The sonnet is a form of creative confinement in Bradley Peters’ debut collection of poetry, Sonnets from a Cell.
Peters released the to reflect on his time in and out of the Canadian correctional system as a teenager and young adult. Using his personal experience to depict a collective image of violence and confinement in corrections, Peters conveys the profound experience of incarceration to readers.
Peters’ collection showcases his life while incarcerated through imagery from his time in prison. The lack of autonomy in the correctional facility is examined through his sonnets, to convey the darkness and fearful moments he had while imprisoned.
With a creative writing undergraduate degree from the University of British Columbia, Peters comes from Fraser Valley, British Columbia, and used his last class in university to experiment with poetic form.
“I had never written about my experience as a young man in and out of the prison system. I think I was keeping it a secret. I was embarrassed. But I discovered the sonnet, and it seemed like the perfect form to tackle that issue,” Peters said in an interview with The Journal.
The sonnet was perfect for Peters’ subject matter as he found the rigidity of the form reflected his time in prison.
Originating in Italy and introduced to English poets during the 16th century, a sonnet is a 14-line poem meaning “little song.” It traditionally reflects a single sentiment with a change in meaning during the concluding rhyming couplet.
“The sonnet is like its own little condensed cell, and it has all these rigid rules similar to prison. I found within the rigidity and the structure of the sonnet I had the freedom to express myself as much as I could,” Peters said.
Peters enjoyed the restrictive nature of the sonnet because it compelled him to write in a different structure than he would otherwise. Despite the restrictions Peters found it to be an interesting combination of freedom and restriction.
“It feels like the perfect form to write about what it’s like to be in prison.”
He draws his relationship to the sonnet back to Terrance Hayes’ book American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, introduced to him by his professor, Sheryda Warrener. The evolution of psychological, spiritual, and romantic poetry shows the form’s growth, which inspired Peters.
He used recurring images and motifs, such as prison walls and seagulls, to illustrate what living in prison is like.
“It’s sort of the same thing, the same wall, the same cage, and it’s the repetition. Every day can wear you down, and you’d have these things continue to reoccur in your life, but you break away from them with memories like the stark contrast of the violence you’re experiencing every day within prison,” he said.
The monotonous experience of prison is balanced with the violence inmates experience, and Peters wanted to show the toxicity of the system itself.
“I found the best way to convey that and to present it was to show the humanity of the people within the system and my own experiences as a young person. My own experiences sort of struggling through that system,” he said.
Peters wanted to make humanity accessible to the reader and not just a concept in a political book. He felt it needed to be more personal to get people to understand why correctional systems should be more politicized.
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