a writer's journey as a reader

Poet Appreciation #8: William Shakespeare

*Gasp* Billy Bard is celebrating his 450th birthday on the 23rd. I advise those attending the birthday party to stick to the crumpets and steer clear of the kippers, as they didn’t do ol’ William any good at his own birthday din celeb.

Would William be surprised to know how many Bardinators there are coasting about due to his most marvelous ability with words, wit, and retrofitting old tales into something more appealing?  Probably.  Ben Jonson knew his contemporary, and somewhat rival was “a man for all time.”

What better way to say “Happy Birthday, Bill!” than with a couple of his sonnets.

First, the Mona Lisa of his career:


Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? 
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date: 
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d; 
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st; 
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee


Who hasn’t heard this lovely tribute of admiration? No matter how many years I’ve taught it to high school students they still “get it” and appreciate the trick ending of the couplet.  That’s what I like about Wm’s wit: it’s subtle and winking.  I think he’s winking right now as it’s being read. I’ll let Michael York recite it for you.  He gets it for sure, this is a loving tribute (don’t get shook up about it being for a man, like my freshmen do–this was supposedly to William S.’s patron, the guy who paid the bills so Wm could keep writing. Is that any different from dedicating a song or book to an agent, sibling, parent, or editor?)

Another tribute sonnet is perhaps not as complimentary, yet I think it showcases Shakespeare’s ability to take the accepted medium and poke fun at how poets tended to extol too vigorously the glories of a person, thus rendering him or her to be removed from humanity–it’s difficult to climb down off a pedestal that’s built too high. This particular sonnet at first sounds like a bash session; however, after a step back moment, it’s clear to see Shakespeare extols the real beauty of his love.  He loves this woman, warts–that is, frizzy hair, and all.


My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; 
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare.

This video captures the satire of those mushy sonnets while intones the general attitude of love.  Alan Rickman and typography mash up at its best.  Wouldn’t you want Alan Rickman reciting a sonnet to you?  Check yes.



These are only a drop in the sonnet bucket.  Wills wrote 150 sonnets, far more than the 38 plays we know to be roaming about.  So why do we mostly associate him with being a playwright than a poet?  According to many historical sources, he considered himself to be more of a poet than a playwriter. Hmm, it’s easier to turn a play into a film than a sonnet, I suppose.

Once again, Happy Birthday, William!



Poet Appreciation #7: William Cullen Bryant

Are you a New Yorker? If so, then you know that William Bryant helped establish Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and that Bryant Park is named for him. He was also long time editor of the New York Evening Post. Of course you knew . More importantly, Bryant was part of the Romantics. While the Brits reveled in Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley, America had its own Romanticist in the form of William Cullen Bryant.

William Cullen Bryant Cabinet Card by Mora-crop.jpg William Cullen Bryant: November 3, 1794 – June 12, 1878 (Wikipedia image)

by William Cullen Bryant

Yet one smile more, departing, distant sun!
One mellow smile through the soft vapoury air,
Ere, o’er the frozen earth, the loud winds ran,
Or snows are sifted o’er the meadows bare.
One smile on the brown hills and naked trees,
And the dark rocks whose summer wreaths are cast,
And the blue Gentian flower, that, in the breeze,
Nods lonely, of her beauteous race the last.
Yet a few sunny days, in which the bee
Shall murmur by the hedge that skim the way,
The cricket chirp upon the russet lea,
And man delight to linger in thy ray.
Yet one rich smile, and we will try to bear
The piercing winter frost, and winds, and darkened air.    

I do like fall. Each month has its own cadence. September has its drowsy warm days drifting into chilly nights, and then there is October with its brisk mornings rewarded with a gift of sun before rescinding into frost-quickened nights. Bryant has captured November with its bright, lingering colors mixed into the descending browns, graced with slights of snowfall. November is truly a mixture of seasons with its bits of summer mingling with the foreshadowing of winter. I added “gentian” to my imagery entries. Lovely word. Wonderful poem of images.

