Try your hand at a Shakespeare sonnet

(Photo: Dave Schwarz/St. Cloud Times)

March 23, 2016
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT
Bryan Desloge,
My View

 
Words. Words. Words.

When Polonius asks Hamlet what he’s reading in a seeming fit of bewildered distracted madness, Hamlet response is simple:

“Words. Words. Words.”

When reading Shakespeare’s words, some feel as if they’re reading Greek. Some feel Shakespeare’s poems are a complex, undecipherable code. But that’s all they are – words!

Shakespeare was a master craftsman of words. A wordsmith. His sonnets are some of the most beautiful and profound collections of words in the English language. We all use words every day, but the beauty and brilliance of William Shakespeare, the reason why so many people read and quote his sonnets so long after his death, is to savor and study his use of words. In his own lifetime, Shakespeare’s mastery of the sonnet form elevated him from a lowly man of theater to the more respectable status of “poet.”

Shakespeare’s sonnets, 154 in all, demonstrate his mastery of the English language in a way that some of us might appreciate, if not fully understand, and perhaps even want to imitate. Reading Shakespeare is like watching a finely tuned athlete at the top of his game.

Take Carney Lansford’s perfectly-timed, graceful, diving catches as the third baseman for the Boston Red Sox and Oakland A’s. Now imagine your buddy throwing a ball your way so you could practice and imitate one of Carney Lansford’s diving catches. In the same way, when we read Shakespeare’s elegant use of meter, imagery, rhythm and rhyme, many of us wish we could try it ourselves.

With this in mind, the Southern Shakespeare Company, in partnership with the Tallahassee Democrat, is proud to announce the second annual Sonnet Contest. This is your opportunity to try your hand at writing like the Bard!

We will have three separate categories for contest entries: adult, high school and middle school. There will be some very cool prizes for the winners. First prize in each category will win a a Fitbit; second prize a Bluetooth headset; and third prize winners will receive their very own selfie-stick!

All finalists will have their poem published in the Tallahassee Democrat, and the winning sonnets will be announced and read April 16 during the Southern Shakespeare Festival weekend at Cascades Park.

So, what precisely is a sonnet? Shakespeare wrote 14 line sonnets that follow a specific rhythmic and rhyming pattern of iambic pentameter. Shakespeare wrote sonnets about love, loss, and beauty, but you can write a sonnet about any subject of your choosing. Please submit your poems to sonnet@southernshakes.org.

Remember: Words matter. What matters most is how we use them.

Kevin Carr is the education director of the Southern Shakespeare Festival.