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Poem: "A Brief History of Shakespeare" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "A Brief History of Shakespeare"
This poem came out of the March 5, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from chordatesrock regarding autism and echolalia.  Shakespeare kind of turned the idea upside down, preferring the grace of memorized lines to the garble of original composition.  The following poem is a look at how the world sees him, how he sees himself, and how he got where he is.  It has been sponsored by technoshaman.  You can read more about An Army of One: The Autistic Secession in Space.  Shakespeare first appears in "Do Wrong to None."


A Brief History of Shakespeare



He grows up with parents
who do not understand him
and therapists who cannot comprehend
how he manages to decode their doublespeak
when he can barely speak.

     King Midas has ass's ears! (1)
     the little boy whispers to the reeds
     around the pond in the middle of the park.
     He tells them secrets to tell the wind.
     Nothing is as it seems
     and he hungers after hidden truths.

He grows up with people
who set expectations that are alien to him,
who want him to speak in his own words
but never have the patience to listen
and never appreciate what he says.

     He who laughs last, laughs best,  (2)
     the teen says when people make fun of him
     and somehow they never get it.
     He learns to accept a laugh track,
     to anticipate it, to bend himself around it.

Everyone tells him that the way he speaks
is wrong, unnatural, unacceptable.
He does not let that stop him,
will not let anything at all stop him.
He wants the words whole and beautiful in his mouth,
wants sentences as smooth and precious as a string of pearls.
He does not want the broken things he was born with,
does not want to struggle and squeak his way
through phrases that fragment like wet paper
when he tries to make his own.

     Why, I was there and so
     can tell the whole sad, sorry tale,
(3)
     the young man says, because he refuses to be silent.
     Never mind that he does not tell it
     the way they would like it told --
     he can read between the lines of what they say
     and he knows so much more than he can ever say.

The words are there for the taking,
and no matter how much he takes
there will always be more for the next person.
He wants them and he takes them
like a castle, like a galleon,
filling the treasure-hall of his memory
with things he can use and never use up.

     We shall defend our island,
     he says when he reads the daily news
     about the war between the Galactic Arms.
     We shall never surrender. (4)
     Nobody takes him seriously at first,
     but the war drags on and on, they run low on soldiers,
     and he ferrets out meaning from enemy phrases.

He reads classics and trash, news and gossip,
consumes text and video and conversation.
He pulls them into himself, swallows an ocean
of rain and tears and pearls of wisdom.
He makes them his, these words dipped in history,
these sentences that already mean what he wants to say.

     In the final choice a soldier's pack
     is not so heavy as a prisoner's chains, (5)
     he says during training
     when he does so many things wrong
     and they keep him only for what he can do
     so much better than anyone else.
     They do not realize how much he already knows this.

They won't call him stupid
if he can quote the greatest speakers of all time.
They might still call him a freak,
but he can live with this, as long as
he has someone else's tongue in his mouth
to tell the truths that need to be told.

     A life spent making mistakes
     is not only more honorable,
     but more useful than a life spent doing nothing, (6)
     he says in the field when things go wrong.
     You make that signal with your eyes,
     lieutenant, not your pants! another soldier says.  (7)
     He is grateful for the assignment to Specialist rank.

The nickname, when it comes,
settles over his shoulders like an accolade:
Shakespeare.
Bard of Bards.
Oh yes, he can live with this.

     You are what you do,
     not what you say you'll do, (8)
     he says after the codes have been cracked
     and handed to him to pick out the meanings
     like meat from a smashed nut.
     And he does. He always does.

He has read Romeo and Juliet,
The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night,
A Midsummer Night's Dream
--
all the ways of making and breaking people,
bringing them together or setting them apart.
These are the things he thinks of after the secession.

     So we grew together like to a double cherry,
     seeming parted, but yet an union in partition,
     two lovely berries molded on one stem, (9)
     he says when the deserters from
     the Carinan and Orion armies
     begin discussing ways to create
     their own society in the Lacuna --
     and some of them, not all,
     but some of them actually get it.

* * *

Notes:

1) "King Midas has ass's ears." -- from the legend of King Midas.

2) "He who laughs last, laughs best." -- proverb.

3) "Why, I was there and so can tell the whole sad, sorry tale." -- The Sorting Hat, The Sorting Hat's New Song, Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling.

4) "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." -- Winston Churchill.

5) "In the final choice a soldier's pack is not so heavy as a prisoner's chains." -- Dwight D. Eisenhower.

