Love Sonnets 2017 The Readings Why Sonnets from the PortugueseDevelopment and ExecutionRetrospective

Development and Execution

Initial Plans

Having enjoyed doing readings in classes at church (and one reading for an advent worship service) — and having been told that I was good at such — and wanting to promote Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese, I considered doing a reading of romantic poetry at the Silver Spring Library where I worked as a page. At first, I considered reading all of Sonnets from the Portuguese and nothing else; while this would have removed the selection process, it might sate the audience rather that stir an appetite and would not give a context for these sonnets.

The initial thought was also that the program might be held near Valentine's Day. This consideration was also soon changed both to reduce the competition with other romantic plans for possible attendees and to provide more time to prepare. April was chosen both as spring is associated with romance and because it is National Poetry Month. The first full week of April was chosen in part from consideration of school spring breaks; Thursday was chosen to avoid conflicts with weekend plans.

After deciding to include poetry outside of Sonnets from the Portuguese, I thought of including Robert Burns' "A Red, Red Rose" and Lord Byron's "She Walks in Beauty" as well as selections from Shakespeare's sonnets and Edmund Spenser's Amoretti. Since so many of the early candidate works were sonnets, I considered limiting the selection to sonnets which would have justified the use of Marie Spartali Stillman's Love Sonnets, a painting which (in the form of a postcard by Pomagranate Books) inspired a sonnet of my own and so was special to me.

The attraction of using Love Sonnets as a title (as well as using the image) along with the greater ease of arranging and reciting works of a fixed length fairly quickly lead to dropping the few non-sonnet works that I had considered. The final selection of works ending up dropping Sonnet 23 from Sonnets from the Portuguese as well as the non-sonnets "Red Rose" (Robert Burns), "She Walks in Beauty" (George Gordon, Lord Byron), "The Golden Gift that Nature did thee Give" (), "Of Love" (Phillip Ayres), and "Marriage Bells" (Emma Lazarus). There were surprisingly (to me) few romantic sonnets or other romantic poems to which I really felt sentimentally drawn or felt thematically important.

The design of interleaving selections from Sonnets from the Portuguese with other sonnets in chronological order of author's birth contributed substantially to the dropping of Sonnet 23, which did not fit the use of one other sonnet with (usually) a pair of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnets. This ordering worked surprising well (as noted in my comments on the selection), better than would be expected from thematic similarity from the topic and my tastes.

The cost of using Stillman's Love Sonnets turned out to be prohibitively high for such a low budget program (about $300) and would have had a continuing cost for keeping the image on my website. This lead to a search for a public domain alternative of a similarly romantic feel. Frederick Sandys' Grace Rose was less somber than I might have preferred but was properly soft and romantic; some of the paintings of a woman were more sensual than I desired (such as some by Dante Gabriele Rosetti).


With the program title, primary image, and selection of works established, advertising became the next major effort. A Silver Spring librarian, who had guided me getting the venue, added the event to the library's calendar of events and I was given permission to place (8.5x11 inch) fliers advertising the event in the library. One of the people in the church office suggested using Patch (which I did) and Eventbrite (which I did not). I also had a flier placed at the Friends of the Library book store in Silver Spring. I also placed 8.5x5.5 inch "handouts" at the library and the book store.

The fliers and handouts were simple but attractive designs and only went through three or four versions with usually minor tweaks (the major change was going from Stillman's Love Sonnets to Sadys' Grace Rose).

Since I had many handouts left, I made a minor effort of standing at a street corner in Silver Spring with a hand-made sandwich board posted with fliers distributing a few handouts for less than twenty minutes (as I recall). This extraordinary action was not effective — none of the few people receiving a handout came to the program — but it did slightly reduce the amount of paper to be recycled by me.

I developed a few web pages to provide additional information; a significant effort was made to make the main page relatively friendly to different viewers. The person from the church office commented "I like the rose background of the website and it's simplicity."

I am somewhat proud of the appearance of the fliers, handouts, and web pages. While not as good as what a professional would have produced, they were tasteful and attractive as appropriate for the type of program.


The Event

Help from Others

Lessons Learned and Future Plans

The most obvious lessons from my first poetry reading were that attendance will be modest — there seemed to have been no risk of exceeding twenty people —, that people do not eat very much at such events, and that sufficient time should be allowed for after-talk and clean-up (at least when the venue requires such to be scheduled). I also learned that drawings for give-aways are not worth the added complexity; with modest attendance, polite people, and modest give-aways first-come-first-served works well enough.

I suspect additional advertising might have slightly increased attendance, but "networking" seems most effective: most of the attendees came from my church, six being personal acquaintances and four others people I recognized. Although several personal invitations did not result in attendance, having even a limited relationship seems to encourage participation.

While I did one more poetry reading (Behold Your God) a little over a year later and had considered developing a pet-themed reading, I did not have the enthusiasm to develop a set of readings for another subject. I thought of doing a repeat of Love Sonnets but my enthusiasm was low and recording for Librivox seemed a more worthwhile endeavor. I have not done any recordings for Librivox, and I had considered doing a repeat performance in April of 2021 but the pandemic has spared me from such an attempt.

I would like to record recitations of both the readings from the Love Sonnets and the Behold Your God programs (with the addition of my "Reading Sonnets after Loss" and the removal of my "The Lament for Saul" and addtion of "Threefold Union") to share with some who missed the programs and to include with free ebooks. Using a print-on-demand service would also allow having a few copies to give away at a reading. However, I do not seem to have the enthusiasm and confidence to do the recordings; self-recording is surprisingly challenging even when allowing for significant editing.