Marking the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare's death: Marlborough LitFest's winning sonnets

Written by Tony Millett.

LitFest's winning sonneteers Ann Johnson and Lucy Jones (copyright Ben Phillips Photography) LitFest's winning sonneteers Ann Johnson and Lucy Jones (copyright Ben Phillips Photography) Marlborough LitFest 2016 featured one real novelty in its pleasing mix of literary styles and books for all ages: a sonnet competition attached firmly to the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

The challenge for entrants - one section for adults and another for under-nineteen year-olds - was to 'write back' in verse to any of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets.  The verse could be in strict Shakespearian sonnet form or it could be in a much freer verse style.

The competition was judged by the poet Sarah Howe, winner of this year's TS Eliot Prize and of the 2015 Sunday Times / Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of The Year Award for her volume Loop of Jade.   

Sarah provided the LitFest's grand finale talking about and reading her poetry at Marlborough College on Sunday (October 2.) The winners in each category received £100 and winners and runners-up received copies of Loop of Jade.

And the winners were:

--in the Adult section: Ann Johnson, who lives in Marlborough. She wrote a highly amusing response to Sonnet 130 ("My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun") - in a wondrously modern idiom. Simon Russell Beale read her sonnet to the audience at his sold-out talk in the Town Hall on the Sunday afternoon.

--in the Under-19 section: Lucy Jones - aged fourteen and in Year 10 at St John's Academy.  She wrote a bittersweet response to Sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?")  


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damnask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go -
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
         And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
         As any she belied with false compare.


Will, thanks a lot for posting thy remark
On FB's Timeline, where my Selfie's shewn :
You diss my face too pale, my hair too dark
And comment on bad breath on thy Smartphone,
Yet oil painting art thou none, my deare,
Thy face a moon, thy Haire like tide drawn back
And flowing down thy collar (so last yeare).
Thine pigges are cute in Hamlet on YouTube,
Tho' Marlowe's Kittens got more Likes I see.
Then eff off with the colour of my boob,
Thy sonnet's rubbish as you will agree.
           And yet thou'rt not a waste of space complete
           So LOL, I shall not presse Delete.


Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all to short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair some time declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st.
        So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
        So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


I am nothing like a summer's day,
my face does not show who I truly am.
True beauty always seems to fade away,
proving that love is nothing but a sham.
There is no room for a man in my life;
I want to be so young, alone and free.
I have no interest in being a wife;
I don't need anyone restraining me.
So come, foul weather, do your worst,
I feel a thunderstorm brewing within.
Such words of vile love, may they be cursed,
to stop the foul crawling of my skin.
        Such darkness hides within those deep blue eyes;
        I will not be deceived by all your lies.