Featured Poet: William Shakespeare

Today is one of the more commonly accepted birthdates for William Shakespeare, so he gets a turn here on the blog tonight.  Happy 450th, Will!  Isn’t that a milestone?

I thought about posting one of my favorite of his sonnets, the one we used as a reading at our wedding, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments…”  But then I thought that might be too expected, and instead I considered some of my personal history with the bard.  Don’t worry, I won’t go into it all here.  Ain’t nobody got time for that!  But I do want to share one anecdote.

When I was in high school, my boyfriend took me to see Henry V at the cinema.  At the time, all I really knew of Shakespeare was Romeo and Juliet and scraps here and there of historical data and maybe a play fragment or two.  I had heard of Othello and Hamlet and Macbeth but hadn’t read them yet.  I had heard of The Taming of the Shrew because Moonlighting had done an episode called “Atomic Shakespeare” that my parents had recorded on their VCR and let me watch one day when I was home, sick, from school — since I’d already watched it at my grandparents’ house with my aunt.

I had no familiarity with any of Shakespeare’s histories at all.

So this boy took me to see Henry V because a friend of his had told him how good it was.  As far as mainstream American audiences were concerned, this was our first really good look at a young and really good-looking Kenneth Branagh.  And, in my memory, the movie was an unusually modern and accessible Shakespeare Film.

I fell, a little headfirst, in love.

Not with my boyfriend.  Not even with Branagh, though I did come out of the movie with a little bit of a crush on him.  Not with Judi Dench’s acting, though it was marvelous, and not with Christian Bale — then a teenager and adorable to my eyes because he was about my age and also, clearly, a really good actor.  (I felt sickened looking at his character’s corpse on the battlefield.)

I fell in love with language.  With the manipulation of it by Derek Jacobi, the Chorus.  With Brian Blessed’s enormous stage presence when he said, “Tennis balls, my liege” — a line that still cracks me up when I think about it.  With the overwrought and latently anxious descriptions of “a most excellent horse.”  With Emma Thompson trying to say “neck.”  With the two bishops whispering conspiratorially in a torchlit corridor at the very beginning of the film.  With Lord Scrope, whom I felt so bad for because I was a teen and susceptible to his gothic face, and I was heartbroken by his betrayal, and I felt torn when they arrested him, though his treason be “another fall of man.”

The part that stunned me the most, though, was that even though I’d never read the play, watching the movie, I understood nearly every sentence.  And it was here that I began to understand why Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be seen more than read.  The idea that language could make more sense to me — to me, a lifelong avid reader whose favorite toys as a child were actually books — that it could be more familiar to my brain on a stage rather than on a page was startling to say the least.

Henry V broke open a floodgate for me, and with every piece of Shakespeare I read after that, I was able to read more and translate less as I went along.  My self-confidence flourished.

So instead of sharing one of the many technically astute, even perfect, sonnets (such tiny masterpieces), I want to present here a part of Henry V.  So many glorious speeches to choose from — Hal was the first motivational speaker I ever knew — and the one I’ve picked is the very first one in the play, the Prologue.  It’s about what actors do on a stage in front of an audience, yes, but it’s also about what we as writers do, embroidering stories on the imagination, creating something, everything, from nothing but incorporeal thought.

It’s Derek Jacobi in a black trenchcoat, backstage, lighting a single wooden match.

Oh, a Muse of fire, indeed.


O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraisèd spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.


Fashion Friday 9/20/13

Today was the homecoming pep rally, and we were all encouraged to wear our school’s colors, one of which is purple.

shoe pic 1
What? It’s purple.

These are the Iron Fist brand American Nightmare shoes, but I like to call them my zombie stompers.  They have a shoe like this called Zombie Stomper as well, but I don’t care for its neon color palette.  So there.

Even better from this angle.
I’ve got spirit, yes I do. I’ve got spirit, how about you?

These shoes have four-inch heels, and they make me almost as tall as some of my students.  Win.

I especially like the little bows on the backs and the criss-cross lacing up the heels.  And the poetry fragments on the inside don’t hurt.


Would you like to be a guest contributor to our Fashion Friday series?  Click here to find out how.

Bringing into the Fold: A Review of Marie Marshall’s Poetry Collection NAKED IN THE SEA

When I was in high school, one of my classmates and I found ourselves mildly obsessed with the poetry of Sara Teasdale. We found a copy of her collected works in the school library and took turns checking it out, over and over again, until it never spent any time in the stacks anymore. We loved that book.

Even if I wouldn’t necessarily gravitate toward her verse now, Teasdale sparked something important in me: she helped me get past my hatred of poetry.

In my high school English classes, we mostly read poems from that no-woman’s-time between Emily Continue reading “Bringing into the Fold: A Review of Marie Marshall’s Poetry Collection NAKED IN THE SEA”

My Creative Writing Students’ Poetry Blog

My high school Creative Writing class is focusing on poetry this year, and they’ve got a blog.  Pop on by if you’re interested and check out some of their work.  They’ve just started posting to it this week, so there are only a couple of poems up so far, but the kids are open to constructive feedback from other writers and readers, should you feel so inclined.  🙂

Here’s the link.