6) "A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing." -- George Bernard Shaw.

7) The phrase "with your eyes, lieutenant, not your pants!" came from this post about autism.

8) “You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.” C.G. Jung.

9) “So we grew together like to a double cherry, seeming parted, but yet an union in partition, two lovely berries molded on one stem.” William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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29 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: technoshaman Date: March 6th, 2013 06:42 am (UTC) (Link)
*smiles* thank *you*.

In the final choice a soldier's pack
is not so heavy as a prisoner's chains


What's this from? I know someone who needs to see that quote, if he doesn't know it already...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 7th, 2013 01:57 am (UTC) (Link)

You're welcome!

I'm glad you liked this.

The quote is from Dwight D. Eisenhower. Sorry I forgot to include the footnotes! I've added them now.
From: technoshaman Date: March 7th, 2013 03:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: You're welcome!

Thank you!
From: chordatesrock Date: March 6th, 2013 07:04 am (UTC) (Link)
So Shakespeare chooses these ancient sources to seem smarter? Interesting.

I wonder how the people he left behind feel about the secession. Do they worry about him?

Surprisingly, I am slightly disappointed in this poem. I don't mean to say that it's terrible, but that I'm surprised not to like it as much as Shakespeare's other poems. Perhaps I had been expecting to see more of the way ableist attitudes affected his rearing, and how they may have infected his family and even Shakespeare himself. I had been hoping to see the ramifications of that, and, to some extent, I do...

How does the sort of patriot who fought for the chance to serve his country feel about seceding from it with the people who were his enemies? Does he think he was wrong before?

I'm afraid I failed to understand one of your references. What does "you make that signal with your eyes, lieutenant, not your pants" mean?
From: adeliej Date: March 6th, 2013 09:12 am (UTC) (Link)
I didn't take it so much as him wanting to seem smarter, but rather being dissatisfied with his ability to compose sentences that are... beautiful, for lack of a better word. Something like 'whole', maybe? And so instead of making do with what he can create himself, he uses what others have made beautiful before him - more of an internal need for 'beauty' (while I'm using that word) than wanting to appear a certain way. (This is mostly drawn off my interpretation of Verse 5.)

YMMV, though - what was your reasoning behind how you saw the poem?
From: chordatesrock Date: March 6th, 2013 06:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I took it that he chose to use echolalia at all because he wasn't particularly good at putting words together and was consistently disappointed by how they turned out. What I meant with that comment was that it seems that he chooses Shakespeare quotes and quotes from other classics, as opposed to quoting the "trash, news and gossip" that it is also canon that he reads, because the classics seem smarter. Note that it might be easier for him to use the vernacular and to get quotations closer to what he means if he expanded the pool he draws them from.
From: adeliej Date: March 6th, 2013 07:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, that's a good point - I'd missed that nuance of it.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 7th, 2013 02:44 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

There are two aspects, one external (classics are respected, so people using classics may also be respected) and one internal (classics sound good to him, and he wants to sound good to himself as well as others).

Shakespeare is stubborn about wanting to speak in the mode that he prefers, and in that sense doesn't care what other people think. But he's also aware that their opinions can cost him, which can be scary, and he dislikes being thought of as stupid, so in that sense he does care.

Different layers blending through and around each other.
siege From: siege Date: March 6th, 2013 06:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
"It, um, I, uh, that- that- that- word. No. Not." I can't get the words out properly unless they're arranged for me. Then it all flows.

A soldier is a soldier. He fights whom he is told, and reasons why mean less than bullets in the field. But after the war, two soldiers may go drinking together and trade stories from opposite sides.
From: chordatesrock Date: March 6th, 2013 08:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
I see. Thank you.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 7th, 2013 02:48 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

That, right there. Very well framed, thank you.

Your example also reminds me how Shakespeare and Backup have related challenges, but different coping mechanisms. Backup sticks with his own words as much as possible, even if mangled, and has the echolalia tamped down to repeating single words or short phrases. He relies on other people to help him along. Shakespeare only seems to have had the one 'translator' and prefers to use quotations. Backup has a list of useful phrases and statements (like "Please wait while I put my thoughts in order") ... I should try to get that onstage at some point.
From: chordatesrock Date: March 7th, 2013 04:43 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

Yes, you should. It would make a good contrast with Shakespeare.

You know, it's common in disability circles to be embarrassed by other people who share your condition [ETA: obviously, only if you have a lot of internalized ableist shame]. Will Shakespeare be uncomfortable if he interacts verbally with Backup?

