From Jackpine Sonnets, published by Steel Rail Educational Publishing in 1977.
A sonnet is a short poem with a dialectical play of argument. It was not always limited to fourteen lines. That just came to be ac¬cepted because, I'm certain, longer types, and likely shorter types too, became victims of the rigidity of the sonnet form.
I have named it after one of my favourite trees - the Jackpine, which can grow in any earth in which you plant it, so long as it's not crowded: can be a puny but tough battle-scarred veteran clinging to an impossible cliffside, or a proud giant in a pasture. Unlike other conifers it grows at opportunity, having no set form. Thus with its solid-looking needle-foliage, it makes all sorts of evocative shapes.
If it looks like nothing on Earth - not even a Jackpine. It must be a Jackpine . . . Or a Canadian.
At the start of my Jackpine Sonnet campaign first I stuck to the fourteen-line formula but considered that if the sonnet would not stop at fourteen lines I shouldn't truncate it. I wrote things up to twenty lines which still looked and sounded like sonnets. I re¬arranged the rhyme-schemes - well hardly arranged. I just thought if the first line ended with a word like, for instance, 'shit', and no rhyme occurred immediately, don't panic; but let four lines pass before worrying about the virtues of 'habit', and such.
Make up for this by using internal, as well as external, rhymes to keep the flow. Also if there's no rhyme use an assonance. Try using it to keep the rhyme alive in order to come up with a true rhyme further on. There's also a trick of interweaving external and internal rhymes and assonances.
Also I tried, in the division of the sonnet verses - when I cut in verses - to put the six-line verse first and the eight-line second. This too had been done before, in fact I believe it's quite ortho¬dox. I also devised other ways to cut up sonnets into verses. 4-6-4. for example, which I may have originated. Also irregular verses, which were not new either. The Jackpine had been growing for a long time. I had resolved from the first to make a line any length I liked. But I found the ideal line to be, roughly, between 7 and 13 syllables.
All I can say is that if your sonnet cuts itself off - click! - at, say line 12, 18 or 20, leave it at that. It's still a Jackpine because you tried. Too many poets don't recognize that click.
Remember too that there is really no limit to line-length in the jackpine sonnet. . . halfway down a football field plus the whole length backl By contemporary techniques, lines longer than a page-width have to be printed as two lines - with indications that they are to be read as one. Remember that if you want to go jackpine-hunting yourself.
The Jackpine is realisant. It has a basic form, yes, but grows to any shape that suits the light, suits the winds, suits itself.