I lead the session this morning, trying to work towards the idea of the longer poem, the chain of ideas, sensations and feelings that resists closing off (I am resisting the word 'closure' for now because I am not primarily concerned with the argument that uses 'closure' as a debating term). We follow a winding path through the effect of broken regularity in metre, to the sense of what a sonnet is, or might be. I have made a rather hasty selection of sonnets, from Geoffrey Hill, Roger McGough, Paul Muldoon, Robert Garioch, Edwin Morgan, but we don't get past Muldoon's Brownlee that arouses quite strong reactions, partly hostile, on account of the cleverness that is thought to be not as clever as it thinks it is, though it has its passionate defenders too.
We think about cleverness and artifice. I propose that artifice is simply art, something something we use to construct any sentence whatever, not only in the sense that the sentence functions but in that it has a certain way of sitting. It is interesting, I suggest, how flexible the sonnet has proved to be whereas the ballade, say, or the villanelle or the sestina, despite some experiments here and there, have remained more stable as forms. That might be because sonnets correspond to a particular (western) idea of adequate space and flexible proportion. Taken as whole - the historical body of the range of sonnets - they work as force field rather than a prescription, so while we can see what the various versions have in common (line length , the possibilities of a given space, a given inhabited space in the given conditions) we can also see in what respects they differ.
Let's imagine then a room of a certain size in which not only the furniture, the disposition of doors but the very material of the walls may change. The sense of proportioned space is, I suspect, a human given. Someone mentions the Golden Section and there is an element of truth in that, though paintings composed according to the Golden Section would eventually grow dull. As would entirely conventional sonnets, unless charged by some peculiar reviving energy - some new being inhabiting them.
Is the idea of rooms too cosy? Think then of the variety of rooms, from the poorest to the richest, from the barest to the most crowded, from the thickest wall to the thinnest, to the broken wall. Why assume the room is what you are used to, with all the usual comforts?
As to artifice as cleverness? Is a mono-cyclist on the high wire merely clever? Is the form of display a circus performer adopts entirely cerebral? It depends on the danger, on the height of the wire. Changing tack, I return to my Midnight Skaters analogy of chaos as the deep pond with the thin ice of language on top, the ice on which ice the poem is invited to skate. The tightrope act is no good unless the wire is high, the skating unexciting unless the the ice is thin. The pond has to be deep and deadly. And the pond is deeper, murkier, deadlier; the ice thinner and more fragile than we, in our comfortable rooms, tend to think. Thinner in fact almost everywhere.