Get Your Poems and Pockets Ready…

Get your poems and pocket ready. April 24th is National Poem in Your Pocket Day!


On Poem in Your Pocket Day, people throughout the United States select a poem, carry it with them, and share it with others throughout the day.

You can also share your poem selection on Twitter by using the hashtag #pocketpoem.

Poems from pockets are unfolded throughout the day with events in parks, libraries, schools, workplaces, and bookstores.

Create your own Poem in Your Pocket Day event using ideas below or share your creative ideas with us by emailing


Last year I downloaded the poems selected especially for PYPD and printed them out on colored paper and rolled them up and handed them out to students from a special canister.  They unrolled them and smiled and shared them. Yes, some ended up on the floor, but mostly my freshmen and AP seniors thought it pretty cool to have their own poem to carry around for the day.  I enjoyed watching them excitedly ask one another, “Which one did you get?”

So–you’ve got the website link, now get on it!  Get those poems ready for those pockets!



Poet Appreciation #6: Eliza Lee Follen

While it’s grand to dig away at meaning, symbolism, and theme, it can refreshing to simply enjoy a poem for its bouncy rhythm and rhyme and wit.  This is the case for Eliza Lee Follen’s “Lines on Nonsense.”

Edward Lear renders an appropriate complement for today’s poem.

Lines on Nonsense

Yes, nonsense is a treasure!
I love it from my heart;
The only earthly pleasure
That never will depart.

But, as for stupid reason,
That stalking, ten-foot rule,
She’s always out of season,
A tedious, testy fool.

She’s like a walking steeple,
With a clock for face and eyes,
Still bawling to all people,
Time bids us to be wise.

While nonsense on the spire
A weathercock you’ll find,
Than reason soaring higher,
And changing with the wind.

The clock too oft deceives,
Says what it cannot prove;
While every one believes
The vane that turns above.

Reason oft speaks unbidden,
And chides us to our face;
For which she should be chidden,
And taught to know her place.

While nonsense smiles and chatters,
And says such charming things,
Like youthful hope she flatters;
And like a syren sings.

Her charm’s from fancy borrowed,
For she is fancy’s pet;
Her name is on her forehead,
In rainbow colors set.

Then, nonsense let us cherish,
Far, far from reason’s light;
Lest in her light she perish,
And vanish from our sight.

Eliza Lee Follen (1787-1860), was ten in a family of thirteen children. Born into an affluent Boston family she became a poet, children’s author, editor, and abolitionist. Her children’s verse offerings posed light and nonsensical images in contrast to the more serious ones of her time. She and her husband, Charles Follen had one son.

Poet Appreciation: #5 Guest Poet

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints – I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Three guess on today’s most appropriate poem:

  • Nope, not Shakespeare–although it is Sonnet 43, it’s not his.
  • Nada–Dickinson has dashes, but not so much mush
  • Yup, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And I know it’s almost cliché to have her famous Sonnet 43 as today’s poem (yes, though February was a couple of months ago, the 14th can still be a factor in choice), her love story is soooo romantic that it bears repeating–especially if you don’t know it.

ONCE upon a time, long ago, a young girl by the name of Elizabeth Barrett grew up with a very possessive and controlling father who had strange ideas about his children going off and getting married–like in “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!” Even though the young Elizabeth was pretty much imprisoned in her house by her father (shades of princess needing a prince) she became a famous poet.

One day a dashing younger man by the name of Robert Browning read one of Miss Barrett’s books of poetry and wrote her a letter. She wrote back. He wrote back. Well, before you know it they became pen pals with a serious romance brewing.

Big, bad, Dad Barrett would not let Elizabeth and Robert marry, at least he did not give his consent. So, of course Robert, a prince of a fellow, rescues the lovely princess of poetry, and they elope off to Italy. And yes, they DID live happily ever after. Big, bad, Dad Barrett never forgave them, but the Brownings remained blissfully happy in their famous marriage of pen and passion.

