In Response to Will Shakespeare’s Sonnet No.CXLVII, And Many Others, Written about Me
Indeed… my skin is black, or “coloured ill”,
And nothing in myself can ever please
A jealous soul, like yours. You hold me still –
And yet you see me as a dread disease!
Your reason once did lead you to approve
My every gesture, every word. You kept
Me safe within a web of gentle love
Which I, rebellious soul, was moved to accept.
But now that you, for “reason’s” sake can’t care,
And think I am the cause of your unrest;
You – lost to love – as all good white men are
Will warp with “reason” what I have expressed.
It seems to me that your white skin holds night
And my black skin still keeps the gentle light.
I don’t usually post my poems here, as I wait to publish them, but this was written specifically for a competition which required ‘a sonnet in response to Shakespeare’, and I don’t know where else to send it. There is a response to all his thoughts, in every line, and the form is a classical Shakespearean sonnet. It was disqualified, like many others, because it was traditional, even though it was a perfectly valid interpretation of what they were asking for.
Where does this come from? I know Hopkins wrote a curtal sonnet (invented by him), but it didn’t say ‘curtal sonnet’ in the competition guidelines. Don Paterson writes sonnets, but thoroughly understands the form and uses it well.
Interestingly a friend has just told me she had the same experience when she entered a haiku into a competition. Again the judge poured scorn on people who had written ‘traditional haikus’.
Please – you devisers of competitions… do give us a better idea of what you want, and what will be disqualified. Otherwise it becomes just a matter of who is ‘in the know’.