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Find new Shakespearean Sonnets

May 16, 2012

I am currently working on sonnets with the Turrets youth theatre group who are aiming for Special Olympic Edition Bronze Arts Awards.  Their latest challenge is to produce a new Shakespearean or English sonnet form Shakespeare’s 154 sonnet titles.  To make the task easier I have grouped the titles according to end rhymes.  The students’ first task is to read through the titles and select those of interest to them.  You can do this by googling Shakespeare’s sonnets and scrolling through the lists.  My selection includes:

                                                                                                 Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest

ThusShakespeare's Sonnet Titles is this cheek the map of days outworn

When I do count the clock that tells the time

A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted

The last two were also chosen by several of the students.

The next stage of the exercise is to form the selected lines into a 14 line sonnet of 3 quatrains and 1 couplet with the rhyming scheme: abab, cdcd, efef, gg.

I created a found poem this way for one of my M. A. assignments a few years ago.  At the time I chose to study the work of Christina Rossetti and came up with the sonnet Life out of Death which is written in a more modern pattern while keeping to the original rhythm and rhymes.

Life out of Death

(after Christina Rossetti)

Her tree of life dropped from the root;

She bore me under the rose.

Thou keepest thy sweetness till the twilight’s close,

Barren through life, but in death, bearing fruit

True best is last, true life is born of death.

She, woman in her natural grace,

A spirit with transfigured face.

My love of you was life and not a breath.

Welding one whole of two divided parts,

Remember me when I am gone away,

To die, then live again.

None knows the choice I made and broke my heart.

Ah, pleasant pebbly strand so far away,

My spring will never come again.

This poem was described as: ‘ a strong piece of poetry and one which, as a found poem using the work of Christina Rossetti, has allowed the poet to investigate and explore her rhythms, imagery, tone and key motifs.’

It could be improved by rewriting the archaic language in more modern terms.  This was something that the students immediately felt that they would like to do with their Shakespearean sonnets.  I look forward to seeing their new versions this week.

You can use this exercise to explore the work of a poet of your choice, developing a found poem from the ones you enjoy reading and rewriting them in your own poetic voice and style, either traditional or modern.

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