Now, that’s a great literary romance tale. So let’s celebrate with some good old Peanuts:

Poet Appreciation: #4 George Santayana

Quick–what teacher did Conrad Aiken, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and Wallace Stevens have in common? *Jeopardy muzak plays softly* If you answered George Santayana you either are a verse warrior or you clued in on the post title.

Santayana, a Spanish-born American, was a philosopher, essayist, novelist, teacher, and poet. Receiving his PhD from Harvard he joined the faculty in 1889. In 1912 he moved to Europe and must have liked it because he never returned to the states. Santayana, thought to be an important influences of critical realism, became part of what is known as the Classical American Philosophy. He died in 1952.

 There may be chaos still around the world
by George Santayana
There may be chaos still around the world,
This little world that in my thinking lies;
For mine own bosom is the paradise
Where all my life’s fair visions are unfurled.
Within my nature’s shell I slumber curled,
Unmindful of the changing outer skies,
Where now, perchance, some new-born Eros flies,
Or some old Cronos from his throne is hurled.
I heed them not; or if the subtle night
Haunt me with deities I never saw,
I soon mine eyelid’s drowsy curtain draw
To hide their myriad faces from my sight.
They threat in vain; the whirlwind cannot awe
A happy snow-flake dancing in the flaw.
Unless I am way off base, I think this is the complex version of Bobby McFerrin’s hit ditty “Don’t Worry. Be Happy.” I hear in this poem how the world can be swirling and whirling about us, yet we can cocoon within ourselves and remain blissfully at peace.  I prefer the happy llama mode: humming along in life.

Last Call for YA Writer Hopefuls…


Tomorrow is the deadline for the Writer’s Digest 15th Free Lucky Agent Contest.

Free definitely caught my attention.  The fact that the contest is focusing on Young Adult helped motivate me to enter.  Who could resist the prize:

Three  winners  will be awarded the following:

1) A critique of the first 10 double-spaced pages of their work, by the agent judge

2) A free one-year subscription to

The critique will be given by agent  Andrea Somberg, a literary agent who represents various fiction and non-fiction projects including those aimed at young adult and middle grade audiences.

I selected one of my YA manuscripts, spent some time polishing it, and submitted it.  It’s not too late! If you are a YA writer  go to this link for my details.

  Hoping to have good news about my submission.


Now–back to poetry and National Poetry Month.

Poet Appreciation #3: Robert Penn Warren

Better known as a novelist, and perhaps as a scholar, Robert Penn Warren did provide some formidable poetry to ponder. You might be more familiar with his All the King’s Men, which garnered him the Pulitzer Prize in 1947, then his Pulitzer Prize collection Now and Then: Poems, 1976-1978. In all, he was awarded three Pulitzer Prizes, two being for poetry.  His southern background influenced his writing, particularly leaning towards the agrarian appreciation of the land. Receiving accolades and honors throughout his career, Warren left a rich legacy of both prose and poetry.

Image of U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Penn Warren

Image of U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Penn Warren (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Robert Penn Warren

I shall build me a house shall build me a house where the larkspur blooms
In a narrow glade in an alder wood,

Where the sunset shadows make violet glooms,
And a whip-poor-will calls in eerie mood.

I shall lie on a bed of river sedge,
And listen to the glassy dark,
With a guttered light on my window ledge,
While an owl stares in at me white and stark.
I shall burn my house with the rising dawn,
And leave but the ashes and smoke behind,
And again give the glade to the owl and the fawn,
When the grey wood smoke drifts away with the wind.

Like Cather’s poetry about the prairie, Warren provides a strong connection to nature. His diction is amazing the way it influences the imagery: “violet glooms,” “guttered light,” “glassy dark”. I don’t even notice the rhyme, it’s so fluid. Whether they poem is taken for its metaphorical meaning or literal, it doesn’t matter to me–I simply want to savor it, rather than analyze it. Good writing is like a good sunset in that words aren’t always sufficient to explain why the beauty is so moving.

