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How to Get a Poem out of Shakespeare

July 19, 2013

“He was not of an age, but for all time” Ben Jonson, ‘To Shakespeare’

Poets get their inspiration from all sorts of places, and while some readers and followers of this blog might relish the challenge of entering the first TitchfieldShakespeareFestivalPoetryContest others might be terribly put off; but they needn’t be.

You can enter by post or email and there is no entry fee, so you can easily enter your poem from anywhere in the world. And remember – we’re not looking for imitators of the Bard, but the true voice of each individual who submits a poem.

Nobody can imitate Shakespeare without ending up the loser by comparison, but we all have a right to be ourselves – unique individuals with their own experience, understanding and stories to tell, which will go into their words, words which they may shape into poems, poems that could entertain, amuse, find a sympathetic chord in other people or even give them a new angle with which to consider and deal with the world, some small part of it, or some theme which Shakespeare has somehow put on the stage.

Where Shakespeare comes in is by proving, nearly four hundred years after what we usually call his death, that his own voice and the voices he puts into his plays speaks to us still today, and we can join at least one of the innumerable conversations he is taking part in, especially when his work is put on stage, as The Tempest, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Richard III and As You Like It are being at the Great Barn in Titchfield this summer, as a poem of yours might be as well!

Let us answer master William’s great example with our own voices. It might be the sweet chorus making a fine job of singing “Who Is Sylvia?” together, or the lovely tribute of a new poem you would like to share.

So what’s the voice of your poem going to say?

Our inexhaustible bard has plenty of ideas to help today’s poets of all types create a new work. Or you might already have a poem you think is one of your best; finding a suitable theme from one of these four plays to tie it to should be a simple matter!

Or you might never have written a poem in your life, in which case what better place to start than by expanding on some thought, theme, plot, scene, character, line or (preferably TSF!) production of these plays? That’s what Shakespeare did himself!

The story of Two Gentlemen of Verona, for example, comes from the tale “Diana” by the Portuguese Jorge de Montemayor, first printed in Spanish. Even in Shakespeare’s time ideas circulated around the world with amazing speed, to be adopted, adapted and remade by whoever received them.

Don’t you recognise a situation ? A friendship threatened when Proteus tries to steal his best friend Valentine’s girl? Poor Julia left in the shadows by Sylvia? Poor Launce!

Do you have a pet you love as much as Launce loves his dog Crab?

Have you ever “made a virtue of necessity”, as Valentine does when he joins the outlaws? Or found reason, as Lucetta does, to say “I have no other but a woman’s reason; I think him so, because I think him so.” ?

Or – as an actor or director must – could you discover some tiny forgotten detail of a line, a character or a play that you can agree or argue with, as I argue with Valentine’s chilling words:
“That man that hath a tongue, I say, is no man,
If with his tongue he cannot win a woman.”

(Two Gentlemen of Verona, 3.1)

Why, I myself find that women often reject my tongue and prefer my silence! I’ve written a few poems about that!

But you might shy away from the personal; it’s your choice!

Spare your blushes by disguising yourself with the voice of one of Shakespeare’s great characters, as Browning did in his extraordinary 1864 poem “Caliban upon Setebos”, but please, not quite at such length!

Your musical ear might respond to the Shakesearian metrical rhythm in Caliban’s rough tones, as much as in Rosalind’s penetrating mockery. Your scholar’s brain might have something to say about the history, the drama, the story being told, the variety of human psychology being displayed, rather than the literary themes taken up here:

or here:

or wherever you might choose to go, by whatever way that leads you to your poem.

These are just a few ways of bringing your and Shakespeare’s worlds together. Please do add any more suggestions by adding comments to this post, or keep them to yourself and get on with composing that potentially £150 winning poem!

All responses are valid, as long as they are in the form of a good poem from you to Shakespeare, to us and, for all we know, to all time!

Show the Bard he’s not the only one with something to say. The deadline for entries is September 8.


From → Critic, Poet

One Comment
  1. John Bruce permalink

    Hey John, good to meet you yesterday. I swapped the phone and your hat for a copy of Coriolanus – the Bare Footed Woman seemed happy with the deal – I’m not so sure.


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