The Periodic Table — a Crown Sonnet by the Poetry Sisters [Poetry Friday]

Happy Poetry Friday!

It’s that time again–we Poetry 7 are sharing poems! In November, we wrote ekphrastic poems, which I struggled mightily with.

Now, we’re beginning 2016 by sharing our crowning achievement of 2015: a crown sonnet–hehe. One of the topics I suggested to the group (last spring) was the periodic table, and I was thrilled when everyone jumped on board!  Now this week, with news of the addition of four new elements to the periodic table and North Korea’s claim of an underground H‑bomb test, my sonnet about hydrogen feels even more urgent. I rarely write poems about current events, but when you write about big questions, current events always seem to connect somehow, don’t they?

I volunteered to write the opening sonnet, so I wrote this way back in May. Seems like forever ago now. I’m going to share my poem first (this is my second draft), send you along to find the rest of the crown, and then share some of my notes/drafts, if you’re interested.

A Trident II missile launch. Public domain photo.
A Trident II missile launch. Public domain photo.

The Periodic Table

Row 1

The world escapes when we unhinge the lid
that traps all elements inside a chart
When science won’t stay tethered to the grid,
our only hope is knowledge tamed by heart

One proton—One electron orbits round
A simple element: first row, first place
When hydrogen ignites, we are unbound
from earth. A rocket blazes into space

But what results? What comes from being first?
Solutions for our planet’s fragile life?  
A cancer beat, malignancy reversed?  
Or data, fused and used, a sharp-edged knife?

Each element, an elegant sharp key
Will science break us down or set us free?

–Laura Purdie Salas, all rights reserved

Here’s where you can read the rest of the crown, in order:

Row 2: Tricia
Row 3: Sara
Row 4: Kelly
Row 5: Liz
Row 6: Tanita
Row 7: Tricia

You’ll notice Andi is missing this month. She was unable to join us due to a million other conflicts, but she’ll be back soon. We missed you, Andi!

I hope you enjoy this collaboration. The other Princesses (Poetry Princesses…crown sonnet…get it? It’s how we got the Princesses name in the first place, since our first project together was a crown sonnet.) are usually wonderful about sharing their thoughts and writing process, and I’m not. So this time, I’m giving it a go. Here are my notes/drafts.

Can’t forget the form!

Periodic table sonnet
Shakespearean Sonnet
When IN / dis GRACE / with FOR / tune AND / men’s EYES
I ALL / a LONE / be WEEP / my OUT/ cast STATE (Sonnet 29)
14 lines of iambic pentameter
3 quatrains (abab cdcd efef) that establish theme or problem
1 couplet (gg) that resolves it

Thoughts to my Poetry Sisters on directions we could take the Periodic Table topic:

You could go completely sciencey and actually delve into, in fabulous language, of course, the elements or qualities of elements on your row. We could weave through an overarching storyline of some kind: a student gazing at and daydreaming about the periodic table, or a chem prof introducing it to students. We could make it a kind of greatest hits tour of the periodic table, with each sonnet exploring in more depth just one element from that period (kind of like a greatest hits tour at an art museum–learning to appreciate all art a bit more by getting personally acquainted with just a few very appealing pieces). And that exploration could be scientific or narrative–whatever you choose. So we have options. I’m going to dig in to my sonnet this week, and I’m leaning toward the greatest hits tour approach, but I’m happy to go whichever way the most people are comfortable, esp since we have an, um, untraditional sonnet topic here! Thanks for going along for this ride:>)

Reminder to myself that I’m working with other people and have to consider how my poem might work with theirs!

My first line will also be the last line of the whole crown sonnet
My last line will be the first line of the second sonnet

My rhyming brainstorming:

Need 7 rhyming pairs

  • grid hid lid (remove the lid) amid forbid
  • chart heart start cart dart part apart tart
  • light bite bright blight fight height kite might night plight quite right sight tight slight white write flight
  • freeze breeze bees seize fees fleas knees appease tease trees these wheeze
  • float boat coat dote gloat mote note quote wrote rote smote tote vote
  • sun one done gun none pun run stun shun ton won
  • twins wins
  • first burst cursed nursed pursed worst versed dispersed immersed headfirst coerced reversed
  • escape cape drape gape nape shape tape
  • row bow blow doe dough fro flow go grow hoe low mow know no pro quo show slow toe tow woe

Did some basic research and made these notes and charted out what I thought might be my end rhymes:


The world escapes when we unhinge the lid


rhymes with light


beyond the something captured in one row


  • lightest
  • liquid hydrogen
  • cryogenics



  • noble
  • 2nd lightest
  • 2nd most abundant
  • Helium is named for the Greek god of the Sun, Helios.

Wrote a first draft:

d1 at Young Authors Conference week of Memorial Day

Periodic Table

The world escapes when we unhinge the lid
that traps all elements inside a chart.
When science won’t stay tethered to the grid,
our only hope is knowledge tamed by heart.

An almost-empty row _ _ _ first
Two elements so similar, like twins
One wishing that their order was reversed
The other, sure its number means it wins

Its form is elegant simplicity
It sends our rockets blazing to the stars
Will science break us down or set us free
Align with bombs or fuel efficient cars?

In second place and named for god of sun
with two electrons orbiting its soul

And then I wrote my second draft, which is what I shared at the top of my post:>) I noted at the top of my page:

d2 5/30/15
I want to focus on just hydrogen. Forget helium.

