Poetically Speaking: Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear the name William Shakespeare?

For me, the immediate answer is “poet.”

Considering the iambic pentameter of his plays, it makes sense that Shakespeare was also a brilliant poet who wrote 154 sonnets over the course of his lifetime. In each sonnet, he drew out beautiful imagery and sentiments from the rigid form that follows a specific line structure and rhyme scheme.

One of my favorite Shakespeare sonnets, one I refer to often when trying to improve my own writing, is Sonnet 130.

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 damasked, 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.

Like the best poems, Sonnet 130 is layered. Instead of showering his mistress with false comparisons, the narrator suggests that he loves her all the more fiercely for seeing her clearly–a beautiful thought that is as relevant today as it would have been in Shakespeare’s own lifetime. The interplay between what is overtly stated and what is left unsaid here works as a primer for how to write and how to do it well. This sonnet never calls the subject of the poem beautiful or any other niceties. Still, by the end, it’s impossible to think the narrator feels anything but a deep love for the subject.

Sonnet 130 challenges everything readers think they know about love poems–and it does so with humor. Being a sonnet is impressive enough, but also being funny and conversational? Being timely and relevant while being more than four hundred years old? Astonishing.

Like a magician diverting the audience’s attention, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 is a misdirect of sorts as he uses simple language and plain ideas to give voice to an abstract concept. And, really, isn’t that the standard to which every poem, not to mention every writer, should strive?

This post originally appeared on Books Take You Places in 2015 as part of the Bard on the Blogs series.

Check back every Friday in April for a new Poetically Speaking post. Until then, you can also browse older posts (and guest posts) for more poetry.

You Sexy Thing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

You Sexy Thing by Cat RamboCaptain Nicolette “Niko” Larson knows better than most that leaving the service of the Holy Hive Mind is no small thing. It’s easy enough to join the ranks with promises of vast earnings to come. But once you’re in, it’s funny how the debt keeps mounting and  those payments never come.

For a moment, Niko thought she could work within the system but now, known throughout the system as the “Ten Hour Admiral,” Niko knows better.

Luckily for Niko and her crew, the only thing the Hive Mind values more than conquest is art. Including culinary art.

After proving their artistic prowess with food, Niko and her crew have settled at TwiceFar station where they try to make a go of their restaurant, The Last Chance. With a reservation book for a prestigious food critic empowered to award a coveted Nikkelin Orb to worthy restaurants, it seems like things might finally be looking up.

Until the station blows up, of course.

With their past reduced to a smoldering pile of space rubble, Niko and her crew escape onto a sentient ship called You Sexy Thing. Unfortunately, the bioship thinks it’s stolen and steers them towards a prison planet. And that isn’t even the worst of Niko’s problems as the crew tries to fend off sadistic space pirates, deliver an intergalactic heir safely to the seat of the empire, and keep Niko’s other plans alive all while still chasing that elusive Nikkelin Orb in You Sexy Thing (2021) by Cat Rambo.

Find it on Bookshop.

You Sexy Thing is a standalone space opera that hints at more to come. The story is told in omniscient third person following Niko and her motley crew. The cast of characters includes humans, humanoid aliens, and other alien characters with a range of skin tones, presentations, and gender identities. Vivienne Leheny narrates the audiobook and ably navigates the large cast during shifting perspectives and dialog.

Pragmatic strategist Neko is complimented well by the ensemble cast here including my personal favorite characters Dabrey, Niko’s four-armed former-sergeant responsible for the restaurant’s culinary achievements, and Lassite–a lizard-like priest who joined the crew to follow Niko on her journey along the spiral of destiny. Although the plot focuses squarely on Niko and her own plans, no character is given short shrift as the entire crew has moments to shine. The madcap journey of the first half of the story shifts to something darker and grittier (including moments of mental and physical torture that while not explicitly described are unpalatable–particularly in audio) before the novel’s denouement.

You Sexy Thing skillfully combines moments of sci-fi absurdity with action and high emotion as Niko and her crew face numerous obstacles after escaping TwiceFar station. Rambo delivers a story filled with adventure, found family, and ultimately with hope for the future to come.

Possible Pairings: Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Riess, The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Words We Keep: A Review

The Words We Keep by Erin StewartUpdated March 7, 2023 to add: The Words We Keep won the 2023 Schneider Family Book Award from ALA. The award is “given to an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” If you keep reading, you’ll see I don’t dispute that Stewart does an excellent job portraying Lily’s anxiety disorder. But doing one thing well doesn’t mean a book does everything well nor does it excuse problematic elements.

Three months after the Night on the Bathroom Floor, high school junior Lily Larkin feels like her life is falling apart. Because it is.

On the Night on the Bathroom Floor Lily found her older sister Alice hurting herself. Alice hasn’t been home since. And Lily has been struggling to fill all of the Alice-shaped gaps she left behind.

