Apr. 12, 2005

Shakespearean Sonnet

by R. S. Gwynn

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Shakespearean Sonnet" by R. S. Gwynn. Used with permission of the poet.

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.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of children's book author Beverly Cleary, born in Yamhill, Oregon (1916). She became a children's librarian in a small town in Washington State, and over the years, she noticed that many of the children complained that they couldn't find books about children like themselves. It took her a while to get started, but Cleary eventually decided to write the kind of books those kids were looking for, books about ordinary children living ordinary everyday lives, whose parents struggle to pay the bills and hang onto their jobs.

Her first book was Henry Huggins (1950) about a boy who tries to smuggle a dog onto a bus and keep him as his own, and it was a huge success. It begins, "Henry Huggins was in the third grade. His hair looked like a scrubbing brush and most of his grown-up front teeth were in. He lived with his mother and father in a square white house...Except for having his tonsils out when he was six and breaking his arm falling out of a cherry tree when he was seven, nothing much happened to Henry. I wish something exciting would happen, Henry often thought."

One of the minor characters in that book was a girl named Ramona Quimby, the kind of girl who wipes paint on the neighbor's cat, draws pictures in library books, and locks her friend's dog in the bathroom, without ever realizing that she's bothering anybody. She went on to become the main character of Cleary's most popular series of books, including Ramona the Pest (1968), Ramona the Brave (1975) and Ramona Forever (1984). Ramona the Pest begins, "'I am not a pest,' Ramona Quimby told her big sister Beezus. 'Then stop acting like a pest,' said Beezus."

It's the birthday of two novelists who helped invent new genres of popular fiction: Tom Clancy, who invented the modern techno-thriller, and Scott Turow, who invented the modern legal thriller.

Tom Clancy was born in Baltimore, Maryland (1947). His father was a military man, and Clancy always wanted to follow in his footsteps and become an officer. But his eyesight was so bad that he was disqualified for service. So he got a job as an insurance salesman, and spent all his spare time reading magazines about military technology, such as Combat Fleets of the World and A Guide to the Soviet Navy.

He worked his way up in the insurance industry until he was running his own business, and then one day he realized that he was bored by his own life, and so he decided to do something different. He had long wondered what would happen if a Soviet submarine tried to defect to the United States, and that became the basis for his first novel, The Hunt for Red October (1984).

Instead of focusing on the fistfights or the sex lives of his characters, Clancy focused more on the technology. He described the soviet submarine in intricate detail, the way it moved and maneuvered, and all its weaponry and hardware. Since he didn't think the novel would appeal to a mass audience, he published it with a small military publishing house called the Naval Institute Press.

Even though Clancy had only used public sources of information for his research, military experts at the Pentagon were shocked by the level of specific detail in The Hunt for Red October. They wondered if he was receiving classified information from someone inside the government. But the book got passed around among officers and generals, and eventually made its way to Ronald Reagan, who said he loved it.

That endorsement from the President helped turn The Hunt for Red October into a huge best-seller. The Pentagon decided he wasn't a threat, but an asset, and after that, he was given access to all kinds of military information. He was invited to ride on a submarine, to drive a tank, and even to talk to a Soviet defector. His novel Red Storm Rising (1986) became required reading at the Naval War College.

Tom Clancy has gone on to become one of the most popular novelists in America, and he's one of the few writers working today whose readers are mostly men. His most recent novel is The Teeth of the Tiger (2003).

Scott Turow was born in Chicago (1949). He decided to be a writer when he was in high school, and started submitting short stories to literary magazines in college. But when he got into a creative writing program at Stanford, he realized that he wasn't cut out for the life of a starving artist.

Turow was newly married and living on food stamps. Money was so tight that he and his wife got into an argument about a $6 flowerpot she bought at the local art fair. All the other writers he knew in California were addicted to alcohol or drugs, and marriages were breaking up left and right.

On top of everything else, none of his classmates liked his writing. He wanted to write something that anybody could read, waiters and bus drivers and housewives, not just college professors. But everyone told him his wasn't literary enough. He said, "It finally dawned on me that I was not James Joyce. I wanted to be a genius, but I wasn't one."

So one day, he decided on a whim to take the Law School Admission Test, and he managed to score well enough to get into Harvard Law. To keep himself writing, he wrote a memoir about his experience as a first year law student, and the book One L (1977) became a cult classic among law students.

He found that he enjoyed practicing law because it was a lot like writing fiction. He said, "[A court lawyer}...really is an author. He's got different voices through different witnesses. He has to present a compelling narrative and there's got to be a moral to his story."

Turow got a job a prosecutor in Chicago, and he spent eight years writing his first novel on his train rides between work and home. He didn't think he'd ever finish the novel, but his wife finally persuaded him to take three months off and get it done. He did, and the result was Presumed Innocent (1987), about a prosecutor who is put on trial for the murder of his former mistress.

There had been novels about criminal trials before, but Turow was one of the first writers to describe the legal proceedings so accurately, and with so much attention to the flaws and the corruption within the legal system. Presumed Innocent became one of the best-selling novels of the 1980s. It spent 44 weeks on the best-seller list, and helped to launch the legal thriller genre.

Turow has gone on to write many more best-selling novels, but he continues to work as a lawyer. He says, "People ask me what I do. I certainly answer I am a lawyer. I don't say I'm a writer. I find that kind of a grandiose claim for somebody who spends 60 hours a week doing something else." His most recent book is Reversible Errors (2002).

It was on this day in 1633 that Galileo was put on trial for publishing evidence that the sun and not the earth is the center of the solar system. He was a devout Catholic but didn't believe his ideas should threaten the church. He wrote, the "Holy Sprit intended to teach us in the Bible how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go."

Galileo had gotten into trouble with the church about his ideas before, but he thought the new Pope Urban VIII might be more open-minded. Galileo visited him and brought along his microscope, hoping to dazzle him with its power to enlarge objects and bring them closer. After a few hours of demonstrations, Galileo asked if the ban on sun-centered teaching could be lifted. The Pope said that if Galileo wanted to write about his theories, he had to present them as theories only, and couldn't present them as the truth.

So Galileo wrote a book in which three friends discuss whether the earth or the sun is the center of the solar system. The book presented the sun-centered argument as convincing and the earth-centered argument as idiotic, but at the very end, the three characters agree that no one really knows the truth. When it was published, the book became a best-seller.

The pope decided Galileo's book had crossed a line, and mocked the church, and he ordered the printing stopped, all copies seized, and Galileo was put on trial for heresy. Galileo was sentenced to house arrest.

In 1636 he developed an infection in his right eye and because of his house arrest he could not seek treatment. Two years later he was blind. He wrote to a friend in a letter, "By my remarkable observations, the sky...was opened a hundred or a thousand times wider than anything seen by the learned of all the past centuries. Now, that sky is diminished for me to a space no greater than that which is occupied by my own body."

It took more than 350 years for Pope John Paul II to declare, in 1992, that Galileo had been unjustly condemned by the Catholic Church.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show