The Poets Respond to Shakespeare series ran at the Folger Shakespeare Library from the Fall of 2013 to the Spring of 2015. The inspiration for the series was based in my firm belief that poetry can respond to any genre. Most know poetry as responding to music and to art, but theatre?
The Poetry Foundation defines an ekphrastic poem as “a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art.” The foundation’s website elaborates: “Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the ‘action’ of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.”
As poetry coordinator at the Folger Shakespeare Library, I am surrounded by the work of the Folger Shakespeare Theatre. Season after season, I sit through meetings and hear conversations in hallways from my colleagues about the plays that are part of the new season, characters, stage setting, director’s vision, and more. For me, poetry too, could give an in-depth glimpse into a villain’s fleeting moment of self-pity: “There is no creature that loves me,/And if I die no soul will pity me,” Richard III (V, iii 212-13); or a lover’s playful banter, “Sin from my lips?/O trespass sweetly urged!/Give me my sin again,” Romeo and Juliet (I.v 120-21). So why not marry the two?
Each Poets Respond ran on a Friday, a hour before the play, with two poets reading work they had selected in advance to respond to the play. I would begin each reading, and there were six in all, by imploring the audience to allow the poets to take them on a journey of exploration. In preparation for each reading, I met with the theater’s dramaturg, Michele Osherow, for enlivening and in-depth conversations. I passed her observations along with advance ideas of stage setting, costume drawings, and of course, seats at the play of choice, to each of the poets. The readings were conversations, a poetic response from the page to the stage.
The following poems are from that brief series, and only two poets are not represented. With each reading, I was proud not only of the series but of the gorgeous work of these talented poets. I know there will be other opportunities to showcase poetry’s fluidity, its rapt attention to detail, its writerly caress. I am thankful to: Joel Dias-Porter and Paulette Beete (Romeo and Juliet Fall, 2013); Sarah Browning and Brian Gilmore (Richard III, Winter 2014); Regie Cabico and Michael Gushue (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Spring 2014); Hayes Davis and Joshua Weiner (Julius Caesar, Fall, 2014); Gail Danley and Shelley Puhak (Mary Stuart, Winter, 2015); Sandra Beasley, Gaelyn Smith and Zharia O’Neal (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Spring, 2015) for their willingness to work with me on this project. And I am extremely thankful to Kim Roberts and Gowri Koneswaran for this opportunity to showcase the work of these great poets influenced by the muse of theater.
Teri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of Haint (Gival Press, 2016). She is a Cave Canem fellow, and member of the Black Ladies Bruch Collective. She has attended the Soul Mountain Writer's Retreat, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Hedgebrook, the Community of Writers, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her poems have been published in many anthologies including Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade, Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC, and Not Without Our Laughter. She is the Poetry Coordinator at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC and resides in Silver Spring, MD with her husband, poet Hayes Davis and their two children. To read more by this author: Teri Ellen Cross: Summer 2004 Teri Ellen Cross's Introduction to The Evolving City issue, Fall 2007 Teri Ellen Cross: Split This Rock Issue