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Shakespeare's birthday inspires a sonnet marathon reading at Saint Anselm College

Prof. Rong Huang reading Sonnet 105 during Tuesday's Shakespeare event at Saint Anselm College.
Todd Bookman
Prof. Rong Huang reading Sonnet 105 during Tuesday's Shakespeare event at Saint Anselm College.

The sun shining down on Saint Anselm College on Tuesday was lovely and temperate enough to compare to a summer’s day.

For six hours on Tuesday, students, faculty and alumni took to an outdoor podium on the school's newly christened Sonnet Stage to read all of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets to a rotating audience of curious students and lyrical poetry diehards.

“My subversive goal with all of this is to get people near poetry who would never ever go near poetry,” said professor Gary Bouchard, the founder and host of the event. “So outdoors, whenever the New Hampshire weather allows.”

Bouchard launched the Sonnett Marathon in 1989, coinciding annually with Shakespeare’s birthday.

Some of those who read a sonnet Tuesday were doing so for the first time; others have been reading the same sonnet at the event for decades. Students read 400-year-old poems from phone screens, while others used printouts or bound copies of the bard’s work.

“Many of them get read twice because we have several readings in foreign languages, and then we render them in English,” said Bouchard.

Bouchard considers the sonnets themselves, though at times dense or confusing for the uninitiated in the audience, the perfect way to discover poetry.

“Really what we are talking about is love, death, and time. Especially time, and especially the passing of time,” he said.

At the start of the day, Bouchard read the names of previous Sonnet Marathon participants who have died. “A sweet remembrance, a sweet sorrow,” he mused.

And in the middle of the day, some additional sweetness: a birthday cake honoring the bard was brought out. It was devoured by the time Sonnet 100 was read aloud.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University. He can be reached at tbookman@nhpr.org.