In a Fine Frenzy

POETS RESPOND TO Shakespeare

UNIVERSITY OF IOWA PRESS

Copyright © 2005 University of Iowa Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-87745-940-8


Chapter One

PART I The Sonnets

Sonnets

ZACH ROGOW

Symmetron: You and Brother Will

Shakespeare never got to see a Monet. Never gazed into the liquid mirrors of the Seine. Yet he knew how to describe a sateen shadow. He could speak beauty as well as anyone who has a special ear for the cool of a stream or the curves of a song.

Someone could write a song about the curves of your cool, pomegranate lipstick, how a tongue awakens your ear. Sometimes it feels to this particular anyone as if your beauty is part shadow, part the highest prime number. I need to describe you, how you make me crazy and sane as I look into your eye mirrors that Shakespeare was never lucky enough to see.

Sonnet 2

ELLEN MCGRATH SMITH

from Shaken

2

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow, a small child will trace the horizontal lines with alarm and ask inevitable questions. You won't say: You get credit for half these furrows on my forehead. You won't tell the story behind each crease, or the thwarted ways you desired increase. You'll blow out the candles, leaving some for her, and make a wish to live long enough to see another scripture make its way across her brow.

Sonnet 3

3

Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest something that will melt its features down to what the question is and always has been. Can you love me? Or, barring that, can you love the version of myself I put on paper? The question that quickens your heart when a letter arrives, tears open the envelope (premature birth of another rejection). They do not see, do not see the same face you are trying to make on this clouded-up glass. Faceless strangers won't swaddle what, wailing, you bundle and leave at their doorsteps, won't bend to the source of the cries, put an end to this constant deflection. And so you are furious, sad. Look at the face and respond to its pleas. It will never be famous. It begs your forgiveness.

Sonnet 4

4

Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend all your years pushing pens across paper? Why not instead feed the hungry or even make money and feather your nest? Why do you never stop eyeing the door? Why is your house in your head? Who put your house in your head?

Sonnet 18

LEONARD NATHAN

Making a Love Poem

Let "A" stand for the belov��d, "B" for a summer's day. Shall we compare them? No, "A" is more lovely and more temperate -

in short, incomparable, so "B" must do, "B" a ripe if transient girl - come with the sun and gone with it in clouds.

Ill-used, she'll wander off, whistling softly into October, losing leaves, leaving "A" as yet untouched by human words.

Sonnet 18

ANTHONY LOMBARDY

Shall I Compare Thee ...?

Shall I compare thee to a winter's night? You are more probing and more fond of fire. A southern front may dull the blizzard's bite Or rig with sudden sleet the chapel spire, The cold may scour our gardens to the ground Or merely snip their last, bedraggled leaves, So you, through many turnings, stick around, Through dawns love greeted and the day it grieves. While those who fear extinction appeal to fame, What I still seek in you is something coiled And secret, more a riddle than a name, The hours that can't be saved, but can be spoiled, A pulse, a throw, a quickening of the dark, Those kisses that hurt but do not leave a mark.

Sonnet 18

J. D. SMITH

Goodsonnet

after Scorsese

Would you compare me to some kind of clown, Perhaps amusing to you, good for chuckles, A goof to lift your spirits when you're down? Pal, you don't know a blackjack from brass knuckles.

You oughtta see how funny I can be When some jamoke don't pay up what he owes. There ain't no punch line like a busted knee - Ha-ha - or sneezing through a broken nose.

What makes me laugh is that some elephant Agreed to let you borrow his coglione So you could show up here and pull this stunt In my crew's social club - and you're alone.

It's time for you to learn respect, tough guy. The lesson goes like this: Die! Die! Die! DIE!

Sonnet 29

LEONARD NATHAN

Ragged Sonnet: When in a Deep Depression

When in a deep depression of the self, I see on every side, on every hill, like the lit mansions of the rich, success of others, hear the echoes loudly praise my rivals, feel my plodding soles sink deeper in the cold ashes of hope, and feel the tepid drizzle of self-pity stain my cheeks, I think of you, dear friend, who scorned the Valium prescribed because you thought sadness was our wise companion, shadow of later years and not good to deny; and then, my heart, all but reconciled to gravity, like a wing evolved for such short flights, beats up again. But not too high.

