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a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Poets”

Shakespeare Celeb:The Wit of Sonnet 130


Image result for sonnet 130

I admit most of this month’s tribute to Shakespeare has been focused on his plays, or at least I have admittedly grievously ignored his sonnets. This post shall attempt to make amends.

It’s impressive he wrote 154 sonnets, compared to writing 37 plays. It’s thought he wrote sonnets when the Puritans or the Health Department shut down the theatres, either for indecency complaints or plague control. There must have been some serious down time.

From fact finding, I discovered Shakespeare considered himself more poet than playwright, having first got his fame thing going with the publication of a couple of poems: “Venus and Adonis” (1593) and “The Rape of Lucrece” (1594). These got the attention of the Earl of Southampton who became Shakespeare’s patron. Scholars say other things about the Earl, but we shall not pursue the matter here.

Today I focus on one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. If you are interested in his full sonnet selection, go here:

Yes, I do have a favorite. Actually more than one. Sonnet 130, to me, captures the absolute wit of Shakespeare, especially this version. I’ll tell you why after you watch it.

At first, it seems as if the speaker is downgrading his lover. Instead of promoting her virtues he speaks of her unruly hair, less-than-fashionable hue of skin, and the fact that she treads instead of glides. Reeks means breathes, not stinks–a denotation clarification. In fact, what Shakespeare does is set it down that the speaker’s mistress is a human, not a goddess, which is something many of the sonnet writers espoused, that the women of their poetry were so perfect, so amazing, and as Shakespeare points out, so unreal. The woman of Sonnet 130 is not perfect, and doesn’t have to be to attain the speaker’s devotion.

The first half of the sonnet grinds away at her apparent imperfections, and the reader must think the speaker cruel and heartless. When the turn arrives, the shift in attitude (technically called the volta), clear down in the couplet, we discover the speaker said all that to say this:

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
     As any she belied with false compare.

This is Shakespeare’s point: the sonnet had become this competition of writing with a practiced extemporaneous style, as if the subject were so inspiring, words just flowed from pen to paper. Basically, it came off as phoney baloney. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 speaker lays it down truthfully: “hey, my girl may not fit the Elizabethan Renaissance standards of beauty, but she’s my girl–talking about my girl.” She’s real. She’s not perfect. She makes me happy. Thank you, Bill. The purple prose of yesteryear , the false compare, does not speaketh the truth. Women, and men, are not perfect. There is beauty in imperfection, and Shakespeare tells us so.

 

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Poem of the Month: of Roads, Readers, and such


A recent post discussed how David Orr points out how America has misread Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” which I now have stuck in my brain as being titled “Two Roads.” Another discussion could be voting for which should be the real title.

As I add to my Poem of the Day PPT for my students, I came across a Carl Sandburg poem that resonated with Frost’s poem about experience. This led to an article about revisiting poems that have created the cringe factor due to overuse since being introduced to them in elementary school and this led to another poem about connecting with readers. I enjoy this particular poem’s title since it harkens to Bronte’s use of addressing her audience as “Dear Reader,” something we as writers unconsciously do as we include others as we write.

Enjoy this excerpt and follow the link for the entire poem

Dear Reader by Amy Gerstler

Through what precinct of life’s forest are you hiking at this
moment?
Are you kicking up leaf litter or stabbed by brambles?
Of what stuff are you made? Gossamer or chain mail?
Are you, as reputed, marvelously empty? Or invisibly ever-
present,
even as this missive is typed? Have you been to Easter Island?
Yes?
Then I’m jealous. Do you use a tongue depressor as bookmark?

I wonder if Charlotte would have used a tongue depressor as a bookmark?

image: http://www.thefamouspeople.com

POM: April 28


One of the lovelier aspects of spring returning is the flurry, fluttery returning of birds. I especially like the robins cheerup salutes of this season as they parade on the lawn feasting on worms. No robin poems of notice yet, so this dandy tribute to blue birds will suffice:

Advice to a Blue Bird
by Maxwell Bodenheim
Who can make a delicate adventure
Of walking on the ground?
Who can make grass-blades
Arcades for pertly careless straying?
You alone, who skim against these leaves,
Turning all desire into light whips
Moulded by your deep blue wing-tips,
You who shrill your unconcern
Into the sternly antique sky.
You to whom all things
Hold an equal kiss of touch.

Mincing, wanton blue-bird,
Grimace at the hoofs of passing men.
You alone can lose yourself
Within a sky, and rob it of its blue!

POM: April 26


This is oh so Thoreau. The way he observes nature, breaking the whole into bits without dissembling the phenomena.

