Sonnets with Two Torches and One Cliff

“A formally constrained poem that brilliantly manages to sound anything but.” — Kim Addonizio

“What if creatures in other galaxies / have a vague sense that something is missing, / but don’t know it’s Little Richard, Shakespeare, / and cornbread with plum jam?” In this collection, Robert Thomas presents eighty nontraditional sonnets that explore love and jealousy—the traditional obsessions of sonnets—from nontraditional angles. Other galaxies are jealous of Earth in these heartbreaking, funny, ecstatic, profound, and never boring poems.

“A formally constrained poem that brilliantly manages to sound anything but. A paean to longing, to the mysteries of love and time and distance, ‘Negligee and Hatchet,’ as its title suggests, is full of contraries and surprises—swamp pop and Mick Jagger, grotto and tomb, Aphrodite and caramel corn . . . the poet’s language turns and dazzles with every line.

— Kim Addonizio, from her citation for the Nimrod Neruda Poetry Prize

Irrepressible, seemingly inexhaustible in invention, this exhilarating poetic tour-de-force demonstrates that if you couple things that don’t go together at all, the sparks of their friction can set the mind on fire. Every sonnet night-dives off a different cliff, torches in hand––one more brilliant, observant, sardonic, intimate, provocative, hilariously meek, than the next; each a metaphoric misalliance creating fresh discoveries, including the infinite ways in which ‘no one is ever loved as they deserve.’”

— Eleanor Wilner, author of Before Our Eyes: New and Selected Poems, 1975–2017


  • Litstack, Kathy Nelson: “With a richly detailed, specific and thoroughly inventive imagination, the speaker of these poems recounts the intimate tortures of jealousy in eighty precise and exhilarating sonnets. They continually surprise with their imagery, with their daring and revelatory metaphors, with their sly humor, with their wordplay and sound play.”
  • On the Seawall, Michael Collins: “Indeed, a considerable contribution of these poems is their continual presentation of consciousness experiencing the act of self-reflection – until it yields transpersonal insight within which to protect love from the world, the unconscious, and one’s own orbits and evolutions, that love itself may aid in exploring all of these more deeply.”
  • The Berkeley Times, Wyndy Knox Carr: “Thomas’ Sonnets are just amazing. … I found them often the most precise, vivid, understandable and gracious explications of men’s jealousy of women (‘s sensuality/sexuality) I’d ever encountered. (And I’ve read A LOT on those subjects. Trust me.)”

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Book cover photo from The Met Collection: Bucranium (antler, bone, paint).