Ryan J-W Smith’s 500 Shakespearean Sonnets (the diary of a poetic quest for truth) is a collection of poems written for self-improvement after Smith emerged from childhood a ”troubled young man”. He found that when engrossed in creative projects, he was closer to the person he wished to be and so began to incorporate writing poetry into his daily routine. In late 2007, he started the Sonnet Blog – a place for him to post his daily reflective sonnets. 500 Shakespearean Sonnets is Smith’s collection of sonnets written daily from 2007-2011.Through this process of writing, he found that the sonnets ”made an irreversible change in [him] for the better”. Surpassing Shakespeare’s total of 154 sonnets, Smith’s collection of 500 sonnets have been described as a ”landmark in literature”.
Smith’s poetry covers a wealth of themes from man’s greed and obsession with wealth to the meaning of life and finding happiness. His reading of Buddhist philosophy is evident throughout, with references and allusions to striving for absence of pain and suffering, and karma in many of the sonnets. His poems are philosophical, insightful, spiritual and, at times, political with brilliant snatches of insight. It is clear that these poems were not written for commercial purposes but instead were an honest process of learning, healing and repentance. The reader is not only a witness to this but can also use Smith’s poetry as a catalyst for thought on the issues raised throughout.
Smith overcomes this and succeeds in conveying his ideas and lessons clearly…
In his introduction to the book, Smith calls attention to the fact that these poems were not written as a complete collection or with an audience in mind, which accounts for the repetition of themes and ideas throughout the sonnets. For this reason, 500 Shakespearean Sonnets is a book to dip in and out of to ensure that themes and messages don’t become tired and meaningless.
At times, poems that adhere to a strict rhyme scheme or structure can seem slightly contrived – fitting thoughts and ideas to rhyme can sometimes result in losing the essence of what the poet wants to convey in favour of the rhyme scheme. Smith overcomes this and succeeds in conveying his ideas and lessons clearly, eloquently and concisely.
Overall, Ryan J-W Smith’s 500 Shakespearean Sonnets is an intriguing and ambitious concept that has successfully produced a collection of inspirational, honest and didactic poetry.