Thanks for stopping by!  🙂

Three of the Best Books I’ve Ever Read Which Made Me Miserable While I Was Reading Them

It seems like everyone comes out with a list of must-read books each summer.  And since I’m clearly too late to jump on that bandwagon, I thought I’d do it up a little differently and give you some suggestions of books which are very, very good but which made me rather unhappy while I was reading them.  These are books which were well written or technically astute enough to break through my misery, distaste, or other negative reaction to convince me they were still awfully good books.

And a warning: this post isn’t just a series of book reviews.  I’ve often said that one Continue reading “Three of the Best Books I’ve Ever Read Which Made Me Miserable While I Was Reading Them”

“I Am Worried About My Grade”

Today I finished my semester.  Grading finals is always a manic marathon accompanied by an earworm devised by my frantic brain.

Grading, grading, grading,
gotta do my grading,
get those finals graded, rawhide!  YA!

Have you ever noticed that manic activities are frequently backgrounded by some lyrically-varied version of “Rawhide”?

Maybe that’s just me…

Anyway, one of my colleagues sent this cartoon to me, and it cracked me up.  I’ll refrain from saying “story of my life” because, frankly, most of my students are awesome kids I really enjoy teaching.  But situations like this do come up on occasion.  They are admittedly rare at the school where I teach, but I’m told I have a reputation for being a frightening teacher, so maybe I’m just lucky and don’t have to deal with it so much.  (This sort of thing used to happen pretty often when I taught at a local college, back in the day.)

Check it out.  Enjoy the end of the school year, all those of you affected by it.  And have a good Memorial Day weekend!

Academic Calendar Conditioning (and a Reminder)

So I’ve been on the schedule of a typical academic calendar for thirty-five years now, nonstop.  My husband assures me that this consistency is the reason for the reinforcement of my periodic stress.  In other words, I’m conditioned to be overworked and therefore stressed out beyond reason from about the end of April through Memorial Day.

I cannot argue with his logic.  Especially not right now, when I’m in the middle of the busiest two weeks of the school year.  I would argue, but frankly, I don’t have time.  There’s a stack of papers nine inches tall waiting to be graded, and I haven’t even given my final exam yet.

There are other times during the year when I am similarly busy and stressed out.  However, between Thanksgiving and December finals I’m too happy about the holiday season to worry about it much.  Then, I’m blissfully able to remind myself that being behind at school is always a finite problem:  the semester always ends, and by hook or by crook, report cards go out, and then I’m done.  But right now, the summer break, when I can devote myself more fully to my writing, is so close that all I can think of is how burnt out I feel every time I sit down to work.  The glorious weather and the wall of windows in my classroom that look out onto a lovely courtyard do not help.  (My friend Amber, who used to teach at UC Santa Barbara, could see the Pacific Ocean from her office window.  That would be worse, I think, but only for my work ethic.)

I used to have insomnia the beginning of August every year, from the time I began teaching until the time my daughter was born.  (Then I didn’t have the insomnia because I was just so damn tired all the time I couldn’t possibly have trouble falling asleep.  Not at any time, not in any place.)  A lot of my colleagues experience this also, the inability to sleep well (or, in some cases, at all), for about two weeks before the school year begins.  I suppose we should all count ourselves lucky that we care so much about teaching that we worry whether we will do it well enough.  I will say that my colleagues continually inspire me with their energy, talent, and devotion to their students’ success.  As teaching careers go, I’m at what Bull Durham would call “the show.”  And I’m grateful for that.

But this means that for a while a few times a year, the other stuff I do suffers a bit.  For example, my blog.  Let’s just call this post a long-winded apology for not a lot of substantive sharing lately.  It’s not that interesting and important things haven’t been happening.  They have.  I’ve even had a few episodes of mildly worthwhile introspection about them.  But since Easter, it’s been a maelstrom around here.  Yes, work has been busy.  Yes, my daughter turned seven.  Yes, my writing has been doing interesting stuff.  But also, people have died.

Some of all that I may blog about this summer; I don’t know.  I am fairly certain, however, that I will write much more substantial things for you, dear readers, more often than I have the last several weeks.  I appreciate that you’ve stuck with me thus far.

I’ll be done with this school year by the end of May.  I’ll still have school work to do over the summer, of course — the idea that teachers don’t have to work during the break is a damaging myth worthy of Depeche Mode’s “Blasphemous Rumours” — but my time will be more my own and less frenetic.  Or at least that’s the plan.

Until then, go on and vote in my poll from last week.  You know, the one about The Silliest Thing You’ve Ever Heard.  Tell everyone you know to vote also.  Do it before tomorrow, when voting will close.  I can’t wait to find out who the winner is, especially since at the moment there is a three-way tie for first place.

And as for all the rest, thanks for hanging in there with me.  All the best.