Most people know what a sonnet is because in addition to simply hearing about them in English class, they are exposed to lots of examples from Shakespeare and even get to watch Snoopy act out Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous “How Do I Love Thee” on Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown (1975):
There are basically two rules to sonnets, depending on whether you take the English/Shakespearian or the Italian/Petrarchan:
- Fourteen lines in iambic pentameter (five feet, with each foot an unstressed and then a stressed syllable)
- Rhyme scheme: English ababcdcd efefgg OR Italian abbaabba cdecde
Note that both types have an octet (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines); these are generally used as a sort of problem/solution setup. This how Sherman Alexie can get away with calling this next example a sonnet of sorts. If you know the format, you get the joke.
Whole Wheat Bagel
Grape Nuts and Non-Fat Milk
Alexie, Sherman. The Summer of Black Widows. New York: Hanging Loose Press, 1996.