Poems From Thin Places: Pilgrimage

Presumed Grave of William Shakespeare. Photograph by David Jones. Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK. 2007. Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped.

Presumed Grave of William Shakespeare. Photograph by David Jones. Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK. 2007. Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped.

Shakespeare's grave is not a thin place. In fact, my entire trip to Stratford-upon-Avon was one of the most forgettable days of the 89 I have spent in the United Kingdom. But maybe "forgettable" isn't quite the right word for my experience at Stratford, since I'm writing about it. A certain meaning in Stratford's very meaninglessness was memorable.

I could start bemoaning commercialization now. It would hardly be out of character or out of place. Yet I do think one can still be a pilgrim even if one travels on a Megabus and gazes in awe and wonder while sipping a corn syrup latte from a disposable cup. That's how I experienced Canterbury, and somehow it was perfect. The little town on the Avon, however, just doesn't manage to transcend the bull$hit.* Stratford is a comedy of errors, possessed of just the sort of cloying kitsch embodied in that terrible joke.  

Regular readers, you know where I'm going next. "When I got home, I wrote a poem about it." Said poem is not a sonnet, nor is it in blank verse. There are no Petrarchan furbelows or rhyming couplets. There is no rhyme at all. It is a prose poem -- the only one I've ever composed. I suppose I was aiming for some sort of irony, since I doubt Shakespeare would have much use for the form, and since I don't fully understand it myself. Yet I googled "prose poem" just now and found out that in the inaugural issue of The Prose Poem: An International Journal, editor Peter Johnson defines the genre as follows: "Just as black humor straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy, so the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels resting precariously on banana peels." 

Fine line between comedy and tragedy . . . prosaic poetry/poetic prose . . .  and slipping on banana peels? Well gee, that sounds like Stratford, and maybe even her native son.

by Katherine Leigh Carlson

Good frend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To digg the dust encloased heare.
Bleste be þe man þt spares thes stones,
And curst be he þt moves my bones.

They've wired Shakespeare's boyhood home so that the candles flicker at 60 watts. Faux Tudor storefronts push up to the door, hawking teapots shaped like Anne Hathaway's cottage. They even have those pens with a clear panel and water behind, where a little plastic Romeo scoots over to a balcony when tipped. Assuming he existed, Shakespeare himself lies in nearby Holy Trinity Church. The epitaph on his gravestone might be the silliest four lines of his career. I remember that no one can decide if his penultimate play was romance or tragedy or just history, though a spark from its cannon brought the house down in flames. Yet I doubt that the genius of English literature is turning in his shoddy grave. Maybe he even meant it to be this way. He was always good for a laugh.

*Click for some subversive public art in my college town, and/or to see how Christian college kids on dry campuses get their kicks.