Miskatonic University Press

Simultaneous Shakespearean sonnets

alc poetry

I’m a member of the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto, which is a wonderful place with a great bunch of people who get up to all sorts of interesting things. It was founded in 1908—the Wikipedia entry set out the basic history—and it’s changed over the years but there are still lots of artists, writers, musicians, people who work in theatre on stage or off, photographers, librarians and others from all parts of the book world, architects, archivists, and more.

Friday nights are Ad Lib, when the third floor studio is given over to a loose and informal event where people can just show up, take part or not, and enjoy. Different people organize them; some events are one-offs and some repeat every now and then. Damon Lum oversees everything.

The Club's front door.
The Club's front door.

Last night Ashley Williamson and I ran “Readings and More,” where we selected short readings from poetry, plays and essays and gave them to people an hour before things started: enough time to read them over and maybe think about what voice they’d use, but not enough for anyone to think they couldn’t make mistakes or that everyone else would expect them to be perfect. It was immensely enjoyable.

The last big event was “Simultaneous Shakespearean Sonnets.” Shakespeare’s sonnets are some of the finest poetry humanity has ever produced, so naturally I’ve wondered, what does it sound like when many of them are recited all at the same time? I’d tried this before, and it went well, but someone pointed out after that it needed a conductor to help make everyone start the lines together. Last night we did it again, and I conducted.

About two dozen people were there. I distributed copies of these sonnets, and asked that everyone have a different one from the person beside them:

  • 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”)
  • 29 (“When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes”)
  • 64 (“When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced”)
  • 71 (“No longer mourn for me when I am dead”)
  • 130 (“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”)

We did two practice runs, and the third take was the keeper. Here’s what it sounded like:

Two dozen people saying five sonnets simultaneously.

My very grateful thanks to everyone who participated!