Celebrating American She-Poets (34): Clarissa Simmens, A Passion for Shakespeare

Clarissa Simmens

“I adore social media.  FaceBook and WordPress have been incredible avenues of not only reading the words of poets world-wide, but also gaining friends, virtual but real  . . .The poets are people like me and you who want the same thing: respect, a safe and healthy environment for family and friends, and the freedom to have fun without being hurt or harming others.  I think the great [William Shakespeare] would have loved the world-wide web…” Clarissa Simmens



A couple of weeks ago The Poet by Day, Wednesday Writing Prompt was Spinning With Shakespeare. Readers were challenged to write a poem using phrases from Shakespeare that have come into general usage. It was fun. The poems were great. You can read them HERE.  Meanwhile, it happens that Clarissa Simmens has a passion for Shakespeare, so much so that she does a yearly poetic homage to WS, as she refers to him. She shared her 2018 homage with us in comments. Here (below) are those poems for you to read today along with an interview of Clarissa and her bio.   

Shakespearian Trivia: As I read through Clarissa’s responses to my interview questions, I had to chuckle.  Her intro to Shakespeare was in high school and included a local movie-theater-showing of Hamlet with Richard Burton in the lead.  I suspect Clarissa and I are of an age and may have seen the same show.  My intro to Shakespeare included the 1964 “electrovision” (early video/closed circuit TV) version of Hamlet at our own local movie theater. Apparently this presentation was being delivered to high school students all over the U.S. as an English literature course requirement. The production was directed by Sir John Gielgud. It was done sans period costumes and with minimal sets. It is said that Burton disliked the production and wanted the videos destroyed.  Apparently at least one copy survived. I found it HERE on YouTube.  Time has tampered with the visual but there’s nothing wrong with the sound. Close your eyes and listen. Enjoyable!

– Jamie Dedes


THE UNCERTAIN GLORY OF AN APRIL DAY…

Shakespeare’s Birthday Approximately April 23, 1564

In cold country I sadly plucked the lute
Shining in England, you the rising son {sun}
Seeking me in verse, yet remaining mute
Why don’t you know we are meant to be one

Oh, dear Will, you were fated to be mine
Although centuries separate us now
Twin souls formed by a heavenly design
Calling your name, but me you disavow

Yet I’ve glimpsed your soul somewhere in my space
Perhaps in a yellow striped bumble bee
And though you changed I recognize your face
But stung by your insensitivity

Wading through tears, my grief so prodigious
We’ve lost so much, love now sacrilegious

(c) 2018 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)

AND HERE IS MY ANNUAL BIRTHDAY SONNET CREATED FROM THE FIRST LINES OF SHAKESPEARE’S SONNETS:

#60 Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
#88 When thou shalt be disposed to set me light
#66 Tired with all these, for restful death I cry
#80 O, how I faint when I of you do write.

#139 O, call not me to justify the wrong
#150 O, from what power hast thou this powerful might
#100 Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long
#28 How can I then return in happy plight

#43 When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see
#66 Tired with all these, for restful death I cry
#52 So am I as the rich, whose blessed key
#115 Those lines that I before have writ do lie

#56 Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said
#71 No longer mourn for me when I am dead

© 2014 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja) and William Shakespeare

Characters from Shakespeare’s plays. Unknown artist.

INTERVIEW

JAMIE: When and how did your passion for Shakespeare start?

CLARISSA: I saw my first Shakespeare play in high school. It was a class trip to a local movie house showing Hamlet starring Richard Burton. This was a filming of a rehearsal with no scenery or costumes. There Burton was in a black sweater (my favorite clothing color) and without the distraction of a mise en scène, Hamlet suddenly became real to me:  just words and emotion. I then began reading his plays very carefully. Around that time, I bought a copy of MacBird!, the Macbeth satire centering around the theory that President Johnson was behind the JFK assassination. Once again, I saw the incredible relevance of WS. I began reading him for enjoyment, rather than to pass school tests and although not covered in class, I discovered his sonnets.  How I love the structure of a Shakespearean Sonnet! Everything WS wrote can be seen in a modern context and that was what I needed to learn in order to enjoy him.

JAMIE: What drew you to writing your own poetry?

CLARISSA: At about age 3 or 4 I had a Little Golden Book called A Bird Can Fly and So Can I.  There was about a line or two for a series of animals and my parents read it to me so many times that I memorized it and composed my own poem about a pig.  I don’t know if I had an innate sense of rhythm or if it is the autism, but although I was never a finger waver (we are all different on the Autism Spectrum) I was certainly a “counter” and loved flicking my fingers over numbers and syllables especially.  Rhyming poetry just suited me. Didn’t know the name, but when I finally learned about Iambic Pentameter (and all those other meters) I began writing my own sonnets. I mostly write open and free verse now, but I think the physical part of words has been replaced by my playing ukulele and guitar.  Something about pressing the chords and plucking them on string instruments reminds me of rhythmic, but structured, writing.

JAMIE: Who are the poets other than Shakespeare that you admire?

CLARISSA: The great Confessional Poet Sylvia Plath will always be my heroine because of the honest sharing of her mental health struggle. It is the reason why I mention my autism in many of my poems. Another is Emily Dickinson with her slashing dashes.  I tend to end my poems with ellipses because it is as if my voice is trailing off… But one day I wondered if I was unconsciously doing a passive-aggressive imitation of her. Marina Tsvetaeva who said “I know the truth” (and she did) has touched me no matter how many times I read her poems.  Allen Ginsberg’s Howl changed my whole opinion of poetry, indoctrinating me into a lifetime of so-called hippie-ism that can be interpreted as love of peace and tree-hugging. TS Eliot’s Waste Land, despite his bigotry in other works, has always remained one of my favorite poems (as you can see in my first poetry book Madame Sosostris Explains). Finally, I would add Bob Dylan. Once announcing to a Survey of American Lit class that he was the greatest contemporary poet, the class and the instructor howled with laughter, so all these years later I finally felt vindicated when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

JAMIE: What is the importance of poetry on the global scene?

I adore social media.  FaceBook and WordPress have been incredible avenues of not only reading the words of poets world-wide, but also gaining friends, virtual but real, nevertheless.  I don’t sell many poetry books on Amazon but am pleased to see that many of my books are borrowed in India and Japan.  Most of all, it is the only way to truly learn about different cultures. This is why I enjoy your associated Ezines including The BeZine and The Poet By Day, 100,000 Poets for Change, and other sites you have generously shared. Reading globally, and being able to comment on other works, are what I consider grassroots-level knowledge. These poems are not media soundbites or part of a political or monetary agenda. The poets are people like me and you who want the same thing: respect, a safe and healthy environment for family and friends, and the freedom to have fun without being hurt or harming others. I think the great WS would have loved the world-wide web…

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts with you!

© 2019, words and photo, Clarissa Simmens; Shakespearian characters illustration is in the public domain.

CLARISSA SIMMENS (Poeturja) is an independent poet; Romani drabarni (herbalist/advisor); ukulele and guitar player; wannabe song writer; and music addict. Favorite music genres include Classic Rock, Folk, Romani (Gypsy), and Cajun with an emphasis on guitar and violin music mainly in a Minor key. Find her on Amazon’s Author Page, on her blog, and on Facebook HERE.

Clarissa’s books include: Chording the Cards & Other Poems, Plastic Lawn Flamingos & Other Poems, and Blogetressa, Shambolic Poetry.


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