I received my copy of the Live Canon Project 154 book a day or so ago. All of Shakespeare’s sonnets, with a response by 154 contemporary poets including friends like Robin Houghton, Antony Mair, Sue Rose and many more.
As a rule this kind of intertextuality isn’t my bag. Nor do I need prompts for what to write about. But rubbing shoulders with the Bard wasn’t to be missed. I wrote my response to sonnet 19 very quickly, as I only had a week, and it was a busy one. I had a decent idea. I pictured the lover trapped between the lines of the Shakespeare sonnet, like a prisoner looking through bars. I wanted the language to the similar in tone to the sonnet, so I avoided contemporary language so not to seem anachronistic.
I went to the Victoria & Albert museum on 24th April to hear the first couple of dozen sonnets and responses read. Maybe I’m letting the side down as poet, but the phrase poetry marathon (glimpsed on the sign outside) always makes me shudder. I LOVE poetry, but the idea that it becomes some kind of an endurance test is not for me.
When it came to the moment when my own poem was read out, the poem was read by a single person in the same voice so was unintelligible. I found this very embarrassing, and it left me a bit miffed that a theatre company devoted to reading poems hadn’t sussed that this could be read in two voices. But it’s my own fault. It was however a gorgeous setting for a reading, and I heard lots of other good poems (plus the Willie the Shake stuff of course).
In the book are some genuinely interesting responses to the sonnets. Many braved a sonnet reply, such as my pal Robin Houghton with her Suggestion from The Rival Poet, or Abigail Parry whose Shakespeare in Space replied to No.18, possibly the most famous sonnet of all, with ‘Shall I compare thee to the Milky Way?’ and uses the language of astronomy. while leoemercer’s extraordinary poem called this depict the sad moment when you realise your beatuiful relation hip clearly hasnt workt out (an anagram of shaxespeares 107st sonnet) really has to be encountered for yourself.
In reply to sonnet 70, Mo Jones’s poem is easily the most stark of all, so stark it can be quoted in full:
My fuck up + my shiftiness = your fuck up + your deceit
All in all, a collection that is thought provoking and well-worth checking out.