“On Shakespeare’s Sonnets: A Poets’ Celebration” edited by Hannah Crawforth

by Mark Sheldon


This is a book to be savoured and enjoyed, rather than to be read in one sitting. As its title tells us, it is a celebration of his sonnets and of the man himself.

It is beautifully presented and even before reading a word the quality of this book’s presentation is a fitting tribute to Shakespeare’s Sonnets. For those of us who prefer a book to have paper and ink, it is a book which is a pleasure to handle.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets always arouse a reaction, whether of delight, joy or puzzlement. Here, 30 of today’s great poets give their unique poetic answer, exploring their, and our, relationship to the sonnets. As they have been inspired, they have responded to Shakespeare’s Sonnets, their voices answering rather than echoing his voice. Whilst some seem to reinterpret a sonnet, others take a thought, phrase or word and launch off.

Not being in the least poetic myself, it has been a fascinating book to pick up and put down, dipping in here and there. Some I can relate to and others, as with Shakespeare’s Sonnets themselves, I am left questioning “what was that all about?”

For me the sonnets give a reflection on different facets of life, making one stop and think rather than continuously rushing on to the next task, keeping up with the proverbial hamster’s wheel. The modern sonnets in this book are a worthy response to the originals. As the preface says, the modern  and the original sonnets which most closely inspired them are provided for us. We can compare, contrast, analyse or just enjoy them.

It might be a book worth reading on your own, or with someone who at least enjoys poetry because you may find yourself reading them aloud to capture and enjoy the rhythm.

Old and new, these pithy observations on life, death, love and everything in between, are a welcome pause. It is a book to be enjoyed. As we celebrate his life and work 400 years after his death,  I wonder what Shakespeare would think of them?


Mike Sheldon is a Partner specialising in Residential Property at Raworths LLP.


Jo Shapcott and Ruth Padel, with Hannah Crawforth are appearing at the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival on Saturday 9th July at 10.00am. Click Here to Book.