The Blackout Sonnets

Larkin, Joan

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)

Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney
  • Date of entry: Feb-29-2000
  • Last revised: Nov-19-2009


This sonnet sequence, found in part III of the poetry collection, A Long Sound, opens with the narrator preparing to date her music teacher's son, a man she has had a crush on since age twelve. Now she is eighteen, "damaged goods" according to her mother, and about to embark on a date.

In the second sonnet, the narrator's date begins to ply her with alcohol, and by the third sonnet, she numbly acquiesces to his advances. Drunk and in a blackout by the fourth sonnet, she re-lives the emotional and physical pain of her recent abortion, an event her whole family "was in on."

In the fifth sonnet, she wakes in her date's immaculate Buick as he drives her home and asks imperiously if she "does this sort of thing often." The sixth sonnet is both touching and horrifying-she recalls that, in spite of the man's disdain, she was so hungry for love that she wished he would kiss her good night.

Returned to the house she "hated," she mourns the "sore night" of the abortion, a memory she cannot erase with alcohol and sex. In the final sonnet, the narrator--chided, belittled, and abused by both her mother and her date--experiences a moment of awful clarity. This is the beginning of her recovery, a revelation recognized in retrospect.


Technically, this is a "crown" of sonnets--a sequence of seven rhymed sonnets, the last line of each repeated as the first line of the next. The final sonnet ends with the line that opened the first. This form, utilized by Donne in his Holy Sonnets, is traditionally a "crown" for the one addressed in the poems.

In Larkin's sonnets, the one honored might be the narrator's aborted child or the narrator herself, as she acknowledges and accepts the woman she was before recovery. The language and subject matter of these poems is honest and evocative, an effect heightened by the poet's clever (and subversive) choice of form.


Joan Larkin is also the author of the poetry collections, Housework, and Cold River, and the co-editor of three anthologies: Amazon Poetry, Lesbian Poetry, and Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time (winner of a Lambda Literary Award).

Primary Source

A Long Sound



Place Published

Penobscot, Maine