In these uncertain times, it’s good to be able to report that the Shakespearian sonnet is alive and well. This was my conclusion after a delightful Sonnets Day at the Weston Library (the airy, austerely beautiful new wing of Oxford University’s Bodleian library) a couple of weeks ago.
By way of celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Bodleian decided to create a special edition of the Bard’s 154 sonnets, inviting letterpress printers from around the world to print a sonnet each in any style or language they chose. Sheets of widely differing sizes, colours, design, fonts and languages flooded in and are being collated at the library, and to mark the conclusion of this Sonnets 2016 Project, the Bodleian held a brief exhibition of some of these wonderful hand-printed offerings, many on handmade paper.
|Linocut by Coral Rose Dalitz|
|Sonnet 146, printed by Pegasus School pupils|
‘....I am the dawn when children
wake and see the pale sunrise piercing the shorn
shadows. I am the flame which yet burns on.’
(Flame by Jemima Webster & Khanh Pham).
After the readings it was time to look at the exhibition, which included an enchanting Sonnet Tree: a structure hung with couplets, quatrains and full-length poems, all written by schoolchildren during the Sonnet’s Alive! workshops. Here again, richness of poetic imagery, instinctive understanding of rhythm and metre, together with a positive revelling in Elizabethan vocabulary, showed just how much these young people had immersed themselves in Shakespearean sonnetry. As Simon Armitage wittily implied, with budding poets like these hammering at the door, the current generation of poets had better watch their backs.