National Poetry Month 2023: Day 24

Happy Shakespeare’s birthday (and deathday)! Here below is one of his sonnets for you to enjoy.

But first, a note about sonnets: they have an interesting structure that goes beyond rhyme scheme and fourteen lines. In fact, we have both traditional sonnets (of which Shakespeare’s work is one example) and modern sonnets (which sometimes bear little to no resemblance to the traditional ones).

I’m teaching a workshop this Saturday afternoon — on Zoom, so you can all be there! — for Writespace about sonnets. Here’s the blurb about it and a link to register. (Shakespeare’s poem is after that.) There are still spots available as of this morning, so come join us!

Beyond Shakespeare: Writing Sonnets for This Century

Yes, the sonnet is an old form, but it’s been made new in a plethora of different ways in our modern era. For example, they don’t all have to be fourteen lines and about love anymore. In this generative workshop we’ll acknowledge the traditional masters of this art form while also exploring the many ways the sonnet has evolved. We’ll cover six different types of rhyme and the expanded range of subjects the sonnet now typically embraces, and we’ll dive into what it means when we say, “The sonnet is an argument.” This class will be a mixture of instruction and writing time, with the possibility of feedback on your work in a supportive atmosphere.

This course is appropriate for all skill levels. It makes a wonderful sequel to Kendra Leonard’s workshop on meter, but there are truly no prerequisites for it; you don’t have to take the meter class to take this one.


Sonnet 19

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-liv’d Phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one more heinous crime:
O, carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen!
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
Yet do thy worst, old Time! Despite thy wrong
My love shall in my verse ever live young.


Click on these links for the Shakespeare posts from 2018 and 2019 for some biographical information and images of him. I’ll warn you that the bios get more irreverent as time goes on, and I’ll add that he’s one of the few old dead white guy authors I think we still need to teach. Cheers!

Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 23: William Shakespeare

I typically like to post something by Shakespeare on his presumed birth- and deathday. This year it’s Sonnet 12.

I’ve been thinking about mortality and legacy. I’m maybe at that time of life, I suppose? But also, these seem like good things to consider from time to time, to make sure we aren’t wasting our time. Or maybe that’s just me.

I try not to obsess over any of it — and don’t advocate that anyone should, frankly. But tempus fugit and all, and I guess I want to make sure that what I spend so ridiculously much time doing means something beyond the time I spend doing it. Gods, I hope it means something good.

Shakespeare advocates that having children is the way to achieve immortality, after a fashion. I get his point but really don’t think that will do it. Tim O’Brien wrote that stories would save us, that books were a form of immortality. That seems a bit more like it. If I recall correctly (and I might not), David Eagleman imagined the afterlife, in one iteration, as a vaguely purgatorial place where souls had to hang around, waiting for their eternal rest, until no one who yet remembered them was still alive. Shakespeare was miserable in that waiting room, watching lots of less noteworthy people shuffle off to some great reward while he had to sit there wishing people would stop reading his work.

Sorry, Bard. Your sonnets are the bomb.

Sonnet 12

When I do count the clock that tells the time, 
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night; 
When I behold the violet past prime, 
And sable curls all silver’d o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves 
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves 
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard, 
Then of thy beauty do I question make, 
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow; 
   And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
   Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence. 


Click on these links for the Shakespeare posts from 2018 and 2019 for some biographical information and images of him. I’ll warn you that the bios get more irreverent as time goes on, and I’ll add that he’s one of the few old dead white guy authors I think we still need to teach. Cheers!

Poem-A-Day: William Shakespeare

This week is Shakespeare’s death anniversary, which falls on his presumed birth anniversary. I always like to post something from his works in honor of that. This year, though, I just couldn’t decide on something. Maybe I’m all Shakespeared out? I just finished teaching both Othello (to my sophomores) and Macbeth (to my seniors), so maybe it has something to do with that.

So instead, I’m going to post a line from Hamlet that just won’t leave me right now:

“Madness in great ones must not
unwatched go.”

