his head as he watches her in church. The same lyric structure works for Shakespeare as he mulls over his feelings for his handsome young friend and later the dark lady. In the process emerges the modern concept of self, intimately associated with the monologue (or the speaker of the monologue) in one’s head.
Since I wanted to explore the inner voice and self-consciousness in Only Breath, arranging the chapter headings into a sonnet seemed a fun idea and a fitting tribute to this lyric form. So, here’s the poem
HIS INNER VOICE WHISPERS SOLILOQUY,
HIS SEETHING BRAIN IS FILLED WITH COVERT WORDS,
WHILE LOST HIS HEART CONVERTS TO MELODY,
THIS TEEMING FLOCK OF SWARMING CACKLING BIRDS.
WHEN WORDS ARISE INSIDE TO TEST THEIR WINGS,
TO WHISPER SINS NO OTHER EARS CAN HEAR,
WHOSE MOUTH IS THIS WHO SPEAKS THESE FADING THINGS,
THAT RATTLE INNER AIR THEN DISAPPEAR?
WHOSE SECRET VOICE IS THIS THAT DARES TO TALK,
AND BRINGS THESE AIRY THOUGHTS FROM MUTE TO BREATH?
WHOSE SECRETS FALL WHEN INNER DOORS UNLOCK?
WHAT LONG SUBMERGED IDEAS FROM THIS DEPTH,
RISE AND FLY LIKE LIBERATED BIRDS,
WHEN THOUGHTS TRANSFORM TO BREATHING BURNING WORDS?
It’s all in CAPS because these are the chapter headings.