Hi this is Ross Sutherland- just thought I would add some contextual notes for my poem “Zangief”.
I wrote the piece back in 2007, as part of a book of sonnets. I wrote a sonnet for every character from Street Fighter 2. There were twelve in total. I began to imagine the book as a kind-of alternative zodiac. There was even a “personality test” so you could see which street fighter character you were most like.
There’s tremendous amount of contemporary poetry that references greek mythology. However, Greek mythology is no longer taught in British schools. Previous generations were raised to know the stuff off by heart. That leaves modern readers at a little bit of a disadvantage. “Street Fighter Sonnets” was my ironic solution to the problem.
The two-dimensional characters of Street Fighter are empty vessels. They feel like vague caricatures , each reduced to a single personality trait. There’s Zangief, a Russian wrestler fighting for a crumbling republic; Chun Li, an Interpol agent determined to avenge her father’s murder; Vega, a masked bullfighter who believes his strength is in his beauty.
Pride, vengeance, vanity: that’s all they are. Just like the Classics, they’re empty cyphers.
So…if this is true… why not substitute some of our old canonical heroes for these (relatively) new ones?
Obviously Zangief feels pretty ridiculous when translated into the pomposity of the sonnet. In all of these poems, I tried to make the character reflect on their lack of substance. E Honda sits in his bath-house, endlessly writing out his fathers haiku (steam hides the bather / yet it condenses into / ladles of water); Ken finds himself staging empty Hollywood rewrites of his own life story; Dhalsim sits and meditates at the fire temple of Baku, as the flame is switched from natural to mains gas. They are small, pithy portraits of heroes reflecting on their past.
As well as fitting into the tight constraints of the sonnet, I only allowed myself to use details found within the SNES guidebook. These poems were written in 2007 and (although less funny than some of my other stuff) were written with teenagers in mind. I wanted to find a way of connecting to young people that wouldn’t traditionally read poetry.
Love it or hate it, I’m here to discuss the poem further! Happy to answer any questions left below.