Sonnet 93

LEONARD NATHAN

Ragged Sonnet: So Shall I Live

"So shall I live," the poet said, "supposing thou art true," but he wasn't referring to you, who are faithful, but to another woman, the one whose beauty he likened to Eve's apple and who, I add here, must have seemed a cruel emblem of reality, the way it comes in layers - a frank face and what's behind that face, another creature thinking its own thoughts, dreaming dreams that wake us with a sob. Even you have sat bolt upright crying your surprise. There's nothing for it. Apples will be eaten. "So shall I live, supposing thou art true." I do not here, of course, refer to you.

Sonnet 73

JANICE TOWNLEY MOORE

To Love That Well

I have been losing you all my life.

Until we met I mourned the void.

Walking with you in infant spring I wept the yellow leaves before the buds matured.

Early, I wove myself in widow's weeds.

Sonnet 130

HARRYETTE MULLEN

Dim Lady

My honeybunch's peepers are nothing like neon. Today's special at Red Lobster is redder than her kisser. If Liquid Paper is white, her racks are institutional beige. If her mop were Slinkys, dishwater Slinkys would grow on her noggin. I have seen tablecloths in Shakey's Pizza Parlors, red and white, but no such picnic colors do I see in her mug. And in some minty-fresh mouthwashes there is more sweetness than in the garlic breeze my main squeeze wheezes. I love to hear her rap, yet I'm aware that Muzak has a hipper beat. I don't know any Marilyn Monroes. My ball and chain is plain from head to toe. And yet, by gosh, my scrumptious Twinkie has as much sex appeal for me as any lanky model or platinum movie idol who's hyped beyond belief.

Sonnet 130

KATHERINE COTTLE

My Poetess' Eyes

for Shelley

My poetess is not blond, like the rest of the world, or tan from the lamp and credit card. Her fingers crack and swell from her own bites, from lists of worries, students, and internal fights. She is not rich, not quite poor enough to be a struggling poet, nor the beaten literary whore. My dear poetess has trouble sleeping on Sunday nights, smokes when drinking, and lets the truth blend quietly into lies. My apologies, Shakespeare, my poetess' eyes really are two dark ripe almond lips, her body a young smooth birch, her voice a cave of aged wheat and the soft noise of ash through my rough fingertips.

Sonnets

WILLIAM JOHN WATKINS

The Mall

The doors of the mall swing open wide and streaming in, in search of fashion, we go like children, screaming, on a ride at an amusement park. In place of passion we have purchase, and in place of pride, credit. This is the church to which we tithe; the basic hungers can be satisfied as easy here as holier ground. The scythe of death put from our mind, a guide to live our lives by can be found in catalogues, and stacked on every side heaven's bounties everywhere abound. We move as if Time does not have a stop, but if it does, until it does, we shop.

Sonnets

R. S. GWYNN

Shakespearean Sonnet

With a first line taken from the tv listings

A man is haunted by his father's ghost. Boy meets girl while feuding families fight. A Scottish king is murdered by his host. Two couples get lost on a summer night. A hunchback murders all who block his way. A ruler's rivals plot against his life. A fat man and a prince make rebels pay. A noble Moor has doubts about his wife. An English king decides to conquer France. A duke learns that his best friend is a she. A forest sets the scene for this romance. An old man and his daughters disagree. A Roman leader makes a big mistake. A sexy queen is bitten by a snake.

Interlude

RON KOERTGE

My Students

picture Shakespeare just like the domed bust in Senior English plus puffy pants and sissy shoes.

They see him sitting in an open window thinking deep thoughts while below the Avon teems with life - coal and casks of wine one way, barges of lowing cattle the other.

And along the banks, young people kissing with their mouths open, grappling with the other's odd clothes,

all the stuff that doesn't make you famous but that's a lot more fun than poetry.

PART II The Comedies

Love's Labor's Lost

MICHAEL B. STILLMAN

Songs for the Seasons: A Distant Collaboration

Winter (from Love's Labor's Lost)

When icicles hang by the wall, And Dick the shepherd blows his nail, And Tom bears logs into the hall, And milk comes frozen home in pail, When blood is nipped, and ways be foul, Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-who ...

Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note, While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow, And coughing drowns the parson's saw, And birds sit brooding in the snow, And Marian's nose looks red and raw, When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl, Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-who ...

Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note, While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Spring (from Love's Labor's Lost)

When daisies pied and violets blue And lady-smocks all silver-white And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue Do paint the meadows with delight, The cuckoo then, on every tree, Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo ...

Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear, Unpleasing to a married ear!

When shepherds pipe on oaten straws, And merry larks are ploughmen's clocks, When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws, And maidens bleach their summer smocks, The cuckoo then, on every tree, Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo ...

Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear, Unpleasing to a married ear!

Summer

When strawberries fall by the hedge, And garden spiders gown the vines, And melons ripen on the ledge, And clouds of dust surround the pines, When spreading crimson ends the day, Cicadas chide and scrape away, Skaree ...

Skaree, skaree: metallic sound As Marian hoes the dusty ground.

When oven heat makes lovers fools, And lotus blooms and leafy mint And roses fresh by mirror pools Confuse in cooling air their scent, When aching bones wheel home the hay, Cicadas chide and scrape away, Skaree ...

Skaree, skaree: metallic sound As Marian hoes the dusty ground.

Autumn

When empty baskets fill the shed, And rakes' and reapers' season's done, When leaves are burnt, and Dobbin's dead, And Marian's nursing her new son; While Dawn sleeps still, with rosy hair

All tossed and tangled in the briar - A hush ...

Shhh ... No infant's cry, No need another lullaby.

When frost has found the apple bins, And empty lies the robin's nest, When shepherds smile to dream their sins And nightmare nags the gardener's rest; While Dawn sleeps still, with rosy hair All tossed and tangled in the briar - A hush ... Shhh ... No infant's cry, No need another lullaby.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

DEBORAH LEITER

Midsummer's Eve

The druids and Shakespeare Had it right, I think - There's something magic

About walking through the Reluctantly gathering Dusk at 10 p.m., something that

Drains the death from your bones

Allowing all the life in you to Expand outward with the snap Of a released rubber band, making

You want to simultaneously Walk twelve miles and kiss The first stranger you glimpse

A Midsummer Night's Dream

LEON STOKESBURY

Bottom's Dream

Methought I was - there is no man can tell what. (4.1.207-8)

I'm the kind of guy who finds himself past midnight halfway down the frigging kudzu-covered woodbine-shaded moonlit emblematic forest path self-conscious to a fault and wondering what the hell these numerous assorted dead ends are supposed to tally up to anyway.

"Jesus,

Jesus, Jesus," I have upon occasion in the dark remarked, but don't think, by your leave, I ever hung around expecting some response to such direct address.

No.

I may be just the country cousin forced sometime to city fair to make a buck and to try my luck, to tote and grunt, to cart my baggage, hoist my wares - my mildewed merchandise, such as it is and so to speak - but I ain't that dumb.

No

mother's son ever had to explain to me that we are the zapped, the oblivion riders, totally lacking - from the first time that we mewl and cry - even a Chinaman's chance of knowing the soiled shorts of a sick shyster from a sack of sugar about the least damned thing.

Observe this bird, that bear, the wild herbs flowing down yon fecund bank in damp and pearly moonshine. As they are, so are we: tiny pitiful cogs which scrape and grind the stars across the sky each night only for all to dissolve at dawn.

And yet, come morning I am still possessed by these brief scenes, mists, vapors, frenzied residues.

But residues of what? If man is but a bird, a bush, a bank where the wild thyme blows; if, as to variations, 'tis all one between the ploughman, who comes and turns the earth then lies beneath, and this bear besmirching his face tonight with berries only to besmear tomorrow his own buttocks with the same; if all fall down in the great schemata, why am I left then with these shreds of dreams, these scraps of hair and hay, these cobweb patches? If I could get my hands back down beneath the muck and stew, back down beneath these floating fumes - but such abiding wraiths, such furtive lingerers, will not disperse. And all attempts become attempts toward fathoming the unfathomable. Why how exceedingly erectus, how very pithecanthropine of me!

(Continues...)



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