Edited at 2013-03-07 04:44 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 7th, 2013 06:07 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

>>Yes, you should. It would make a good contrast with Shakespeare.<<

I'll keep that in mind.

>>You know, it's common in disability circles to be embarrassed by other people who share your condition [ETA: obviously, only if you have a lot of internalized ableist shame].<<

I've noticed that. There are various possible reasons, though. Some of the others will pick up a broader range than just one-to-one.

>> Will Shakespeare be uncomfortable if he interacts verbally with Backup?<<

I'm inclined to think yes, and that it will be mutual, because they have chosen opposite coping strategies. It's likely to feel to each of them as if the other is being lazy or just irritating. Which is a problem, because Router has a perfectly clear understanding of Shakespeare's mode of communication. I think he's actually the first person who bothered to talk back in quotations.
From: chordatesrock Date: March 7th, 2013 06:33 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

Interesting thought.

Yes, now I want to know if there's some way to get Shakespeare onto the 3D3N base. Is there? If not, well, that's what AU fanfic is for, isn't it?

I'm picturing Backup having meltdowns and Shakespeare wanting to just shout him down (does he have any quotes that will work?) in this scenario. It's a shame, and societal ableism in Carina and Orion is to blame. How did they end up fighting, when Carina and Orion clearly have so many shared values, such as marginalizing people who don't fit in?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 7th, 2013 07:31 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

>>Yes, now I want to know if there's some way to get Shakespeare onto the 3D3N base. Is there? If not, well, that's what AU fanfic is for, isn't it?<<

I have planned on making that connection, yes. After I've smacked the ends of the jumper cables together a few times with Router and Sam the Gardener.

>>I'm picturing Backup having meltdowns and Shakespeare wanting to just shout him down (does he have any quotes that will work?) in this scenario.<<

Yeah, that's ... disturbingly plausible. Shakespeare will clam up if he feels threatened but I suspect he gets noisy if he just feels hassled. Backup tends to lose language under stress. Shouting him down is like taking candy from a baby, it's just cruel. (See Router. See Router blow a gasket.)

>> It's a shame, and societal ableism in Carina and Orion is to blame.<<

Too true.

>> How did they end up fighting, when Carina and Orion clearly have so many shared values, such as marginalizing people who don't fit in?<<

I do not know! My best guess would be territorial divergence, similar to what happened between England and America. When you have people in different places, they often wind up wanting to do different things, and trying to sustain a united government can be very difficult.
From: chordatesrock Date: March 7th, 2013 08:09 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

Sounds fun.

(See Router. See Router blow a gasket.)

See the easy-to-mishandle CND-protector-of-childish-PWD dynamic defuse instantly, too, with another PWD acting as the threat.

(Will Router, Case and Port be feeling lonely among all of the autistic secessionists? Will they, perhaps, feel besieged and regret being part of it, or wonder whether Backup should've been taken home?)

What about resources?

By the way, was that poem about the oxygen-breathers and methane-breathers ever sold?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 8th, 2013 04:41 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

>>See the easy-to-mishandle CND-protector-of-childish-PWD dynamic defuse instantly, too, with another PWD acting as the threat.<<

Possibly. It's going to be rough enough figuring out how to deal with Sam, and then Shakespeare on top of that, and just ... yow.

>>(Will Router, Case and Port be feeling lonely among all of the autistic secessionists? Will they, perhaps, feel besieged and regret being part of it, or wonder whether Backup should've been taken home?)<<

I think they'll be okay, or mostly okay, because they've got each other. The only neurotypical folks I've seen so far who stayed were ones with a strong connection to somebody. Babs has Estelle, for instance. So they might get homesick (which can happen to anyone) but I doubt they'd regret the decision. Feeling outnumbered, maybe; feeling overwhelmed by the stress of trying to build a whole new society when they don't know what they're doing, probably. It'll be different for Router, since he's the leader, than for Case and Port, who are more comfortable following. Different kinds of stress.

>>What about resources?<<

Their station was meant to have a crew of six, and they've got four people at present, so they've actually got extra space and goods compared to that. Sam will make five but he's got some of his own stuff to bring. Beyond that I think they're likely to invite other people to visit temporarily, in hopes of getting more folks to know each other.

>>By the way, was that poem about the oxygen-breathers and methane-breathers ever sold?<<

Not so far. "Oxydizing Agents, Reducing Agents" is still available for $37.50.
From: chordatesrock Date: March 8th, 2013 05:29 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

Interesting.

