People often ask me to name writers who have influenced or informed my writing. Hands down, that writer is Shakespeare. At last count, I’ve read 2/3 of his plays (all of the tragedies, most of the comedies, and a number of the histories) and all of his sonnets – some of these works multiple times, as I’ve taught many of them. The bard’s words and rhythms infuse my own. On several occasions, I’ve stolen directly from him:
- a title as in A Winter’s Tale
- lines of poetry (“by the pricking of my thumbs/ something wicked this way comes” and “’tis now the witching time of night” which I borrowed for In the Graveyard)
- quoted lines used by characters such as Anise in Gravity Journal, who, as she cuts, cites Lady Macbeth’s famous lament:
What hands are here? Ha! they pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine
Making the green one red. (Macbeth, II.ii.56-60)
I am an ardent fan. I marvel at his genius. I’d like to invite him to dinner or for a pint (my treat). But alack, he has “shuffled off this mortal coil” and “the rest is silence.”
You may find this interactive widget from Oxford English Dictionaries a lark!
Or you may find Stephen Marche’s book, How Shakespeare Changed Everything, enlightening (here’s a short overview.)
All jests aside, I do believe that reading Shakespeare makes one a better poet. So often I am astonished by the number of poets who do not read poetry, the number of aspiring authors who do not read prose, the number of people who read neither. Quite simply, as you no doubt know because you are reading this blog, a writer reads. Widely. Often. Across genres.
Today on Shakespeare’s birthday, in this month of poetry, it’s important we remember that poets in many places are revered and have been advocates for freedom, for the people, for social justice. Some have been blacklisted or censored; some have been tortured or murdered. Why is that? Because a poet’s pen has power.
Today I remember these…
Susana Chávez Castillo
San San Nweh
and so many others…
Writing Quote: “I keep reminding people that an editorial in rhyme is not a song. A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think.” – Pete Seeger, American folksinger and activist (1919-2014)
Writing Tip: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” – Dorothy Parker, American poet, short story writer, essayist (1893-1967)
Writing Prompt: Take the lyrics to a popular song and rearrange them into Shakespearean sonnet.
- Rhyme Scheme: ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG
- Each line shoudl be 10 syllables long or 5 feet in length (pentameter)
- The first two quatrains should be a question and then 7 lines of potential answers/reasonings
- The third quatrain should be a twist
- Include a rhyming couplet at the end that summarizes the sonnet as a whole