Marilyn L. Taylor
is the author of five collections of poetry. She has taught regularly for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Honors College, and leads poetry workshops at the Woodland Pattern Book Center, the UWM School of Continuing Education, AllWriters Studio in Waukesha, Lawrence University’s Bjorklunden Seminar Center, Redbird Studio in Bay View, and elsewhere.
She is a Contributing Editor for The Writer
magazine, where her articles on craft appear bi-monthly. She served as Milwaukee’s Poet Laureate for two years, 2004 and 2005. Visit her website
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Aunt Eudora’s Harlequin Romance
She turns the bedlamp on. The book falls open
in her mottled hands, and while she reads
her mouth begins to quiver, forming words
like Breathless. Promises. Elope.
As she turns the leaves, Eudora’s cheek
takes on a bit of bloom. Her frowzy hair
thickens and turns gold, her dim eyes clear,
the wattles vanish from her slender neck.
Her waist, emerging from its ring of flesh,
bends to the side. Breasts that used to hang
like pockets rise and ripen; her long legs
tremble. Her eyes close, she holds her breath—
the steamy pages flutter by, unread,
as lover after lover finds her bed.
[Originally published in Passager and in Subject to Change
(David Roberts Books, 2004)]
Okay, I’ll be totally honest: it’s not as though I’d never written a sonnet before I came up with this one. I’d actually written many, to tell you the truth—having figured out that the form was probably a pretty good fit for me. I knew, for instance, that I could simply head for the nearest narrow room, drag my fascination for meter and rhyme in there with me, and emerge a week or two later with fourteen lines of rhymed pentameter, complete with a volta in just the right spot, more or less. Sonnets had also become my main alibi for avoiding those mean streets where nearly everybody except me seemed able to sound wonderfully edgy, like Creeley or Plath.
Before long, however, I started to face the fact that some of those well-tempered quatrains were sounding a little bit thin, a little bit boring. Just as I’d been restricting myself to traditional formal conventions, I realized I’d been sticking with some pretty predictable, yawn-inducing subject matter, too.
Fortuitously, however, that was precisely when I’d begun reading in some depth the work of R.S. Gwynn, Molly Peacock, X.J. Kennedy, Bruce Bennett, Eric Nelson, and several other contemporary poets who were writing sonnets with subversion firmly in mind. Why not try to do the same? Why write of love, when I could be writing of lechery? Or of forgiveness, rather than sweet revenge? Run-of-the-mill fidelity instead of promiscuity? Smug youth, instead of lusty old age?
And that is when Aunt Eudora was born. She represents my first foray into subversion, and although she’s hardly shocking, she neatly broke the ice for me. Since her initial incarnation, I think I can say that my sonnets have grown more interesting. Not dirty, exactly, and not necessarily erotic, either, because they don’t take themselves too seriously. But ever since “Aunt Eudora’s Harlequin Romance,” they’ve become a whole lot more fun to write. I’m thinking they might be more fun to read, as well.