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.


ABOUT

A Little Gem ~ Richard Burton reading Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven”

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I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat–and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet–
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”
.
I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities
(For, though I knew His love Who followed,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest having Him, I must have naught beside);
But if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of His approach would clash it to.
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clanged bars;
Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o’ the moon.
I said to dawn, Be sudden; to eve, Be soon;
With thy young skyey blossoms heap me over
From this tremendous Lover!
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!
I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue;
Or whether, Thunder-driven,
They clanged his chariot ‘thwart a heaven
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o’ their feet–
Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat–
“Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.”
.
I sought no more that after which I strayed
In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children’s eyes
Seems something, something that replies;
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But, just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
“Come then, ye other children, Nature’s–share
With me,” said I, “your delicate fellowship;
Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine with you caresses,
Wantoning
With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses’
Banqueting
With her in her wind-walled palace,
Underneath her azured daïs,
Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.”
So it was done;
I in their delicate fellowship was one–
Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies.
I knew all the swift importings
On the wilful face of skies;
I knew how the clouds arise
Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;
All that’s born or dies
Rose and drooped with–made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine–
With them joyed and was bereaven.
I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day’s dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning’s eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s gray cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
These things and I; in sound I speak–
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
The breasts of her tenderness;
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.
Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
And past those noisèd Feet
A voice comes yet more fleet–
“Lo naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.”
.
Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten me to my knee;
I am defenseless utterly.
I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years–
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must–
Designer infinite!–
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mist confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With blooming robes, purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest fields
Be dunged with rotten death?
.
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing,
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught,” He said,
“And human love needs human meriting,
How hast thou merited–
Of all man’s clotted clay rhe dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms.
But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for the at home;
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”

Halts by me that footfall;
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstreched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”

– Francis Thompson
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427px-Francis_Thompson_at_19“Francis Thompson (16 December 1859 – 13 November 1907) was an English poet and ascetic. After attending college, he moved to London to become a writer, but in menial work, became addicted to opium, and was a street vagrant for years. A married couple read his poetry and rescued him, publishing his first book Poems in 1893. Thompson lived as an unbalanced invalid in Wales and at Storrington, but wrote three books of poetry, with other works and essays, before dying of tuberculosis in 1907 . . .
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“His most famous poem The Hound of Heaven, describes the pursuit of the human soul by God. This poem is the source of the phrase “with all deliberate speed,” used by the Supreme Court in Brown II, the remedy phase of the famous decision on school desegregation. A phrase in his The Kingdom of God  is the source of the title of Han Suyin‘s novel and the movie Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. In addition, Thompson wrote the most famous cricket poem, the nostalgic At Lord’s. He also wrote Sister Songs (1895), New Poems (1897), and a posthumously published essay, “Shelley” (1909). He wrote a treatise On Health and Holiness, dealing with the ascetic life, which was published in 1905.G. K. Chesterton said shortly after his death that “with Francis Thompson we lost the greatest poetic energy since Browning.” His grave is in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in London. Among Thompson’s devotees was the young J.R.R. Tolkien, who purchased a volume of Thompson’s works in 1913-1914, and later said that it was an important influence on his own writing.The American novelist Madeleine L’Engle used a line from the poem “The Mistress of Vision” as the title of her last Vicki Austin novel, Troubling a Star.” Wikipedia
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The photograph is in the public domain.

. . . and thus we begin another week . . .