I think I can safely say this is the first book I’ve ever reviewed where I’ve had to make a playlist in advance. That’s right, Pop Sonnets, a project which first came to fame on tumblr, is now in print with a 100 sonnet-strong canon.
How to prepare: Add one pop song. Steep in Shakespearean verse (allergy advice: contains iambic pentameter). Once brewed serve immediately. Sounds simple perhaps but the results are spectacular.
It’s clear Didriksen had a lot of fun writing these sonnets, and playfulness is the order of the day.
I’d wholeheartedly recommend reading a sonnet while listening to the song which inspired it, or listening and then reading. It serves for maximum comedy value, you’ll be laughing aloud at ‘thy breeches torn’ as Carly Rae Jepson sings about ripped jeans when Call me Maybe gets the pop-sonnet treatment.
I should warn you though, at 100 sonnets long, listening along means your first read through will clock in at about 7 hours in one straight sitting. But maybe you’re familiar with all the songs already in which case, smarty-pants, you’ll probably get all the jokes straight away.
Didriksen demonstrates the affinity of poetry and pop songs through his witty Shakespearean renditions of songs old and new. Perhaps you don’t sing at the top of your lungs ‘shall I compare thee to a summer’s day…’ in the shower but how about Beyoncé’s single ladies? All together now, one two three ‘If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it. If truly you did wish to win my hand, you should have graced it with a wedding band’. From Taylor Swift, to Tom Jones, many of our favourite songs receive Shakespearean covers.
Playing with Sonnet 130, Didriksen’s rendition of Bruno Mars’ ‘Just the Way You Are’ is particularly brilliant, his mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun but, as with the speaker in Sonnet 130, the speaker in this sonnet loves his mistress ‘Just the way thou art’. The sonnets are subdivided into 5 helpful categories. If you need a sonnet to articulate feelings of despair how about Tainted love, or that one about having one less problem, you know the lyrics: ‘should we part, the problems swift subtracted from my heart’. Or perhaps you want to cry ‘three cheers for the well-rounded derriere’ (because you cannot lie), that’s right, Baby Got Back also features in the collection. But I won’t give it all away; I’ll save you that joy for when you’ve got your hands on a copy.
Pop Sonnets is playful, fun, and full of wit. It fills a geeky gap no-one had considered, but boy am I glad Didriksen found the niche. With erudite wit and humour in equal measure Didriksen captures the voice of Shakespeare and pop songs and brings them together in happy harmony. Shakespeare is fun, and Pop Sonnets shows that brilliantly.
This title is released in the US and Canada on October the 6th and on October 8th elsewhere.
P.s. I wasn’t kidding about making a playlist, if you’d like to listen along to ‘Pop Sonnets’ simply click here. (Please note, due to Spotify restrictions, this playlist does not contain the Taylor Swift song featured in the book).
Erik Didriksen, Pop Sonnets (London: Fourth Estate, 2015)
I’m always keen to read and review Shakespeare adapted novels, short stories, plays, or poems, do feel free to get in touch either by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter where you can find me @srawaters.