This is from early in Act III. Claudius says it as part of his justification for spying on (and, let’s be honest, plotting against) Hamlet, but of course one could also possibly suggest an argument that this is ironic coming from a king who murdered his brother and married that brother’s wife in order to gain the throne (and get the girl, and thereby shunt his nephew-turned-stepson out of his rightful place on the throne). One might argue that Claudius is a little mad, too.

Let’s take this further, though. Let’s find the relevance from this quote into our own current (sur)reality. “Great ones” is a relative term. So is “madness.” But I would argue that it’s never a good idea to take one’s eye off people in power.

Don’t necessarily take their advice. (PSA: Do NOT inject disinfectant into yourself, even if you are sick, because it will probably kill you. Also, don’t even try to inject yourself with sunlight. Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin with this nonsense.)


There’s a fine line between unwatched and unwatchable. Look alive, campers.

If you’d like to see more of my National Poetry Month posts featuring The Bard, click here:  2014, 2017, 2018, 2019.

In other news, what is your favorite passage from Shakespeare? Share it in the comments below!


Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!


Click through the links above for the Shakespeare posts from 2018 and 2019 for some biographical information and images of him. I’ll warn you that the bios get more irreverent as time goes on. Cheers!

Poem-A-Day: William Shakespeare (and World Book Day)

Happy Shakespeare’s (presumed) birthday!

ALSO IT IS WORLD BOOK DAY TODAY! I wonder if there’s a coincidence? (See my note at the end of this post for more on this.)

Not gonna lie, I love most of Shakespeare’s work that I’ve ever read. (Except Titus Andronicus. Holy cats I dislike that play. And Julius Caesar. What a nightmare that was to teach.)

His sonnets are an absolute technical marvel. Sonnet 29, in particular, reminds me of what it feels like to be in mid-life crisis, or even just that No Man’s Land where you’re neither worth objectfying (thank goodness for small favors, right?) nor are you really even visible to most of the world (bah).


Except, except, except.

When you have wonderful people in your life. Stable relationships. Things to be proud of and happy about.

That’s just not such a bad place to be, after all.

Sonnet 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.


William Shakespeare is the sort of legendary writer who is so popular people don’t even want to like him, but who also makes cynics and skeptics think he couldn’t possibly have written so much awesome stuff because he didn’t have a fancy education. Poppycock, stuff and nonsense. Sorry, Sir Francis Bacon and Christopher Marlowe and anyone else some dusty prof decides to sally forth out of jealousy. Imma go with that man was just a genius. Peace out.


Now, about World Book Day. In an effort to send more books out into the world, I am giving away copies of Finis. (up to ten) to anyone who asks for one and gives me their (U.S.) address. (I will send them out to other countries quite happily, but you’ll need to pay for postage on those.) You have until this weekend to do it. Cheers!

Poem-A-Day: William Shakespeare

If you’ve read my National Poetry Month series before, you know that I like to celebrate Shakespeare’s birth- and deathday with one of his poems. This year it’s with one of my favorite of his sonnets, number 116. This poem has been read at many a literary wedding (mine included) and earned a well-deserved jolt of popularity after Emma Thompson’s utterly brilliant adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility came out in theaters.

Romantics everywhere, enjoy.


Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
.     If this be error and upon me proved,
.     I never writ, nor no man ever loved.


When looking for an image of Shakespeare, I found several, and one was even of a reasonably good-looking man, but there’s no guarantee it’s accurate. In fact, this engraving and the funerary monument on The Bard’s grave are the only two likenesses of him that can be verified as accurate. So.

William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 (baptized) – 23 April 1616) was an English poet, playwright and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon”. His extant works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. You can learn more on his Wikipedia page, which is where I got the rest of this paragraph, because — like John Donne — Shakespeare is not in any realistic position to email me his bio.

Poem-A-Day: William Shakespeare

I like to post something by Shakespeare to commemorate the anniversary of his birth and death every year. It was yesterday — both his birthday and his deathday — and I missed the date, alas. But I’m just not on top of things as well as I’d like to be this week. My school and writing loads are both, at the moment, heavy.

