The Marlborough Sonnet Competition
Saturday, June 11th, 2016
Could you be the Bard of Marlborough?
We’re asking you to ‘write back’ in verse to any of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
There is considerable freedom as to how you interpret this challenge: you might choose to focus on a particular image from one of the sonnets, for example, and elaborate on what this means to you; you might pick up on Shakespeare’s thought in a specific sonnet, and respond to this with your own ideas.
It is entirely up to you whether you choose to work within the traditional form of a Shakespearean sonnet, or to interpret the form much more freely, even perhaps picking up an idea from one of the sonnets but writing in a completely different form.
For those who prefer the challenge of the sonnet’s intricate structure, here is a reminder of the form used by Shakespeare:
- A sonnet has 14 lines of iambic pentameter (five beats in a dah-DUM pattern)
- Shakespeare’s characteristic structure is to arrange these in three quatrains (groups of four lines) with a closing couplet
- The rhyme scheme of the sonnet is arranged ababcdcdefefgg
- There is sometimes a ‘turn’ after the eighth line, so that the last six lines (the ‘sestet’) take off in a different direction; or the break may come after line 12, so that the closing couplet locks the ideas into place.
Here is an example – Sonnet 12
When I do count the clock that tells the time, a
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night; b
When I behold the violet past prime, a
And sable curls ensilvered o’er with white; b
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves, c
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd, d
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves c
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard: d
Then of thy beauty do I question make e [the ‘turn’]
That thou among the wastes of time must go, f
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake, e
And die as fast as they see others grow; f
And nothing ‘gainst time’s scythe can make defence g
Save breed to brave him when he takes thee hence. g
Judging and Prizes
There’s a prize of £100 for each of two categories: under 19s and adult.
The competition will be judged by poet Sarah Howe, winner of the TS Eliot Prize this year as well as the Sunday Times / Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of The Year Award in 2015 for her volume Loop of Jade. Sarah will talk about and read from this collection at the LitFest finale at Marlborough College on Sunday 2 October. Winners and runners-up in each category of the Marlborough Shakespearean Sonnet Competition will also receive a copy of Loop of Jade.
How to Enter
Entries may be either by email, with the poem attached as a Word document and the title of the poem as the ‘Subject’; or in hard copy by post by 29th August. Email entries should be sent to general @ marlboroughlitfest.org and postal entries to Marlborough LitFest (‘Sonnet Competition’), Granham Thatch, Granham Hill, Marlborough SN8 4DP.
Although the poems will be judged anonymously, they should bear the name and address of the writer and the category being entered above the poem.