If Lily can do enough at home, get good enough grades at school, make it to State in track, get into UC Berkeley, and keep doing everything right it will all be okay. Her family needs a win and all Lily has to do is keep winning.

Except Lily feels like she’s starting to lose it. She’s uninspired, overwhelmed, and struggling to hide all of it from her family and her friends.

When she’s partnered with a new student who knows all about the Night on the Bathroom Floor, Lily is worried Micah Mendez will reveal all of her family’s secrets. Instead, he might be the one person who can help Lily find her way back to herself in The Words We Keep (2022) by Erin Stewart.

Find it on Bookshop.

Lily and her family (and most secondary characters) are presumed white. Micah is Mexican American.

The Words We Keep is Stewart’s second novel and I wish I could recommend but I can’t.

Read on for a discussion of some of the issues I had with this book including casual transphobic-leaning comments from characters and numerous spoilers:

Continue reading The Words We Keep: A Review

Week in Review: April 9

Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

How My Week Went:

I’m so tired. This week was a train wreck and I’m really excited about the weekend.

This week I read Clark and Division (it’s fine but it feels like it’s taking forever because I’ve been in a bad headspace), The Ballad of Never After (sometimes my job gives me chances to flex!), and a bunch of picture books.

Poetically Speaking: I Am Always Trying to Make My Poems Timeless by Olivia Gatwood

“I Am Always Trying to Make My Poems Timeless” by Olivia Gatwood

I’m always talking
around technology
like I get all of my information
from the dusty stacks
at the university library.

Like I know the man’s last meal
by heart. Like mentioning an iPhone
makes me a bimbo or something.

What I’m trying to say
is that honestly,
I think the stakes in Clueless
are higher than they are in Star Wars.

I think Cher preserving her Alaïa
red dress while getting robbed
at gunpoint is literally life or death,
while the galactic war is whatever,
because it isn’t even, like, real.

Honestly, I found the man my mom
had an affair with on Facebook.
I know your ex just graduated from
Nursing School. I think I’m prettier
than all of her prettiest photos.

I don’t write poems in my journal
because it takes too long.

I’m always like, I’m gonna delete my Facebook
but how will I know about the events happening
near me that I’m never gonna go to?

A rogue dream. Me, in a lilac dress
with an open back showing up on your doorstep.
I am holding your favorite Moscato.
I am holding your favorite fruit.
I am holding you hand as you lead me
through the house to the backyard.
No one was expecting me
but everyone is relieved I am here.
I am dressed perfectly for this weather.
I am so glad I chose this outfit.

I know exactly how to dance to this music.
I left my phone on the counter
in my apartment and I haven’t
reached for it once. I walked here with no map.
I ate the perfect breakfast for day drinking.
I am better than you. I smell just a little.

When the sky goes dark, I’ll shift
to an evening look with only a leather jacket
and a swoop of liquid eyeliner,
like the magazines promise
you are capable of doing.
Everything is so easy. I love my friends.

Let me tell you the truth, for once.
I don’t socialize because I’m afraid

I’ll disappoint people. I have spent
so many hours talking on the phone.
I still love chat rooms. The only thing I trust
about myself is how good I am at words.
I can make anyone fall in love with me,
as long as they aren’t close by.


Like a lot of the best things, I heard about Olivia Gatwood via word of mouth when VE Schwab shared on Instagram that she was reading Gatwood’s poetry. I immediately checked out her collections from the library and have been thinking about them ever since. This poem appears in Gatwood’s collection Life of the Party. You can find Gatwood’s work online and buy her books on Bookshop.org

You can watch Gatwood read other poems from that collection here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5sOap899Fg

I have been saving this post in a draft since last year because I knew I wanted to share this poem for Poetically Speaking. I have a soft spot for modern poetry and free verse (likely because my own poems fall into both categories) and I really love how relatable Gatwood’s work is even though we have different life experiences (as most people do since we are all unique and contain multitudes).

In this one I really appreciate the way she interrogates so many of those “perfect girl” stereotypes by showing what might be at play behind them. As a person who often suspects she is better on paper, the ending packs such a punch for me, especially that last couplet: “I can make anyone fall in love with me,
as long as they aren’t close by.”

Check back every Friday in April for a new Poetically Speaking post. Until then, you can also browse older posts (and guest posts) for more poetry.

Namesake: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“There are some things that can’t be carved from a person, no matter how far from home they’ve sailed.”

Namesake by Adrienne YoungAfter years of plotting and scheming, Fable has finally made her way off Jeval, the island of thieves where her father abandoned her. After casting her lot with West and his crew on the Marigold, things should finally be easier. Fable should be free.

But nothing is easy in the Narrows. And nothing is ever free.