I’ve been thinking about middle school lately, since I’ve got a daughter in the thick of it and my son will embark upon it next year. Middle school is such a traumatic time of life, for nearly everyone. That’s just developmentally where humans are. (I might, in fact, be concerned about someone who didn’t find it awful in at least some ways.)

One monologue that I always come back to is Helena’s indignation from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Like many young person social dramas, a great deal of hurt follows a great deal of misunderstanding. I’m not trying to celebrate that. However, I find this monologue particularly poignant.

In the wonderful film version of this play from 1999, Calista Flockhart makes what might be one of her greatest performances ever, as Helena. She does an amazing job of portraying a young lady with not nearly enough self-respect but a fire in her belly.


Injurious Hermia! most ungrateful maid!
Have you conspired, have you with these contrived
To bait me with this foul derision?
Is all the counsel that we two have shared,
The sisters’ vows, the hours that we have spent,
When we have chid the hasty-footed time
For parting us,–O, is it all forgot?
All school-days’ friendship, childhood innocence?
We, Hermia, like two artificial gods,
Have with our needles created both one flower,
Both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion,
Both warbling of one song, both in one key,
As if our hands, our sides, voices and minds,
Had been incorporate. So we grow together,
Like to a double cherry, seeming parted,
But yet an union in partition;
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem;
So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart;
Two of the first, like coats in heraldry,
Due but to one and crowned with one crest.
And will you rent our ancient love asunder,
To join with men in scorning your poor friend?
It is not friendly, ’tis not maidenly:
Our sex, as well as I, may chide you for it,
Though I alone do feel the injury.


Ah, youth. As they say, it is wasted on the young.

National Poetry Month — Day 24

For Shakespeare’s birthday, I’m sharing a fragment from Romeo and Juliet that never ceases to amaze me. It’s from that glorious balcony scene — no, I’m not a romantic at all, why do you ask? — the scene that made me want to take up acting when I was very young.

Also, this fragment is one that gives me fits, as an English teacher and general lover of language, because people get its meaning wrong all the time. Here’s a hint to help this fragment make actual, logical sense: “wherefore” means “why,” not “where.” If it meant “where,” that would suggest Juliet knows Romeo is out in the garden, and part of the point of the start of this scene is that she does not. He completely surprises her when he climbs up that trellis.

Also, if “wherefore” meant “where,” the rest of the lines would be a somewhat confusing non sequitur.


Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name,
or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.


Notice the lack of direct-address comma after “thou” in the first line? Yeah, me too. Its absence means she isn’t addressing him a third time in that sentence, but that his name here is a direct object of “art” (“are” in modern parlance).

As it turns out, Juliet is musing on the misfortune of the boy she likes being a Montague, and thus a member of the family her own family is feuding with and sworn to hate. This moment of pre-rebellious reverie is important, too, because she’s deciding that if Romeo won’t renounce his family, then all he has to do is swear his love to her, and she’ll give up her family, to be with him.

Hijinks ensue.




And just for fun, here’s an amazeballs flow chart from to help you decide which of Sheakespeare’s plays you might want to watch to commemorate his birth- and deathday.

Witches #2

Among the litany of ridonculous nonsense I had to put up with this week was a post about Shakespeare — specifically, about the ruination of Shakespeare by the (previously-by-me) respected Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The festival’s organizers are now commissioning translations of Shakespeare’s plays — that’s right, “translations” of plays written in an English that is, in the scope of the language, already rather modern — into contemporary diction.

This is harmful and stupid.

The organizers claim that audiences feel disconnected from Shakespeare’s language, that it’s too difficult to understand. The article I linked above makes the point, which I agree with, that usually the problem is that actors and directors don’t really understand the language well enough themselves to be putting it on their stage in the first place. I can’t even count the number of unfortunate productions I’ve sat through (at least until intermission) that were filled with people sawing the air with their hands and shouting dramatically at each other by the third scene, how many shows where the actors paused their sentences in the wrong place, not paying attention even to the punctuation in the script, much less to the depth of the meaning or the subtext.

