Sonnet 29: Word for Word

By Cyndie Zikmund

April 8, 2022

Sonnet 29: Word for Word

The Fact of Memory: 114 Ruminations and Fabrications by Aaron Angello

The Fact of Memory is an unusual prose experiment. Using Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 29,” which begins with the famous line, “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,” the author Aaron Angello takes each word of the sonnet, 114 in total, and uses each word as a springboard for a short ruminative essay. He writes a single page of prose, 114 in total, which become the book’s chapters, the single words the chapter titles.

As a daily regimen, Angello savored, absorbed, and meditated on the impact the word had on him, then wrote his thoughts out in a sort of altered state of consciousness. The result is a meditation on life and memory that is sometimes directly related to the word being studied, the sonnet itself, or, at other times, the process the project inspired.

Angello chose Sonnet 29 for two reasons. It was the first Shakespearean sonnet he memorized, and he cherished its main message, “love is the way out of dark places.” The sonnet is about a wretched man who is sad in every way, but then remembers his loved one and is transformed into a happier, more joyous person.

Love conquering all appears as a theme in several chapters. Sometimes it’s the act of rejoicing about being alive, another time it’s the image of an infant’s fist, and still another it’s the random interconnectedness of strangers. In these moments of insight, the book comes to life. At other times, the chapters seem listless and without purpose, mirroring how memory vacillates between lucidity and ambiguity.

In a chapter titled, “Like”—there are four chapters using this word in all—Angello addresses the evocative and perhaps most primary question of the sonnet: whether we can know if our memory is an accurate fact or a fact created.

I read recently that remembering is a creative act. It isn’t a retrieval of stored information. It is a creative construction of past events that takes place in the present. And apparently, the more frequently one remembers a given event, the less likely it is that the memory accurately represents the event being remembered. Everything we know about ourselves and our worlds is fiction.

Similarly, following its own story arc, The Fact of Memory segues between philosophical topics such as in the chapter “Hope” where Angello contemplates the difference between faith and hope. He laments his younger years when he had a strong belief in his potential and the idea that there was some goal out there much greater for him to attain. At first, he thought he was guided by faith, but later realized it was hope and, according to Angello, “Hope is made of different stuff entirely.”

Later, the individual chapters become edgier such as “On.” Here he describes a crowd, waiting in line, is entertained by a homeless woman. The spectacle seems harmless at first but then, when the homeless woman lifts her clothes to expose herself, the situation takes a dark turn. What is the right reaction? To laugh? Look away? Or this: “One young woman in line says, ‘No, no,’ puts her arm around her and gently walks her away.”

A touching example of the love theme is “Yet.” A husband’s devotion and a father’s love were so primary that he waited until he was old and gray before getting the one object he pined for all his life, a Harley Davidson motorcycle. The joy of acquisition was tempered because the man now needed to reach down and manually raise his leg and mount the motorcycle.

Included within the pages of this slim yet bemusing essay collection are lessons on survival that hinge on neither love nor despair. In “Me,” a school age boy reinvents himself every year because he has moved to a new school where no one knows him. One year, he’s a kid hanging out with other boys, commenting on muscle cars. The next year he’s an introvert, teaching himself to write computer programs. The observation is that once the boy decided who his new persona would be, no one, including him, doubted it. A sure case of we are who we think we are.

Some chapters, such as “And,” two thirds of the way through the book, feel like a random stream of consciousness—mimicking how the human brain works. We are taken from a couple on the beach to a couple hiking, from a couple sitting on a roof to a couple standing on a bridge. At first, the stories seem disparate, capturing unrelated moments happening from coast to coast. But a pattern emerges. The male in the couple is fascinated by the female. In one case he can’t believe she’s spending time with him. In another, he is surprised his date takes pleasure in the simpler things of life, given her academic background. The key to this chapter, as is often the case, is in the last two sentences: “This is a game she loved as a child. It was new to him.”

Angello’s ruminations on poetry provide a craft lesson. “Break” describes the importance of a line break, “What makes a poem is the line—and only the line.” “Think” offers definitions of poetry: “A poem becomes a poem when a poet or reader decided to call it a poem.”

Perhaps the most intriguing craft technique Angello uses is the writing of the same paragraph forwards and then backwards, which bookend the work. The last chapter or paragraph of the book, #114, is the first chapter or paragraph of the book, in reverse order. The circle is complete because its subject—two tramps occupying the corner of Wilshire and La Brea in Los Angeles—has changed because their image has been revisited, a fact we remember.

In The Fact of Memory, we see what happens when a gifted writer challenges himself with a daily practice. With his “imposition of narrative,” Angello, the creative nonfictionist, thinks more freely and opens to random ideas that are more relatable than he originally thought possible. In the end, we are reminded that memory is what we make of it. Some memory is based on facts and other on reconstructed half-truths. Whether it be accurate or enhanced, memory’s impact on us is inarguably life-changing and everlasting.

 

The Fact of Memory: 114 Ruminations and Fabrications by Aaron Angello

Rose Metal Press
 $14.95 Paperback | Buy Now

 

Cyndie ZikmundCyndie Zikmund’s essays have appeared in Under the Gum TreePink Panther MagazineMagnolia Review, Literary Traveler, and forthcoming in Cutleaf. Her poetry has been published by A Woman's Voice and is upcoming in North Dakota Quarterly. She has served as CNF Editor for Qu Literary Magazine. She’s earned an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte, an MBA from Santa Clara University, and a BS EECS from UC Berkeley. www.cyndiezikmund.com 

 

 

 

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