The Utu Sonnets, Anthony Etherin
Enneract Editions* March 2021 £3.00
Wowed by palindromes
The Utu Sonnets is a magical collection in more ways than one. It’s pocket-sized (148 x 105mm), and looks like a little book of spells or divination. The cover is black with a gold font and has mythological gold symbols front and back. Inside are seven sonnets, each one illustrated with a related symbol. On the back page, the poet’s bearded face looks into the camera from a sideways angle with an intense, wizardly stare. This small book is a fascinating object.
But it’s in the construction of each poem that the true wizardry lies. The book consists of seven heavily constrained sonnets. One is a Petrarchan sonnet in which every sentence begins with the letter ‘o’: there are no other ‘o’s in the text. The other sonnets are Shakespearean — one uses only four-letter words, another only six-letter words. The remaining sonnets are complete palindromes of various sorts. Each sonnet is in iambic pentameter and follows the classic rhyme schemes of the two forms. All seven sonnets are perfect anagrams of each other. It’s fiendishly clever.
To add to the complexity, the sonnets include references to 43 deities from Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythologies.
The sonnets do not ‘make sense’ in any clear or easy way: how could they? They’re not intended to, and it would be impossible in any case, given the Houdini-like constraints with which Anthony Etherin has bound himself. The palindromic epigram at the front of the book is a brief example:
Utu, sun rubs us.
Dumb mud, stuck, suds us.
Burn us, Utu.
But although the sonnets don’t make conventional sense, the chosen constraints inevitably throw up striking lines, and, as with tarot cards or the I Ching, we are drawn to find meanings. Many lines read like prophecies — for example these, from ‘Osiris Bled’:
O astral island! Luna adds us all.
Osiris jars us: dust in jaded rain.
I had thought I might sneak some playful palindromes into this review, but it’s far harder than I thought. As for writing a whole sonnet as a palindrome…
All I’ll say for now is, WOW!
*Enneract Editions is an experimental imprint of Penteract Press