Poetry Workshop: The Villanelle

The villanelle is one of those poem forms that when rendered well looks so effortless it’s surprising to learn how difficult they really are to write.


What is a villanelle?

This is a rather strenuous poem in that it contains nineteen lines, which amounts to five stanzas of three lines and one stanza of four lines containing four lines with two rhymes and two refrains.

Now if that isn’t complicated enough, keep this in mind: the first, and then the third lines alternate as the last lines of stanzas 2, 3, and 4, with stanza 5 ending in a couplet.  Oh, yes–the villanelle is usually written in a tetrameter, which is four feet or perhaps a pentameter, constituting of five feet

It’s best to see how a villanelle is wired together. If curious, or willing to try a villanelle with the example by Edward Arlington Robinson found at WikiHow

If you’re thinking, “Well, bosh and bother, I think I’ll pass on the villanelle,” I will leave you some well-known villanelles to contemplate.  Look for those repeating lines.  Like I mentioned earlier, a well-rendered villanelle won’t even appear to be trying so hard.  These poets make it seem rather effortless, don’t they?

Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”  is one of the most famous villanelles. To demonstrate how the villanelle works the repetition is boldface and italics. A deeper discussion can be found at this link

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night,

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night,

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Another villanelle example:

When I saw you last, Rose,
You were only so high;—
How fast the time goes!

Like a bud ere it blows,
You just peeped at the sky,
When I saw you last, Rose!

Now your petals unclose,
Now your May-time is nigh;—
How fast the time goes!

And a life,—how it grows!
You were scarcely so shy
When I saw you last, Rose!

In your bosom it shows
There’s a guest on the sly;
How fast the time goes!

Is it Cupid? Who knows!
Yet you used not to sigh,
When I saw you last, Rose;—
How fast the time goes!

                            –Austin Dobson

You probably found those repeating lines all on your own, didn’t you?

Here’s a more contemporary villanelle.  Do check out more of Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry. She’s amazing.

One Art
Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
 so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster

If you haven’t filled up on villanelles yet, I suggest clicking here and reading on a rather nice collection.

Thanks for stopping in for the workshop.  I do hope you will give the villanelle a try, and even if you don’t, I hope you’ve gain an appreciation for a fascinating poem form.



Poet Appreciation #2: Edwin Arlington Robinson

English: Portrait of Edwin Arlington Robinson

Portrait of Edwin Arlington Robinson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I vaguely recall reading one or two of Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poetry as I dug through my AP selections. Needless to say, he is not a poet that I am familiar with; however, this gem dropped in my box as a my daily poem offering and it immediately reverberated within me: don’t we all wonder about that abandoned house?

Robinson took his poetry seriously, despite being unable to make a living from it, he persevered. Twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize he still remains relatively unknown, at least I can’t place him in the category of tip-of-the-tongue knowns, like Frost, Dickinson, and Whitman.  Have you heard of him or am I showing my poetry illiteracy once again?

The House on the Hill
by Edwin Arlington Robinson

They are all gone away,      
The House is shut and still,    
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray      
The winds blow bleak and shrill:    
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one to-day      
To speak them good or ill:    
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray      
Around that sunken sill?    
They are all gone away.

And our poor fancy-play      
For them is wasted skill:    
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay      
In the House on the Hill:    
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

For a broader perspective of the poem follow this link

I personally am always curious about abandoned houses, or those that seem empty. Yet, there  isn’t a true emptiness, is there as long as houses remain standing, so do the memories. I like how Robinson intimates that though there may be memories, without the people inhabiting the house, there can be no conversations. An empty house is a voiceless house and a house without words is indeed empty.

English: abandoned house

abandoned house (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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