From Poetry Matters:
“More Sonnets from the Portuguese is an ambitious sonnet sequence, given its marriage of the religious and the carnal and its strong parallels to Browning’s acclaimed book Sonnets from the Portuguese. Eldred’s sonnets are varied and skillful and her ability to maintain a narrative in lyric form is admirable. Her use of playful language and the role she gives to technology brings a freshness to a classic story line.” —Nancy Chen Long
Read the entire review here.
Described as a “sonnet novella” by its publisher, MORE SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE is the love story of a middle-aged woman and her married ex-lover from college. In the very first sonnet, entitled “I am a Sensible Woman,” the protagonist sums herself up perfectly:
I–Zelia Nunes–sensibly married
only once. Forty-five, no longer young.
Husband dead, four children, mortgaged, harried,
Holy obligations met, even sung.
The title is from 19th century poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s classic, SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE (which I’ve read and loved, for many years). This, too, is a beautiful sonnet sequence, adeptly written. Ms. Eldred adroitly uses a centuries-old poetic form and brings it into the 21st century. She addresses modern-day issues such as infidelity, religious guilt, reproductive rights, the environment, aging, technology.
Zelia references Facebook and Twitter, which makes sense because the bulk of the affair is conducted via e-mail. In “After Years,” Zelia says, “Your e-mail before me, my body sings/the reply, One doesn’t forget such things.”
In another sonnet, she says, “I am officially a Kindle/girl…You pull me to you. You tempt me to stray–/Yes, good Lord help me, I like you that way.” In yet another sonnet, she states, “You are the love of my life.”
The poems feature beautiful imagery that is rich, sensual, complex. Once Zelia describes the California landscape as covered with “almond trees that blossomed like moonlight,/perfumed crops picked by bodies until broken.” Her family ancestry is Azorean (islands off the coast of Portugal). As depicted, the details feel intimate, fully developed.
I preferred the first half of this sequence, perhaps because in those sonnets the love was new and unexpected. In the second half, Zelia’s mood changes from moment to moment, veering from excited and hopeful to despondent, all dependent on the vicissitudes of the relationship (after all, he has a wife!). Also, she becomes more philosophical as she grapples with her guilt and religion.
That said, I liked/enjoyed reading ALL the poems.
In her acknowledgments, Ms. Eldred states that MSFTP began as a work of fiction, but that in poetry she found she could better tell Zelia’s story. By doing so, she breaks new literary ground. Hence, the term “sonnet novella.”
At this point, I must mention the stunningly beautiful cover art: a painting of a cobalt-blue peahen on a window sill. This watercolor, it turns out, is by the author herself.
Beautiful poems and beautiful art. Read these poems in honor of National Poetry Month or just because it’s spring!
“In More Sonnets from the Portuguese, an internet connection rekindles an affair of twenty years earlier. Janet Eldred deftly applies the inspiration of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to a modern version of the 12th-century Héloise and Abelard story, in which the letters of star-crossed lovers become email messages, and the hindrance is neither convent nor monastery, but rather the current marriage of the man Zélia addresses. The passionate struggle between her moral unwillingness to commit adultery and her inability to resist the fantasy, leads to a sizzling exchange of declarations – flashback and flirtation fueled on both sides by a sexy cocktail of passion and guilt. Where for Héloise, Abelard’s image ‘steals between my God and me,’ Zélia’s virtual lust for her ex-lover comes between herself and her children, between herself and her religious and moral convictions, between herself and herself. The delightful playfulness of Eldred’s language enhances her sonnet cycle chronicling how this cyber-love both blesses and tortures the lonely hours of Zélia’s widowhood, when she tries to restrain herself to only ‘undress in bytes’ – an archetypal story charmingly recast in 21st-century terms.”
—Jill Allyn Rosser, author of Mimi’s Trapeze
“Many writers capture the pleasures of young love, but Janet Eldred shocks us with the voltage of late life’s passions. The sonnets unravel the intricate, densely woven cables through which the memories of passion move—moments of loss, skin, longing, compromise, duty—across the falsely secure networks of virtual reconnection. This is a volume so intimate and wise it needs to be read in solitude.”
—Teresa Mangum, author of Married, Middlebrow, and Militant: Sarah Grand and the New Woman Novel
“More Sonnets from the Portuguese tells a poignant and powerful tale about passion suppressed, rekindled, and magnified through years of deep longing and restraint. Elizabeth Barrett Browning would surely applaud.”
—Lillian Faderman, author of Naked in the Promised Land
LibraryThing & Goodreads Reviews
“This book was a charming glimpse into the soul of a lyrical artist.”
“Once in college, many moons ago, I read AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RED, which became my introduction to what Anne Carson subtitled novels-in-verse. I fell in love at once with the genre, and Janet C. M. Eldred’s MORE SONNETS OF THE PORTUGUESE is another of the same type, so I was excited to win a copy through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.
Let me say that MORE SONNETS is no AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RED. (I have yet, in over a decade, to find anything that is.) That said, though, there is a lot to admire in this short collection of sonnets. The premise is simple — a widowed woman reconnects with a (still married) lover from her past. Everything else — the sonnet structure, the emotions, the motifs — is not.
