Poetry

Stedfast by Ali Blythe

In Stedfast, Ali Blythe reformulates John Keats’s final poem’s fourteen lines into twenty-eight new poems. A fragment from every line of his “Last Sonnet” (also known as “Bright Star”) becomes the title for every poem in Stedfast, which builds on the original sonnet to create a network of interconnected love poems. An apostrophe to a lover in bed, Blythe’s collection unpacks what a love poem is, addressing the form of the lyric, the creation of music, and astronomical structures.

Blythe’s method of interjecting into Keats’s poem mid-line changes the meaning of the original poem by breaking it apart; Keats’s two lines “Or gazing on the new soft-fallen masque / Of snow upon the mountains and the moors” are split into the titles for four poems—“Or gazing on the new,” “Soft-fallen,” “Masque of snow,” and “Upon the mountains and the moors—and the fragments gain new meanings when separated. By engaging with individual phrases from Keats’s sonnet as well as the overall meaning, Stedfast is a thorough examination of an existing piece while remaining a standalone collection. Readers need not be scholars of Romanticism to encounter Stedfast—Blythe makes the book’s direction clear in his poems.

Despite the poems in Stedfast not being sonnets, the collection’s regular short lines maintain the directness of the sonnet form within an indulgent twenty-eight-poem narrative. Blythe packs rich meaning into a few words, as exemplified in these couplets from the opening poem:

Okay, little torch. It’s time

I got to work once more.

Hitching my constellation

of allusions to you.

Blythe also largely adheres to the thematic conventions of the sonnet, wherein the addressee is a passive receiver of the speaker’s desire and praise. The traditional hetero- and cisnormative poetic form is queered instead by the nature and purpose of Blythe’s interjections. For Blythe’s speaker, love is collaborative and changing, and these two traits are linked directly to queerness.

The titular poem takes its name from the second use of the word “stedfast” in Keats’s poem at the ninth-line volta: “No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable.” This longest poem in Blythe’s collection builds on Keats’s decided yearning for a constant togetherness, one that comes from a place of grief and dread due to Keats’s impending death. Blythe takes this turn in Keats and instead yearns for movement and transformation in his togetherness with the addressee. Where Keats wishes to spend eternity in an embrace with his love, Blythe’s speaker is already in this embrace and is deciding the next steps.

A handful of weaker poems do not detract from this strong standalone addition to Blythe’s project of trans-poetics. Lines such as “Aren’t we but two asterisks / atop white sheets” will remain in my mind for the foreseeable future. Overall, Blythe skillfully adopts canonical poetry to craft remarkable images and elegant insights into love and the art of verse.


About the Author

Ali Blythe is the author of two critically acclaimed poetry collections exploring trans-poetics. Blythe has held roles as a guest editor of special editions of literary magazines including for The League of Canadian Poets, Arc Magazine, and Malahat Review, and as editor-in-chief for the Claremont Review, an international literary magazine for youth. His poems and essays have been published in national and international literary journals and anthologies, including The Broadview Introduction to LiteratureBest Canadian Essays, and Best Canadian Poetry.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ icehouse poetry (Sept. 26 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 48 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1773103059
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1773103051

Zoe Shaw is a writer, editor, and administrator based in Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal. She is managing editor at carte blanche literary magazine. Her major interests are in gender and sexuality, ecocriticism, and the elegy in British Romantic poetry, which she explored in her master’s thesis at McGill University. @zoestropes on Instagram. Her website is http://zoeshaw.com/

Zoe Shaw

Zoe Shaw is a writer, editor, and administrator based in Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal. She is managing editor at carte blanche literary magazine. Her major interests are in gender and sexuality, ecocriticism, and the elegy in British Romantic poetry, which she explored in her master’s thesis at McGill University. @zoestropes on Instagram. Her website is http://zoeshaw.com/