When I asked about resources, I meant as a cause for the war.

As far as getting to know each other, they have cipherspace for that, don't they? Further, transportation will eat up fuel. It might be better to avoid unnecessary travel at first.

What is this new society's government?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 9th, 2013 08:34 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

>>When I asked about resources, I meant as a cause for the war.<<

Ah, okay. It's possible, but I haven't seen anything obvious that they're fighting over yet. It could be territory but I doubt it's a shortage of habitable planets.

>>As far as getting to know each other, they have cipherspace for that, don't they? Further, transportation will eat up fuel. It might be better to avoid unnecessary travel at first.<<

Some people will be satisfied with, even prefer, cipherspace connections. Others won't like being alone or with a tiny group indefinitely. Some people find it easier to get to know each other face-to-face. So they'll probably shift around a little, not a lot.

>>What is this new society's government?<<

They don't have one yet. It's a jumble of anarchy, some consensus, and leftover military organization wrapped around things like "Ask Hootowl" and "Ask Router."
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 7th, 2013 02:35 am (UTC) (Link)

Hmm...

>> So Shakespeare chooses these ancient sources to seem smarter? Interesting. <<

Part of it is wanting to be able to express himself eloquently. Classics become so because they are particularly iconic: people remember them. (Minus stuff at the very beginning of a movement, or in periods with few examples, which are included more for representation than quality.) So it's a good place to look for effective quotes.

Part of it is wanting to be respected. In this regard, auspicious things such as classical literature, classical music, playing chess, etc. have been used by disadvantaged people (poor folks, people of color, the disabled, etc.) as a way of changing other people's perceptions about them. It's an established strategy. It's also a demonstration of intelligence, ability, culture; a way of proving wrong some of the snotty things people say. Sometimes it works. Other times it gets you beaten up for being "uppity." These also are established.

I suspect that Shakespeare tries on different quotes, gauges the response, and decides which ones to re-use. Classics often are good for that, but so are some contemporary sources. And I think that he does just enjoy classic literature on an aesthetic level; he seems to have read more of it.

>>I wonder how the people he left behind feel about the secession. Do they worry about him?<<

Now there's a question with hidden complexities!

First, I'd expect anyone fond of a secessionist to worry about them. They were in an army and then dropped out of contact. That's alarming.

Next, to analyze a specific relationship, we have to consider ... how much do his relatives actually care about him? I suspect the best I could call it is benign ignorance. They might love him out of familial connection, but don't really understand him and probably don't appreciate his talent. It's also possible that they consider him a burden and are glad he's gone. Or even googlethinking nonsense like "autistic people should die."

Family dynamics around a disabled member can be messy and are usually delicate. So this could take some talking through to get a clear image.

(Backup is the only one I know much more about, really: his father is a control freak who considers him a useless idiot, which is unfair and untrue, and which contributes to Backup not being very good at taking care of himself yet because he hasn't been allowed to much.)

[To be continued ...]
From: chordatesrock Date: March 7th, 2013 04:30 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

In the future, I would like to see more about people's feelings on this topic. I would also like to see more of Backup.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 7th, 2013 05:52 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

I have some ideas, and of course you can prompt for favorite motifs.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 7th, 2013 02:36 am (UTC) (Link)

Hmm...


>>Surprisingly, I am slightly disappointed in this poem. I don't mean to say that it's terrible, but that I'm surprised not to like it as much as Shakespeare's other poems.<<

Thanks for letting me know. Feedback is valuable!

>> Perhaps I had been expecting to see more of the way ableist attitudes affected his rearing, and how they may have infected his family and even Shakespeare himself. I had been hoping to see the ramifications of that, and, to some extent, I do...<<

There's a little of this in here, but maybe it needs to be unpacked more. Do you think it's something that could be fixed by adding a verse or few? Or might it work better in a separate poem?

Some considerations:

1) I have a known tendency to get poems stuck together sometimes. I've managed to reduce but not eliminate that. Sometimes it can be fixed, other times not.

2) One drawback to the fishbowl is speed. I don't have time to write and reread like I usually do. That means sometimes things get a little condensed, or not fully explained, or otherwise come out imperfect in ways I probably would've caught if writing one poem rather than 20.

Closely related is that, if something sells immediately, I may not have time to run it past a first-reader before posting it. So then sometimes I have to go back and correct things. This is most prevalent in series like An Army of One or Fiorenza the Wisewoman where I'm relying on a topical expert.

