Annual sonnet marathon draws crowd to honor Bard’s 458th


Courtesy/Jason Kolnos

Prof. Bouchard plays master of ceremonies every year on the Bard’s birthday

Flannery Moore, Culture Editor

Every April since 1989, the Saint Anselm community has celebrated William Shakespeare’s birthday with a day-long marathon reading of the Bard’s sonnets. On Monday April 25, 1989, the first of the traditional readings was held on Alumni Quad. On April 29th, 2022, the yearly celebration was held behind Alumni Hall on the steps of the print shop. The College community was invited to stop by between 10:00am and 4:00pm to “ponder the mysteries of love, death, and time” or at the very least try some of the Bard’s traditional birthday cake. 

Professor Bouchard of the English department leads the festivities every year. He described the event as “certainly the most peculiar and academic” of the many Saint Anselm traditions, saying, “I mean it is just people reading poetry all day, right?” He called it “the ultimate class outdoors.” Historically the festival has featured not only a marathon reading of the Bard’s sonnets, but performances of scenes or monologues from Shakespeare’s plays. This year’s celebration included student performances of monologues from the plays As You Like It, Measure for Measure, Titus Andronicus, and Henry IV Part 1, as well as an appearance by the Sisco Players.  

Regarding the longevity of this “peculiar and academic” College tradition, Bouchard said, “Each year when March rolls around I realize that for better or worse this thing has to happen again. No stopping now after 34 years.” 

Courtesy/Jason Kolnos

He added, “I think to the people who do not participate and maybe just pass by, which is the majority of students, it signals something about the school.  It says, ‘Here, this kind of stuff matters,’ or ‘Here is a place where we celebrate poetry—and have a blast doing so.’” 

The readers for the 34th annual marathon included students, professors, alums, staff members, and members of the monastic community. Bouchard noted that seeing alums return year after year to participate is one of his favorite parts of the festival. His other favorite parts of the yearly tradition include “seeing and hearing people engage with beautiful poetry who would rarely otherwise do so,” as well as “Hearing first time readers, especially the bashful who were hesitant about or coerced into reading. They often step off the stage, as one person said this year, inexpressibly happy, and I know they will be readers for years and decades after that.”

No celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday would be complete without the cardboard Shakespeare cutout, affectionately dubbed the “card-bard.” The card-bard has presided over the annual sonnet marathon from whatever rain gutter and light pole is the closest ever since its strange origin story began. It was originally the property of the Shell Gas Station on Brown Avenue in Manchester, being used to promote a trivia competition for gas discounts. Prof. Bouchard’s name was first on the list of people requesting ownership of the card-bard once the contest ended, and “has been creeping out students in Prof. Bouchard’s office ever since.” He is brought out “once a year to stiffen his resolve.” 

The Card Bard greets sonnet readers (Courtesy/Jason Kolnos)

A highlight of the event for Bouchard and for many of the alums who return every year to read a sonnet is “what a touchstone this annual festival is for them.” Bouchard said that watching these alums reconnect “with a part of themselves that they value deeply” speaks to the power of “some combination of poetry, Saint Anselm, and the enduring life of relationships across time of which Shakespeare speaks so poignantly.”