On his very popular Tumblr, Pop Sonnets, Erik Didriksen takes hit songs and rewrites them as Shakespearean sonnets. For example, Beyoncé’s “If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it” becomes “If truly you did wish to win my hand, you should have graced it with a wedding band.” Quirk Books has just published a collection, aptly titled Pop Sonnets.
Didriksen recently answered our questions about his love for sonnets and how he started writing them.
- Why Shakespearean sonnets? What’s so appealing about the form and the style?
I really love the form of Shakespearean sonnets. Since everything from length to word choice is dictated in some way by its requirements, you’re able to easily assess whether a piece is working or not. It also forces you to get creative and hammer out details you might otherwise skirt around in a less restrictive form.
- What’s your favorite Shakespeare sonnet?
I’m not sure I could pick a definitive favorite! I definitely have a soft spot for the more unique ones, like Sonnet 121 (“‘Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed”) or Sonnet 46 (“Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war”). I also think Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds”) is a much better romantic sentiment than, say, the more famous Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”).
- How did you first start writing pop sonnets?
I stumbled across Jonny Casto-Ardern’s Shakespearean take on Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop,” and was immediately in love with both his poem and the general idea. I wanted to see more pop sonnets and couldn’t find any — so I decided to try my own hand at it. It was so much fun, I just kept writing!
- What’s your process for writing a pop sonnet?
This varies wildly from sonnet to sonnet. Often I’ll have a snippet of iambic pentameter that leaps into my head from part of the lyrics and I’ll work outward from there. Other times, I will map out 14 short phrases from the lyrics and tackle them individually. I rarely try and conceive of the whole thing at once, but focus on each quatrain and couplet individually. I’ll also generally try and set the rhymes in place before figuring out the preceding phrase before them. It’s much easier that way!
- On your Tumblr and in your book you take popular songs of today and present them as Shakespearean sonnets. But what if you were to do the reverse – take a Shakespearean sonnet and turn it into a Top 40s song? Which sonnet would you choose?
Pop sonnets work best when you know the lyrics to the original song well. I imagine the reverse would also be true, so Sonnet 130 (“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”) or Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”) would be good choices.