Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!

Four hundred and fifty one years ago today, William Shakespeare, arguably the greatest writer in the English language, was born. His plays and poetry are still being studied all over the world in spite of the difficulty of reading Early Modern English and the bard’s complex sentence structures and arcane language.

For those who dare, who want to learn more about Shakespeare’s work, his life, and times but feel overwhelmed by the dense language of the plays, I’ll be offering an Introduction to Shakespeare class online this summer through College of the Siskiyous–ENGL 1033 5031 beginning June 1, 2015.

We will focus on the fascinating social and cultural matrix of Renaissance and Elizabethan England to set the stage for our readings of “Much Ado About Nothing” and “The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra,” along with the sonnets and other poems. Both plays will be produced this summer by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in neighboring Ashland, Oregon.

Lest you think Shakespeare is too old school for you, here’s a poem from “Much Ado.”

Young man among roses

Young Man Among Roses, by Nicholas Hilliard, 1588–believed to be the Earl of Essex.

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more;

Men were deceivers ever;

One foot in sea and one on shore,

To one thing constant never;

Then sigh not so,

But let them go,

And be you blithe and bonny;

Converting all your sounds of woe

Into, Hey nonny, nonny.

If you’re ready to read more,  you can check out Jeremy Hylton’s excellent site The Complete Works of William Shakespeare on the Web.

If you’re already a fan, what are your favorite poems and plays? Favorite quotations?

Earth Day Poems by E E Cummings

Pacifist and innovative stylist, Edward Estlin Cummings 
was born in 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 
A structural non-conformist, Cummings self-published
until the counterculture of the 50's and 60's discovered him.

DSC01173"as is the sea marvelous" 

as is the sea marvelous
from god’s
hands which sent her forth
to sleep upon the world

and the earth withers
the moon crumbles
one by one
stars flutter into dust

but the sea
does not change
and she goes forth out of hands and
she returns into hands

and is with sleep….

    the breaking

of your
my lips

Yellow mountain
"O sweet spontaneous"

O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have

fingers of
prurient philosophers pinched

has the naughty thumb
of science prodded

beauty .
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive

to the incomparable
couch of death thy

thou answerest

them only with


“I Wish I Had a Timeline”

Just reviewing notes from a workshop with novelist Jane Hamilton presented by Chautauqua Poets and Writers and the English and Writing Program at Southern Oregon University.

This one sentence is scrawled across the top of my page: “I wish I had a timeline.”

Hamilton was talking about the things she wished she’d learned before she began her writing career. “The timeline orders your mind,” she said. “It illumines what you know.” She drew a long chalk line on the board and made a mark for 1960, the date the birth control pill became available. “It changed the world,” she said with her characteristic humor and invited us to add our own dates:

“The FreJane-Hamiltonnch Revolution.”

“Assassination of Martin Luther King.”

“Bombing Hiroshima.”

She didn’t need to explain more as she added mark after mark to the line. Anyone who has wrestled with the angel called The Novel understood what she meant.

It’s not enough that novelists hear voices in their heads–those voices want their stories told. They have names, birth dates, and histories, and a novelist must know everything about a character. If characters lived through the 1960’s, the Birth Control Revolution is just one of the cultural phenomena they would have encountered. Did your character burn her bra or did she buy another girdle? Where was he on the day that President Kennedy was killed? Did he burn his draft card or go to Viet Nam?

To further complicate matters, your character has a father who was born in 1921. Did his family lose money when the stock market collapsed? Did he fight in World War II? Where? What battles? Was he injured? Captured? Is that what drove him to drinking? Made him withdrawn?

You get the idea–these questions can’t be asked without a timeline.

The quality of your timeline both permits and restricts access to your characters’ lives. And that process can seem infinite to a novelist exploring the convoluted human condition. A good timeline is the only way through the maze.

the dreaded semicolon

I don’t know. Maybe I’ve had to circle too many semicolons in my life, making the requisite marginal note: Review the uses of a semicolon.

The truth is: you could finish a PhD in English, write and publish in any genre, even win the Nobel prize for Literature, and never once use a semicolon.Emily in Orange

While it works for joining complete sentences, conjunctions and transitions are the better choices because they make connections clear and are easier for your reader to follow.

If you want the more fragmented effect in joining sentences, nothing beats the dash–like a breath of air, the dash can lift the text off the page–it adds a lively immediacy to the text that Emily Dickinson understood. By contrast the semicolon feels old-fashioned; its form looks formal, and somewhat Victorian.

It does come in handy as a kind of super-comma when you have a long, convoluted list with too many commas in it already, but as a reader, I’ve always found those semicolons surprising–they stop me in my tracks. I have to go back and read over until I remember the rule and the semicolon makes sense.

By all means, if you feel you need to use the semicolon–and sometimes I do–review the uses and be consistent.

“A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown –
Who ponders this tremendous scene –
This whole Experiment of Green –
As if it were his own!”

presence and attention

A reminder from Franz Kafka:

You do not need to leave your room.

remain sitting at your table and listen.

studio reflection

writer’s studio–inside and out                                                                                               jacalyn mcnamara 2014

Don’t even listen. Simply wait.

Don’t even wait. Be still and solitary.

The world will freely offer itself to you

to be unmasked, it has no choice.

It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

Coming soon:

The Composition of Place–An Embodied Eco-Poetics Camp Desk

Whether it’s wilderness ranch, suburban bungalow, or urban condo, we share in the spirit  of nature as we experience, create, and inhabit place.

In this online series, we will practice writing from a deeply embodied state of being in the world and revising through mindful observation. Whether you are writing poetry, essays, memoir, or fiction, this practice will enhance your joy in the writing experience and open windows in your text.