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A little jewel box
on 26 February 2003
"Poets write sonnets because it makes poems easier to write. Readers read them because it makes their lives easier to bear"
That's how Don Paterson concludes his crash course on the sonnet which forms the introduction to this little jewel box of a book. Master of the aphorism, he carries his elegantly succinct style into the notes on each one, deftly throwing open even the least inviting and initially inaccessible poems of the collection.
There are many classics here, from all the undisputed experts. Even Shakespeare is allowed only one entry though, leaving plenty of room for newer and less familiar writers. But why do the editors of these collections never feel able to slip in one of their own works? An acclaimed sonneteer himself, Don Paterson is ideal as editor but surely he should qualify as one of the 101 too?
You don't need to know one end of a sonnet from another to get a lot out of this collection. If he'd called it 101 poems with rather a pleasing shape, which each takes up about two thirds of a small page, and most of which will kick you in the stomach, I'd still have carried the book around for weeks, and would still be reaching for it when heading for the bus stop. I'm not sure it's made my life easier to bear, but it's certainly made an English February easier to endure.