Poor helium. Left out:>(


  And here are the previous Poetry Sisters collaborations:

November 2015 Ekphrastic poems
October 2015 Etherees
September 2015 Found poems
August 2015 Classified haiku
July 2015 Inspired by e.e. cummings’ poems
Jun 2015 Odes
May 2015 Pantoums
Apr 2015 Raccontinos
Mar 2015 Sestinas (Lord have mercy)
Feb 2015 Villanelles on hidden things
Jan 2015 Triolets on beginnings (And I posted an extra one here.)
Pre-2015 Villanelles, a crown sonnet, rondeau redoubles, and pantoums

Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference has the Poetry Friday Roundup!



31 Responses

  1. Laura, thanks for your explosive (heh) idea for our crown of sonnets—I can truly say I never would’ve done it without you. Also, thank you for sharing your drafting and brainstorming process. That’s one of the joys of working collaboratively—you get to see how many paths to poetry there are. And where you ended up with this sonnet is precise and prescient and powerful. I always marvel at how elegantly you can express the most complicated of subjects, and it’s a joy to write with you.

    P.S. I will be pinning to my wall your quote: ” but when you write about big questions, current events always seem to connect somehow, don’t they?” Yes! Yes!

    1. Sara, you always have the coolest science stuff to share! And the most intimidating, smartest poetry. Thanks for your kind words–I always learn while writing with you guys:>)

  2. Ha ha — poor helium! That cracks me up. Laura.… I just love the opening line SO much and how it ended up serving as perfect bookends for the whole piece. I also really appreciate all this stuff on process. Yours is more gathered than mine — I’ve got bits of pieces and random documents and, well, I just love reading what you’ve collected. Thanks for kicking us off in the most lovely way.…

    1. Thank *you,* Liz. You always manage to wrangle us in the most loving way. We’re such a diverse group in terms of approaches to poetry and collaboration. I always feel like you’re the heart of it.

  3. Laura, this is SO COOL. You did such a fabulous job of opening the crown, and really got it going to an explosive start. (LOL)
    My favorite lines:
    “When science won’t stay tethered to the grid,
    our only hope is knowledge tamed by heart”

    And, I love your notes! It’s so cool to see what went into your process and how it developed. Your humor and creativity really shines there too!

    1. Thanks, Andi! Heehee–starting things off with a bang. That’s me:>) Missed your lovely voice in this project but am glad you did what you needed to do for your own life! Hope you’ll be back to your regular spot soon!

  4. Love EVERYTHING about this post. And your first line changed from hope to possible doom when Tricia deployed it in the final couplet of the crown. You really started us off right, and it made things easier to work with (says Kelly, who would never in a million years have considered writing a sonnet about the periodic table without you).

    1. Thanks, Kelly! Loved mixing up science and poetry. And you are a poet after my own heart, with your analysis and forms, etc. I feel like you would have come up with this idea on your own, anyway!

  5. I love that you included our notes here — we have to remember the insanity that began these things so we know to identify the signs that we’re going nuts again. I think Pandora’s Box is the most beautifully apt metaphor for this whole thing — and for this past week with the hydrogen bomb tests. So much potential… so much trouble… and so much beauty, too.

    1. Hehehe. But going nuts with poetry…what could be better? When I heard about the h‑bomb tests, my heart just sank. But it made me happy to be sharing our poems this week.

  6. What pressure to have your first line be the last line of the whole thing (and also to have your last line kick off the next sonnet)! You did a great job. I love that y’all picked such an interesting/challenging/unexpected topic.

  7. It’s quite a treasure, Laura, and I love the questioning especially in your sonnet. This took so much work (I loved hearing how) & collaboration, (that first & last line), but aside from a wonderful poem start, the serendipity of these recent events gives me shivers. How could anyone know that new elements would be found & that H bomb explode way back in May? Currently connected for sure. Thanks for all you shared today!

    1. Thanks, Linda–I know! It’s so weird. It really is. Thank you for reading:>)

    1. Hehe–“fits” might be too strong a word–but we jam things together and pray they don’t collapse!

    1. Thank you, Violet! I felt better about this one than I did the first crown sonnet we did a few years ago.

  8. I can’t wait to read them all and see how they follow from this, fit together, and come back to your beginning. That said, this sonnet is simply gorgeous on its own. And shivery how it connects to current events…

  9. What a wonderful sonnet! I love the unlimited potential of “The world escapes when we unhinge the lid.” It makes me think of Lisa Randall’s Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs, which I just finished listening to. I was so struck by her many poetic turns of phrase that I ordered the book so I can go back and savor them. Poetry and science are natural partners, aren’t they? Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful post, Laura!

  10. I so hate being away on Poetry Friday when we have something to share. While I spent the last two days in a conference, it appears I missed all the fun!

    I’m so glad you gently pushed us into this topic. I had no idea where it would go or how this would ever come together.

    Thank you for sharing your process and for starting us off so beautifully. I should share that my favorite line is “our only hope is knowledge tamed by heart.” I’m going to keep that notion in my back pocket.

    1. Thank you, Tricia–I hope your conference was awesome! I am so glad you guys were open to this topic. I felt much more “in my element” (hehe–couldn’t resist) than I did with our ya one. That was hard! You brought the whole thing so wonderfully back together. Isn’t it like we’re all holding hands across poems?

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