Now instead of starting a new life, Fable is caught up in an infamous criminal’s scheme and forced to confront her family’s legacy in the richer waters across the Unnamed Sea in the city of Bastian. As Fable learns more about the scheming and conniving throughout the city, she also comes closer to her mother’s legacy and the secrets she left behind.

Things work differently in Bastian but debts still have to be paid; loyalties still matter. And Fable will be the first to warn anyone that it will be a long time before any slick city merchant can best someone formed in the dangerous waters of the Narrows in Namesake (2021) by Adrienne Young.

Find it on Bookshop.

Namesake is the conclusion to Young’s Fable duology which begins with Fable. There are also companion novels set in the same world that can be read on their own. Fable and West are cued as white while the crew of the Marigold includes characters who are darker skinned and LGBT.

Namesake picks up shortly after the explosive conclusion of Fable with Fable kidnapped by Zola and forced to act as a pawn in his plan to gain a foothold in Bastian and leverage over Fable’s father, Saint. Fable spends a good portion of the novel isolated and separated from the people she cares about as she learns more about her mother’s past in Bastian. Young deftly keeps other characters–notably West and Saint–present in the story as they remain on Fable’s mind and her loyalty to both (and her lingering anger at Saint) inform her choices during her captivity.

This installment expands the world of the Unnamed Sea and Bastian. As Fable explores the limits and strengths of her loyalties, she also unpacks pride and a fierce protectiveness for her home and her family no matter how brutal or monstrous they both might be. Through Fable and those close to her Young interrogates how far a person is willing to go to protect who and what they hold close.

Namesake is satisfying conclusion to a dynamic series with everything readers loved about Fable turned up a notch. Fans of the series will appreciate the way plots tie together and the return of familiar characters from book one including one of my personal favorites, Koy. The evolution of Fable’s complicated relationship with her father adds heart and surprising tenderness to this sometimes grim tale.

Namesake is a story about found family and fierce love; about embracing who you are and coming home. An excellent conclusion to a dynamic and exciting duology. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo, All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier, Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer, The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

Be Dazzled: A Review

Be Dazzled by Ryan La SalaRaffy loves designing and creating costumes–even if he has to keep it a secret from his big-deal-art-gallery-running mom. Raffy knows that cosplay is art but try telling his mom that when she’s busy finding the next big talent.

But that’s okay because Raffy has a plan. If he can win this year’s biggest cosplay competition, he’ll win enough prize money to be able to do whatever he wants. Including going to art school for costume design.

The only problem is that Raffy had planned to compete with his boyfriend Luca. And now they’re broken up. And Luca is competing with Raffy’s nemesis.

Raffy knows all of the tricks to mend a costume gone wrong. But when the cosplay competition keeps throwing them together, Raffy isn’t sure if he’ll be able to mend his broken heart in Be Dazzled (2021) by Ryan La Sala.

Find it on Bookshop.

Be Dazzled is La Sala’s hilarious ode to all things fandom and cosplay complete with glitter, anime characters, and more hot glue than you can shake a stick at. Gay Raffy and bisexual Luca are presumed white with an inclusive supporting cast.

Raffy’s first person narration alternates between the present as Raffy embarks on his biggest cosplay competition ever and the past from Raffy and Luca’s meet cute at the craft store sponsoring the convention to their painful breakup. While Raffy does a grim postmortem of their relationship and everything that went wrong, he’ll have to decide if he’s willing to stop chasing perfection if it means having love.

Snappy prose and a fast-paced story make Be Dazzled totally engrossing. Come for the high stakes cosplay drama, stay for the will-they-or-won’t-they tension between Raffy and Luca.

Possible Pairings: Don’t Cosplay With My Heart by Cecil Castelucci, Perfect On Paper by Sophie Gonsales, Tahira in Bloom by Farah Heron, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Love Curse of Melody McIntrye by Robin Talley, Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Week in Review: April 2

Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

How My Week Went:

This week was a bit of a rollercoaster. Some hard things and work tears that, honestly, would require like a year’s worth of background. Some fun things that I can’t talk about yet. Either way I’m glad to see the other side of it and have a full two days off (no Sunday hours!) and plans with my bestie Nicole.

This week I read The Words We Keep by Erin Stewart which was not good and which I do not recommend–full review to come. I also read The Perfect Escape by Leah Konen which was a satisfying thriller and, in my opinion, Leah’s best book yet. I’m currently in the middle of Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen which I’m reading with Kathy and Sugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn both of which have started strong. On the picture book front I read The Katha Chest by Radhiah Chowdhury and Lavanya Naidu–it’s beautiful and definitely worth a look.

Books to Read For National Poetry Month (And Any Other Month)

Books to Read For National Poetry Month (And Any Other Month)

April is National Poetry Month. I try to share poetry throughout the month in my Poetically Speaking series here on the blog. This year, I thought I’d also share some of my favorite poetry collections and verse novels to read this month and all year to add more poetry to your life.