 Mist by Henry David Thoreau

Low-anchored cloud,

Newfoundland air,

Fountain-head and source of rivers,

Dew-cloth, dream-drapery,

And napkin spread by fays;

Drifting meadow of the air,

Where bloom the daisied banks and violets,

And in whose fenny labyrinth

The bittern booms and heron wades;

Spirit of lakes and seas and rivers,—

Bear only perfumes and the scent

Of healing herbs to just men’s fields.

POM: April 25


John Donne, Metaphysical poet, definitely challenges our perception of death with his “Death Be Not Proud.”  Death is not seen as a bully, a villain,  nor even anything to actually fear. Donne portrays death as a coward, in that it cannot act upon its own accord, needing an agent to perform. He presents death as merely a comma, a breath into the next life. This Holy Sonnet is a stunning portrait of his faith.

Another portrait, one more contemporary is by Dean Rader. He presents our transition as a reuniting. How welcome is an embrace, the meeting of child and parent after a long journey apart? Beautiful.

Alternate Self-Portrait 

by Dean Rader

One day

I will drift

into darkness

and know it

perhaps

the way a son

recognizes a mother

after he has returned

from many years

of travel

understanding

the new distance

is neither

beginning nor

end

only stillness

 

Copyright © 2015 by Dean Rader. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 30, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

POM: Yo–Shakespeare


I’m not aware of any other literary celebrity whose birth and death dates are the same day. That just Billy the Bard even more special, doesn’t it? This year is being touted as the Shakesyear, due to the span of 400 years  of celebrating his influence since his death in 1616. I certainly couldn’t let National Poetry Month slip by without celebrating Shakespeare on his birthday. Here is one of my favorite sonnets:

Sonnet 29 read by Matthew Macfayden

POM:October–Singing in the Fall, I’m Singing in the Fall


Due to the roasty, toasty temps we experienced this year, I’m becoming more of an autumn fan than a summer lover, my allegiance to fall begins to wane when the leaves start swirling down. While I don’t actually loathe raking and burning the farewell of summer, I do detest how the days are darker–both in the morning and in the evening. I do adore my Happy Lights. One in the bedroom and one in the kitchen. I’m about to trot to Costco to purchase another for my office.

Being the type of person who prefers solutions to problems, I appreciated this poem find. Instead of fretting about the impending gloom, I shall whistle instead.

Whistling in the dark, with a poem in my heart image: morguefile.com/morethanordinary

The Gift to Sing
by James Weldon Johnson, 18711928

Sometimes the mist overhangs my path,
And blackening clouds about me cling;
But, oh, I have a magic way
To turn the gloom to cheerful day—
      I softly sing.

And if the way grows darker still,
Shadowed by Sorrow’s somber wing,
With glad defiance in my throat,
I pierce the darkness with a note,
       And sing, and sing.

I brood not over the broken past,
Nor dread whatever time may bring;
No nights are dark, no days are long,
While in my heart there swells a song,
       And I can sing.

POM: SEPTEMBER


September heralds in fall and school. Being a librarian at heart with a day job as an English teacher, I have a soft spot for poems about books, especially those about libraries. This one hits the spot quite nicely.

My First Memory (of Librarians)

Nikki Giovanni
This is my first memory:
A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky
       wood floor
A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center
Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply
       too short
              For me to sit in and read
So my first book was always big
In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided
To the left side the card catalogue
On the right newspapers draped over what looked like
       a quilt rack
Magazines face out from the wall
The welcoming smile of my librarian
The anticipation in my heart
All those books—another world—just waiting
At my fingertips.

This summer was an odd one. In my part of the world June is usually a bit drippy around the edges until after July 4th. Summer decided to rev up early and we suffered through high nineties through most of the season, which caused a set of horrendous fires in the surrounding states.

We usually coast into a gentle fall, with chilly nights and warmer days, allowing the ability to sneak in sandals and linen skirts a couple of more weeks. Not so this September. We are nightly lighting chill breakers in the stove and I forlornly have folded away my summer stock of tank tops and capris.

As a farewell to summer, as fall officially begins this week, I have included an August poem.

August

Lizette Woodworth Reese
No wind, no bird. The river flames like brass.
On either side, smitten as with a spell
Of silence, brood the fields. In the deep grass,
Edging the dusty roads, lie as they fell
Handfuls of shriveled leaves from tree and bush.
But ’long the orchard fence and at the gate,
Thrusting their saffron torches through the hush,
Wild lilies blaze, and bees hum soon and late.
Rust-colored the tall straggling briar, not one
Rose left. The spider sets its loom up there
Close to the roots, and spins out in the sun
A silken web from twig to twig. The air
Is full of hot rank scents. Upon the hill
Drifts the noon’s single cloud, white, glaring, still

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