David Bromwich, editor
American Sonnets: An Anthology.
Library of America, 197 pages, $20

Who was the wag who coined “American sonnet” as the impish moniker we now know it? Like it or not, it looks like we’re stuck with it now: the standard Italian and English models of the fourteen-line “little song” may have long sufficed to classify just about every spinoff on the original patent, but these days, heaven knows, anything goes. Where exactly that double-edged catchphrase leaves us, however, is ripe for debate. As tongue-in-cheek neologisms go, there’s a certain snappy aptness about it, bowing as it does in the general direction of venerable tradition while winking at the period fashion for playing loose and fast with the formal trappings that have streamlined the sonnet’s sound and sense for close to eight centuries. Yet taken as a sign of the times, it’s a trademark that can’t...

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