You can shop the full list at Bookshop and Amazon.


Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz
Diaz’s work interrogates the erasure of indigenous peoples in America while making space for new stories.

Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman
Are you like me and discovered Amanda Gorman and her work after she delivered her poem at the 2021 presidential inauguration? If the answer is yes, you will be as happy as I am to find this collection of some of Gorman’s other works.

Life of the Party by Olivia Gatwood
Gatwood is one of my favorite poets and, while grim, this is one of the most cohesive collections of poetry I’ve seen. Loosely inspired by Gatwood’s own interest in true crime this is a sharp, feminist collection that will stay with you.

Poisoned Apples: Poems For You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann
In this collection Hepperman presents 50 poems that bring fairy tale themes and ideas together with the lives of modern girls in clever ways. Eerie photographs accompany the poems to lend a haunting quality to this deceptively slim volume.
Read my review.

the sun and her flowers by rupi kaur
Kaur’s collections are and interesting combination of artwork and poetry. Sparse verse and line drawn art work well to complement each other in this visually oriented collection.

Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón
I love Limón and no poetry roundup would be complete without one of her collections.

the princess saves herself in this one by amanda lovelace
There are a lot of entry points to amanda lovelace’s work but this collection is still one of my favorites. I love the empowerment and the way the poems play with traditional fairytale imagery.

Verse Novels:

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Can you know a sister you have never met? Can you claim a family that doesn’t know you? As Camino and Yahaira come to terms with their father’s lies and transgressions both girls will have to grieve everything they have lost while they try to understand what they have to gain in this verse novel that pulls no punches as it tells the story of a complicated family with immediacy and care.
Read my review. (Want even more Acevedo? Be sure to check out The Poet X too.)

500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario
What happens when your attempt to be a better person might be making you worse? To revamp her reputation with her Ivy League obsessed classmates, Nic Chen has a simple plan: she will write college admission essays. For a price. But as Nic learns more about her classmates, she realizes she still has a lot to learn about herself and her moral compass in this shining verse novel.
Read my review.

Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu
This verse novel introduces readers to the Dovewick family and tackles the isolation and loss of the pandemic (specifically 2020’s quarantine months) while also exploring what it means to carry generational trauma. A powerful, ultimately healing story that is easily my favorite book of the year.
Read my review. Read my interview with Corey about the book.

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
Rome, 1610: Artemisia Gentileschi had limited options when her mother died at twelve. She could join a convent or she could work in her father’s studio grinding paint, preparing canvases, and modeling as needed. She chose art. McCullough beautifully details Artemisia’s passion and commitment to her art in this verse novel that follows Artemesia’s teen years and continues through her rape by Agostino Tassi and the subsequent trial.
Read my review. Read my interview with Joy about this book.

After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy
This book explores a love triangle from two sides and dual POV and verse. It’s also one of the older ones featured but I had to included it because this book is such a key part of my blog. Terra was the first author I ever interviewed and in many ways this book inspired what eventually became Poetically Speaking.
Read my review. Read my interview with Terra about this book.

Amber & Clay by Laura Amy Schlitz
What begins as a story about a spoiled girl and a common boy becomes, in the author’s capable hands, a much larger commentary on art, friendship, and identity as we watch Melisto and Rhaskos transform, becoming “the girl as electric as amber, the boy, indestructible as clay” in this richly layered verse novel.
Read my review.

Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe by Carole Boston Weatherford
Everyone knows about Marilyn Monroe’s difficult life and tragic end. Few people know the traumatic start of her life watching her mother struggle with schizophrenia, moving through foster care, and even teen marriage. While evidence of her transition from brunette pin-up model to blonde bombshell is immediately obvious, the road that got her there has never been explored from her own perspective. Until now.
Read my review.

Poetry-Infused Stories:

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Paul is gone and with him pieces of Emily are gone too. Even before his suicide, Emily knew she would never be the same. She just didn’t know it would hurt this much. Vacillating between guilt and anger, Emily Beam is sent to an all girls boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts. Surrounded by history from Emily Dickinson’s life, Emily delves into poetry and her new life hoping to escape.
Read my review.

Undercover by Beth Kephart
Kephart uses poetry and prose to tell a layered story about love in all of its forms whether for family, friends, nature or even for words in this book that is partly a retelling of the play Cyrano De Bergerac and partly something entirely unique.
Read my review.

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
This story is told entirely through Gabi’s diary entries as she navigates an especially complicated year in her life as many long-standing problems come to a head including her father’s addiction and Gabi’s mother’s disapproval of Gabi’s plans to go away to college.
Read my review.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Readers who are up to the task of a difficult read with darker subject matter will find a powerful story in Rose Under Fire with an incredibly strong and inspiring heroine at the center of its story.
Read my review.