3) Some series have internal rules that don't apply to other series. I'm beginning to suspect that this one, like Path of the Paladins, has a defined beginning threshold that's difficult or impossible to cross. That makes it challenging to go back and cover things that happened prior to the secession. So it turns into things like this one, which is kind of a retrospective, and that can be hit-or-miss.

4) On the upside, crowdfunding lets me draw on audience knowledge through discussion of posted poems. It's not like a magazine where once something's gone past an editor and been published, it's stuck that way. If folks want to pop the hood and poke around in the engine, we can do that.

>>How does the sort of patriot who fought for the chance to serve his country feel about seceding from it with the people who were his enemies? Does he think he was wrong before?<<

I think the best summary is "awkward." Nobody's really easy with it (given the possible exception of Weavercreep and Operetta whose personal alliance predates the secession and who seem more interested in their specialties than patriotism). Some people might look at their former beliefs as wrong, most as incomplete. Some might feel downright betrayed by their own former side. There's no default. There's no comfort zone. That one is just going to leave people limping for a while.

So ... a lot of them probably won't look righ at it, not yet, not soon. They'll push it to the back of their minds. They'll try to make connections with the people currently in reach. And they'll make some mistakes.

>>I'm afraid I failed to understand one of your references. What does "you make that signal with your eyes, lieutenant, not your pants" mean?<<

I pulled the phrase out of the page you linked, it just sounded cool. I was thinking about nested sets of signals and replies, where one option may be very obvious (for example, using one's trousers as a distress flag) and another subtle (blinking in Morse code) even though they mean the same thing. Which if one is not adept at communication, might get mixed up somehow.
From: chordatesrock Date: March 7th, 2013 04:40 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

What I meant there is that I may have been expecting something else-- certainly, what I meant by my prompts (the ones I gave in the comments, anyway; I didn't have any set intention in mind in sending you that link, and merely wanted to know what you would make of it) is something else-- and it's not fair to judge a poem that's trying to be a sparrow for its failure to be a robin.

I suppose the easiest way to get into more of Shakespeare's family's ableist raising of him and how Shakespeare has been affected would be a poem set pre-secession. If you don't want to do that, a harder way would be to set the story post-secession and show Shakespeare considering doing or starting to do something his family never expected him to be able to do, like a romance (you'll recall our discussion on this, right?), and show how the fact that he was raised with the expectation that he wouldn't do it has affected his ability to do it. However... I have... more thoughts about that and no good idea of what they are.

I definitely want to see more of people's thoughts on the secession.

I am once again reminded of the way that I tend to ignore the titles of tumblr pages. I may read someone's tumblr and have no idea what it's called until that's pointed out to me.
From: chordatesrock Date: March 7th, 2013 04:51 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

I have further thoughts on this since my last comment. The poem spans a lot of time in relatively few lines, with big jumps. Shakespeare's communication improves and he matures off-screen between stanzas, and yet his communication and growing up are the poem's central themes.

It's very much not what I expected: it's broad but not deep. It covers his life story, rather than tackling a single aspect in any depth.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: March 7th, 2013 05:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

There's a lot of precedent for geeks whose loyalty is to their profession rather than to their employer -- it's common among programmers, for example. (The current lack of concern employers have for their employees contributes to this, too, of course.)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 7th, 2013 06:12 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

Yes, that's true. I suspect there will be a mix of feelings, across different people. Sam the Gardener was sufficiently oriented toward his side to be reluctant to cross over even after losing the Orion supply base.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: March 7th, 2013 03:30 am (UTC) (Link)
I like Shakespeare. I seem to identify with him more than with the other secessionists, insofar as they come to mind at the moment. Maybe it's because I remember quotations-- though not nearly as much as he does, nor do I depend on them as he does. But I do use (and abuse) them.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 7th, 2013 03:59 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>I like Shakespeare. I seem to identify with him more than with the other secessionists, insofar as they come to mind at the moment.<<

This makes me happy. I think it means something that different readers are connecting with different characters. So maybe I'm doing an effective job of representing diverse character types and traits for reflection from different angles.

>> Maybe it's because I remember quotations-- though not nearly as much as he does, nor do I depend on them as he does. But I do use (and abuse) them.<<

I don't depend on quotes, but I do use them. I make my own and repeat them; I learn some from outside sources. I put them into poetry, obviously; not just here but also as titles and such. Quotes are timebinding tools.
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