I’m amazed by the flexibility of the sonnet form. When you first read Kelly Cherry’s delightful poem “On Value,” you wouldn’t notice that it’s a sonnet (except that I’ve just told you!). The enjambment of nearly every line swooshes you past the end-rhymes without your noticing them. You read Cherry’s meditation on the philosophical concept of “value”; you smile at the interpolations of what her hair is doing. It’s only on a second or third reading that you see how Cherry has maintained a strict sonnet form: iambic pentameter with the rhyme scheme of ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG. She keeps this sonnet form submerged within the poem, yet uses it to mold and sustain the poem’s progress. (Watch, for instance, what happens to the sense of “love” during the course of the poem.) Try reading the poem aloud while pausing at each line’s end, and you’ll bring the rhyme scheme to the surface.
The graduate philosophy department at the University
of Virginia emphasized analytic philosophy.
Assigned to write a paper on value:
What is value? Something that something has,
A property? Product of a point of view?
A measurement, perhaps, or function of—
What? I was working on a PhD.
I had long hair. We value what we love,
I thought (minutes before love became free).
My bangs fell to my eyes. I was sitting
At a small Formica table, legal pad
In hand, when it struck me I’d be quitting
School soon. I love philosophy but had,
I saw, no way within the practice of it
To say I value it because I love it.
Above image by Ed Schipul, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.