Love’s labor rewarded as winning poems celebrate Bard’s birth

 A scene from Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre's Romeo and Juliet.

A scene from Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre's Romeo and Juliet.

Today, William Shakespeare would have been 450 years old. Sort of.

The actual date of Shakespeare’s birth is not known for certain, but most people accept April 23 because its is the same date of his death 52 years later. Call it poetic liberty.

Anticipating the milestone, the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre launched a sonnet-writing contest in December. Two hundred poems in the style of the Shakespearean sonnet came in from around the country. A review panel had strict instructions to uphold the classic form of 14 lines and specific rhyme pattern. That left out some real gems.

“There were a number of those. Yeah,” said Philly Shakespeare Theatre artistic director Carmen Kahn. “We’re like, oh, wow, I wish they kept to that meter.”

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Five poems were selected to be included in Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s current production of “Romeo and Juliet,” each to be read as interludes between acts. They were chosen for their poetic quality and their adherence to the themes of the play.

One was written by Megan McCarthy, who works at a co-op grocery store in West Philadelphia. She writes poems for herself in her spare time, without any intention of sharing them publicly.

“With the New Year, instead of making resolutions I decided to do things that I find really terrifying,” she said.

Her poem, beginning with a humble onion, is about the teeth of love, the hard shove and the gnashing bite of love.

She pulled me up like onions from wet soilShe pulled my roots away from all the restShe bit me, bit me, bit my self o’verAnd this was perfect, nor did I protest…

As scary as it is to share a poem in public for the first time, McCarthy says love is even scarier.

“For me, love is — I kind of like that it’s a little scary,” she said. “It’s a violation of your inner self, but in a good way.”

McCarthy has not yet heard her poem delivered onstage. All the winning poets have been given tickets to this Sunday’s performance of “Romeo and Juliet.” All 200 poems submitted will be posted on the walls of the theater lobby.

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