M. EARL SMITH Reviews
Madison Hatta’s Book of Unreasonable Rhymes, or: Madisonnets, Volume 1 by April Lynn James
(The Moonstone Press, 2015)
One will have to forgive me if I take time to wonder if the art of poetry has become too serious, in that most of the art seems to come with a message that goes well beyond the aesthetic. That’s not to disparage the art as a medium of social action. Poetry has opened frontiers in queer theory, feminism, psychological medicine, and history…and that is just in the chapbooks that I have reviewed. And whilst April James’s volume does find a way to dive into some of these issues (I’ve had too much stability, which in itself’s not bad/However, please forgive me if I go a little mad…), this chap is more about having fun…in light of, and perhaps in spite of, the moments of insanity that pervade our everyday.
Writing under the guidance of her muse (or perhaps her alter-ego?) Madison Hatta, James finds a way to fuse both William Shakespeare and, more importantly, Lewis Carroll in the twenty-six sonnets that make up this volume. Instead of downplaying these influences, as many before her tend to do, James makes a point to pay homage to her heroes (...the day she ever did read Oscar Wilde, or Keats, Lewis Carroll and Shakespeare besides?). These nods let the reader know where her desire to compose sonnets comes from, and each poem is an ode to the stylings of the aforementioned scribes.
Even with these influence, each of the works within are uniquely James’s, or, perhaps, uniquely Hatta’s. James takes care to document both her triumphs and sorrows in the introduction and outroduction, which gives the reader ample insight into the events and education that led to the poetic musings of the pair. While the subject matter may turn serious and introspective on occasion, the pair always manages to bring us back to a belly laugh or, at least, a warm smile.
These quirky, fun sonnets firmly hold a place in the modern poetry canon, and show a stark departure from the gritty realism that has taken over the style. This, in itself, is refreshing. In a world where critical analysis has destroyed aesthetic or sentimental verse, James (herself a doctorate holder from Harvard) shows that, even in the world of stuffy intellectualism, we are allowed to take our idols and use them to have a little fun. The result is this volume, and seeing how James mentions she has close to 200 of these “Madisonnets” composed, we can only hope that time will yield up more of her delightful wordplay.
From works for children to the macabre, from academic research to sports journalism, and from opinion essays to the erotic, M. Earl Smith is a writer that seeks to stretch the boundaries of genre and style. A native of Southeast Tennessee, M. Earl moved to Ohio at nineteen and, with success, reinvented himself as a writer after parting ways with his wife of eleven years. After graduating from Chatfield College (with highest honors) in 2015, M. Earl became the first student from Chatfield to matriculate at an Ivy League institution when he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. The proud father of two wonderful children (Nicholas and Leah), M. Earl studies creative writing and history at UPenn. When he’s not studying, M. Earl splits time between Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Chattanooga, with road trips to New York City, Wichita, Kansas, and Northampton, Massachusetts in between.