The Sonnet Machine: Experiment #1

Arthur Woolf

I was bending over slowly to adjust my white and perfect ankle sock lined
up in the corridor for maths.
Arthur Woolf was what we called a big boy: smudge of moustache, and
smoked alone in the toilets.
Arthur Woolf did not take maths.
He took woodwork. His school shorts were tight around his thighs. His

Hips strolled past our right neat line of clever girls and boys on his big
boy’s way to the woodwork workshop.
I was bending over to adjust my little sock. I was taking my own sweet
Time. Arthur Woolf stopped his saunter to the woodwork workshop.
He had his hands in his tight shorts pockets. And he found me

Wanting. He shook his head. No not like this, he said, and bent down from
his waist to his shoes as I was. His ropy arms were hairy, dark silky hairs
I could see.
Arthur Woolf looked upside down at me. You must do it like this, he said,
and knelt down on the tiles on his one bare knee, rolling down his long
boy’s sock with his dirty
Big boy’s fingers. I could see.
And his woodworking shoulders like slow skinless animals alive in his

I took in Arthur Woolf’s demonstration.
I could immediately gather how the girl way would lose me my chances to
display the dainty edges of my soft white panties at the soft white edges
of my bottom. September 2013

In Arthur Woolf, I was mainly concerned with rhyming – end rhymes and internal rhymes; cheat rhymes (repeating the exact same word or words): maths/maths, woodwork workshop/woodwork workshop and I could see/I could see; and slant rhymes (words that only just rhyme): toilets/coiling, sweet/me, dirty/shirt and demonstration/bottom. It was fun and sometimes difficult to consider words for their sound rather than using the first – perhaps the most efficient? – word that came to me.

I didn’t make use of iambic pentameter. (The Sonnet Machine is a forgiving machine.) But I did use the basic Shakespearean structure of three quatrains and a final couplet.

My raw material was a childhood memory of being told how to be a proper girl. The space of the three quatrains gave me the opportunity to explore the details of the encounter – social and sensory. The couplet pushed me to sum up, and that summing up came as a surprise.

The Sonnet Machine delivered the complexities of an experience which as an adult I had fossilised into that of a sexually innocent little girl, the victim of gender normative behaviour training. Now I can see the little girl’s sexual desire, including her desire for gendered power, among other difficult truths.

My sonnet Arthur Woolf is excavated material from my unconscious and my imagination, and from various seams of my culture. It may contribute to a piece of memoir, or perhaps become a short story. Maybe I’ll make it a flash. I will probably use some of the techniques of Imaginative Remembering to develop what The Sonnet Machine gave me.

Imaginative Remembering is one of the online writing studios offered by Highveld Reading and Writing.

Our memories – social, familial, cultural, personal – are coded: by those who share them, and by ourselves as we turn “what happened” into the stories that suit us. In Imaginative Remembering, we will tell our lies. And they will lead us like a trail of pebbles to a new remembered truth. We will imagine “what happened” rather then replay it. We will make things up, exaggerate, change the endings. We will generate fiction that is true.


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