I've been spending ye past few days dipping into THE RIDDLE OF SHAKESPEARE'S SONNETS, an anthology of essays publish'd by Basic Books in 1962. I'm half-way through Stephen Spender's "The Alike and the Other", and then will devour "A Poetics of Infatuation" by R. P. Blackmur. Then comes Wilde's "The Portrait of Mr W. H."--an essay that I have read numerous times and always enjoy returning to. Whenever I read the sonnets of Shakespeare or H. P. Lovecraft I am tempted yet again to try my hand at my own sequence. My first sonnet sequence, Songs of Sesqua Valley, was compos'd with much enthusiasm yet little art.
What is ye riddle of Shakespeare's sonnets? Happily, Shakespeare is a sphinx and does not tell; although plenty of scholars, poets, and lunatics have driven themselves to madness in their psychic investigations of the poems. Did Shakespeare write these for publication and distribution? If so, are they profoundly autobiographical and do they expose extreme romantic/sexual situations? Is the poet's love for the young man of the opening sonnets similar to a father's for his son, or a lover to his sexual obsession? We do not know, we cannot know; & therefore the books I love moft are the ones that discuss the art of the sonnets, my favourite
being ye book at left by Helen Vendler.
Yet, as much as I can appreciate the sonnets on an artistic and intellectual level, so too can I relate to them emotionally; for I am one who has been self-subjected to the impossible love that dare not speak its name. I have suffer'd this madness keenly twice in life. The first time the fellow died in my arms after having snorted street smack and choking to death. The second time the fellow moved in with me, and is with me still. These boys drove me crazy, and happily that madness is now entirely a thing of the past. I see now that the insanity of obsessive love had nothing to do with the objects of my adoration but was entirely self-impos'd. It was a madness of the mind as much as an aching of ye loins. It has, I think, keenly influenced one of the huge themes of my weird fiction--the longing for the mystical and perhaps unattainable thing. It thrives in Sesqua Valley.
I've been trying to write a "sequel" to "O, Christmas Tree," that old collaboration with Jessica Salmonson. But I think I have lost ye mood to do an actual sequel and now with to write an entirely original Yule tale set in Sesqua that has no connection to any previous yarn of mine. Thinking of my Sesqua tales of the past, they don't seem weird enough for all the possible potential the idea of the valley contains. Sesqua Valley is an invention that continues to deepen in my imagination, and I want to write tales of the valley that are truly weird fiction.
And I want to write a new sonnet for whatever story I compose for the Christmas anthology to which I will be submitting this new thing.