This is similar to the problem I have with so many interpretations of Shakespeare which take his plays out of his time. Sometimes a director will set the play in a different time and place, but this only works when the themes and conflicts relevant to Shakespeare’s play are also actually relevant to the new time and place. Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet had its flaws, but feuding families transported from Renaissance Italy to the gang-infested streets of 1990s Los Angeles county — that worked. Setting Twelfth Night in the 1980s — yes, the narcissism of Duke Orsino’s character writ large against a soundtrack that included David Bowie, Morissey, and New Wave, men and women in gender-ambiguous costumes and make-up — lovely.

But I once saw a musical version of Much Ado About Nothing set amongst the football players and cheerleaders of a college campus in the 1950s. Clever and interesting in some ways — and serious props go to the very young and ambitious person who wrote it, for certain — but that play is about a young woman’s virtue being a function of her virginity, and the disastrous break-up of her imminent marriage when her fiancé believed her to have been “not a maid.” How much of an issue was premarital sex among football players and cheerleaders in 1950s American colleges? Probably not a big enough deal for a girl to apparently die over it at the altar.

I get the argument, really I do. “Young audiences can’t relate to Shakespeare’s time so let’s set it in one they can recognize.” On the surface that might seem to get more people into the theater, but the result of this well-intentioned mountain coming to Mohammed is that those audiences might become less able, in the future, to understand and relate to Shakespeare as it truly is. As a high school English teacher, one who tries every year to help fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds appreciate the beauty and complexity of Shakespeare’s language and his historical context and the work’s inherent magic, I have to lament the decisions that take the Bard out of his moment. Sometimes, when not executed thoughtfully or well, these choices do my students a disservice and make my job harder.

Look, I’m not a complete snob. I know Shakespeare is challenging. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t still be reading and producing and watching it four hundred years later. The language is all he left us, and it is glorious. Take that away, and you’re left with Cliff’s Notes and one more trudge forward in the dumbing down of our culture.

If you really have a burning desire to contemporize Shakespare, hire authors to write novels.

The third witch, in a dress I would gladly wear -- and maybe that tells you something about my perspective -- posing on the carved cedar chest I inherited from my grandparents which sits in my library.
The third witch, in a dress I would gladly wear — and maybe that tells you something about my perspective — posing on the carved cedar chest I inherited from my grandparents which sits in my library.

Rebecca Reisert’s The Third Witch tells the story of a young woman who falls in with a couple of weird sisters scavenging a battlefield, a woman whose post-traumatic stress and ensuing ferocity inspire her to avenge the heinous wrongs wreaked upon her family. This domestic-drama-turned-medieval-thriller is an imaginative retelling of Macbeth from the perspective of a character who, in the play, is fairly minor. It’s an excellent read, and it enhances one’s understanding of the original in a way that gives audiences something new and fresh.

It doesn’t treat the audience like six-year-olds. It assumes their intelligence, their familiarity with Macbeth and his lady, and it asks them to consider all the ways in which Lady Macbeth can be a villain, all the ways in which a thane-turned-king can be ambitious.

This is a good book. A dear friend gave it to me for my birthday, and I remember picking it idly up one afternoon while I was checking my email just to browse the first chapter, fully intending to read it after the semester was done. I opened to the first page and began reading — and I didn’t look up again until chapter five.

Don’t bastardize the Bard. Give us true ekphrasis, something new in response which pays homage to the original’s depth and plumbs the profound alongside it, rather than instead.

Featured Poet: The Bard

It’s Shakespeare’s birthday (observed), and I ran across one of his sonnets today that I didn’t remember having read before (though maybe I did in college).




Sonnet 73


That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by-and-by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.




Do I really need to give you biographical information about William Shakespeare? How about this: he wasn’t Francis Bacon.

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.