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Year Two: Shakespeare Nation To Be Or Not To Be

Doorstep Shakespeare: Sonnet Writing Challenge

As apart of the Doorstep Shakespeare project we extended the challenge to participants to write their own sonnet.


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Part of our Shakespeare Nation project (Year Two), Doorstep Shakespeare engaged adults in online workshops about sonnet writing and reading. The project culminated with a short film, capturing participants performing Shakespeare’s sonnets on their doorstep once the lockdown eased. Click here to watch the film.

Some participants also took part in our extended challenge – to write their own sonnet. Participants attended two workshops with poet Ashley Hickson-Lovence, and were further supported by theatre practitioner and writer Joseph Ballard. Some based their sonnets on the traditional form of a Shakespearian sonnet whilst others chose to break some of the rules!

We’ve captured below just four of the new sonnets, with a short introduction from the participants telling us what their sonnet means to them.

Jonathan Wainwright

More than a four letter word is all about the fragility of life and our attitude towards what is happening to us, particularly over the last year. Hope is one of the most powerful emotions; it gives us the drive to enjoy life and keep going during uncertainty, however bad things get for us. Without it the human spirit shrivels, dries up and dies.

I’m not a poet and this is the first sonnet I’ve ever attempted and I found it both difficult and challenging and yet for the most part enjoyable. However, I sometimes needed all the hope I could muster to keep going. I’m now in awe of poets everywhere. It truly is the most difficult thing in the world to do.


More than a four letter word
by Jonathan Wainwright

Life sapped of hope spirals downwards in ever depressing circles
Furloughed like the silent Camellia blooming black and white
The ‘Black Dog’ watches us, emotions ebbing back and forth like the tide
Anxieties twisting uncertainty swaying the poker game of life

With courage by our sides, hope becomes life’s guiding Satnav
Inspiration with unlimited dreams like a favoured child
‘Roll up, roll up’, feel alive riding hope’s roller coaster of life
Then watch as the stench of hopelessness gently falls away

So fight. Join hope’s voyage. Love it. Trust it. Believe in it
Take comfort as the storm brews around hope’s protecting serenity
Cushioned by the reassuring caress of Mother Earth’s hug
Put hope’s journey through the obstacles of life to the test

And as time unwinds and what’s troubling us becomes transparent
Our reward for unswerving belief will soon become apparent.

Helen Wells

Sonnets are often love poems and as we studied them, I felt more and more keenly how much I was missing touch and physical contact in this time of enforced distance. But I also realized that I had found sensual substitutes in the intense pleasures of nature.

I’ve never written a sonnet before and the formality, the structure, the rhythm and the syllable count were all new to me; but I rather enjoyed counting on my fingers, finding the rhymes and rhythms and being very direct in what you say within that structure.

Love in a plague
by Helen Wells

My ardent look burns hot but underground
Profound fear rules, cloaks gaze and stays my hand
Love must find a sensual substitute
Rough towel? Tight tucked duvet? Silken shirt?

Watch embraces on the vivid distant screen
Play mimes of love across an empty space
Remembered touch leaves trace upon my skin
My bone, my sinew, courses through my blood

Oh loves imperfect fickle blue bells bloom
A year past glorious but withdrawn soon
So now I’ll take my pleasure in the clouds
trees, birds, bugs, blooms, the ever-changing life

Fecund nature has no barriers to touch
I’ll hug the trees, I will be missing much!

Lucy Care

This sonnet was very much a pandemic sonnet. My pandemic experience was not of living alone, but of suddenly living day-by-day with my adult daughter. Our love held strong, but it was not an experience one expects. Normally she would live her life, mostly outside the home and I would live mine. We turned into each other one day to the next and, both shielding, could see children running and life going on without us. It could have been a slow cooker heading for explosion; but it was a blessed time together – making new bonds that we will not forget.

I enjoyed writing a sonnet again and feeling the constraints of form and rhythm. It made my mind refresh itself and I have read far more poetry since, enjoying the new windows that poems give on experience.


23 March 2021
by Lucy Care

The Ides of March spoke true last year
And I, and you, turned in and others out.
We, face to face grew close to speak our fear
And cobwebs of tired thought became a shroud.

I see the children dancing down the street
Such joy in movement my limbs cannot know
We dance our slow eternal circles on our feet
And rich the fruits of time come dropping slow.

I still must dance your music on these grapes,
So love brews, fertilised by yeast of passion.
My gritted teeth explode the fragments in your face
Like patchwork scraps of fury and compassion

And falling motes of you and light and laughter
Will grace my mind, dark March, now and for ever after.

Ruth Bowden

Written during the lockdown, my sonnet is about the pandemic, and also expresses my anger at being diagnosed with osteoporosis. The house is a metaphor for my health, and the garden a means for finding hope and a way though.

A while prior to the pandemic, I was rebuilding my health after a long illness, and had started to bring the inside of my house up to date. This work was long overdue and felt transformational. It was interrupted when I broke a vertebra and discovered that I had osteoporosis. I was rebuilding from this setback when the pandemic came and lockdown started, putting more obstacles and more frustration in my path. Doorstep Shakespeare put me in touch with the Sonnets, and my sonnet came about when the verse I memorised (lines 4—8 of Sonnet 60) helped me express my anger at my own mortality. I was walking in my local park when the poem started to form in my head.


Bricks and Bones
by Ruth Bowden

The house was rebuilding nicely. Walls and
Roof in place, workers beavering away.
Then came the hurricane and a form of
Acid rain, and everything changed.

Angry is a hungry word that bangs round
The house and batters the window panes.
Should I nail down the shutters? Or stand
Outside and rage at the elements?

I will downsize downright stand straight
Late morning midnight, can no longer take flight.
I will carry water, shift rocks and stones
Sink my hands into the earth and take root.

With patience and cultivation, I’ll grow plants
And vegetables to soothe my mortal bones.

Julie-Anne Stevens

I took part in this activity as part of my self-imposed 43-day challenge. The shock of the second lockdown left me so distressed I had to find a way of managing, so I planned to distract myself by doing a new thing every day. I haven’t written a sonnet for 40 years, so it wasn’t easy but everyone was so encouraging. My initial attempt was much darker and miserable but over time with the encouragement of all involved and there being a vaccine at the end of a dark tunnel, my sonnet became more factual and considered the honest realities of working from home!

The process of writing and rewriting this sonnet has been really cathartic. Thinking about iambic pentameter, syllables, the volta and the rhyming couplets have all completely distracted me and changed my thoughts. At times it was hard work but it gave me a place to express my feelings not just in prose but in the footsteps of Shakespeare. Joseph and my fellow sonnet writers were all so encouraging. I am very grateful for the opportunity, the distraction and the fun memories we have made.


2021: Working from home. Again.
by Julie-Anne Stevens

[Sigh] That sigh, that shows how tired I am.
Tired or bored? I hope they didn’t hear it.
What will they think? I’m bored. I’m not! I’m tired.
Tired of listening with my eyes and ears.

I see hands in front of mouths trying to hide.
Staring strangely as they nod. Faces stretched.
Yawning. Trying to hide the yawn I am again
Slouched in front of a screen, virtual me.

Blursday after blursday. What is the date?
Commute from kettle to table, can’t be late!
Such a journey. So tired of these four walls.
I have more time. Less time. Where does it go?

It’s time! How do I look? My teeth, my hair-
I’m so pleased they can’t see my bottom… it’s bare!