Eldred is at her best when she takes a single thing, be it an emotion or a metaphor or a phenomenon of a conflicted love affair — as the centerpiece of a sonnet. Take “Betrayal,” for instance — she discusses a moment when, talking to someone else, she is lost in lust for her beloved. At these points, Eldred reminds me of another Edna St. Vincent Millay, albeit not yet as skilled at sonnet craft.
To put it more bluntly, these sonnets are not without flaws. Millay was a master craftswoman — her sonnets, though tightly constructed, never feel constricted, whereas many of Eldred’s feel as though they’re bending at odd angles to fit the form. (In one poem, for instance, she refers to Silicon Valley as “the valley of silicon” to make a slant rhyme with ‘million.’) But you can’t fault a girl for trying, and Eldred tries everything — thirteen-line sonnets, creative rhyming, unexpected line breaks — to various degrees of success. (Many of her line breaks, in particular, are weak; uncomfortable enjambments were my biggest problem with the sequence. As a counter to that, however, many of her rhymes were vibrant and sparkling with freshness.)
For me, one of the most exciting things about the sequence is the way Eldred marries religious and sexual/romantic imagery. Take “The Confessional”: she’s just described a particularly literary moment of sex in the first eight lines of the sonnet and then shifts, as only a sonnet can do, to a religious confession of her lust, but even these lines are charged with sex — in a particularly amazing example of enjambment that works, she fingers / her beads, and for me, a rosary will never be the same.”
“This was a difficult book to review. I found the poetry here to have a spare realist quality that I m not totally appreciative of. Its frame is that of Azores immigrants living in California’s Central Valley. The Azores are a Portuguese island. The more famous “Sonnets from the Portuguese” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning are Romantic in nature, but don’t seem to deal much with Portugal or the Portuguese. So the connection of the two titles seems misleading. But there are great sonnets from Portugal, namely those of Luís de Camões, which seem to hold together and to pull me in more than those of Browning or Eldred. I will say that Eldred does follow the sonnet conventions of rhyme and meter pretty well.
But the poems are connected, and towards the end there is a liturgical process that I was intrigued by. In the section named ‘Ordinary Time’, the first poem, ‘Flying the Heavy Kite’, seems to be inspired by the Lusiads of Camões. And the last poem here, ‘Fat Tuesday’, is very pre-Lenten with the assertion that bones have to be shattered lovingly, which is what one might do in Lent to shatter your old ways and build with love to a not fully known outcome.
The last section,’Time of Atonement’, leads her life through a Lenten journey of walking the stations, confession, penitence, contrition, making a memorial of this through editorial precision, letting ones dreams and sins go away, acknowledging the cross in ‘Liturgical Time’, and becoming ‘still’ with the return to Ordinary time. Resurrection is tough, and I wonder what Easter might be like.”
“Lovely moments, earnest. A very pleasant book. I don’t have a lot to say, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, sometimes it might have been a bit too sentimental, but frankly I’d rather have poems that feel sweet or evoke love or loss or longing, than poems that don’t evoke anything at all!”
“I received an ARC from LibraryThing and Whitepoint Press in exchange for an honest review. I really enjoyed this collection of sonnets. I loved the whole story it tells and the nostalgic tone it has. I didn’t like a couple of them but overall it’s beautiful and worth checking out.”
“Zelia’s memories of a short but intense college love affair prove to be too strong to allow her to move on with her life. The subsequent abandonment by her lover forces her to compare her future relationships with what might have been thus leading to the inevitable failures of new loves. When her past lover rekindles the relationship via Email after a 20 year hiatus the affair briefly blossoms but she soon realizes the hopelessness of ever fully consummating it.
The 52 sonnets are arranged in an order that suggests the progression of Zelia’s life. The sonnets are well written, to the point and easy to understand. The book is very enjoyable and for me gave a deeper understanding on how true love though interrupted, affects a woman’s relationships in her future.
I would highly recommend this book to those in both beginning and long term relationships or to the hopelessly romantics out there.”
“This was an ambitious undertaking by the author Janet Eldred and she is to be commended for her effort. I enjoyed reading about her research and how she went about this project at the end of the book. I did enjoy quite a few of the sonnets, though not nearly as much as Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s original Sonnets from the Portuguese, which were such an expression of language and love. These sonnets express love in a different era and though I consider myself tech-savvy, maybe they will speak louder to a younger more tech-savvy audience than myself. If they bring younger readers to appreciate poetry, the sonnet form or Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s original sonnets any more, then all the better.”
“I really liked this collection of sonnets. It was definitely more for middle-aged woman than my age group, but it still managed to resonate with me. The poems were well crafted and none of them felt stilted or forced or like words were just put in to fit the format. They flowed beautifully and I would really enjoy reading more from this author. I think the collection really speaks to the experiences of falling out of love and into love later in life.”
“For me, one of the most exciting things about the sequence is the way Eldred marries religious and sexual/romantic imagery. Take “The Confessional”: she’s just described a particularly literary moment of sex in the first eight lines of the sonnet and then shifts, as only a sonnet can do, to a religious confession of her lust, but even these lines are charged with sex — in a particularly amazing example of enjambment that works, she fingers / her beads, and for me, a rosary will never be the same.”