To My Friends Reading Here, Feast on This

by Jane Tawel

assorted title book lot

A friend posted an article today entitled, “The Case Against Shakespeare” and the article, (not my friend) both angered and saddened me. The bottom line of this article was that we shouldn’t “force” any one to read the classics like Shakespeare because this keeps someone from learning to love to read. Now if I only take that one argument, all I need is a subscription to Netflix and a video game to prove the author wrong on why people don’t read anymore. However, one thing made my head want to explode, and of course I had to write about it. Of course I wanted to share my meager but impassioned thoughts with my trusted WordPress friends, my community of writers who keep the love of art and life alive in the little corner of the world in which I choose to dialogue with others and the platform upon which I have the occasional soliloquy published on.

I am grateful for the community of like and sometimes unlike souls that I have found amongst you. Keep writing, keep teaching, keep yelling into the howl, or lighting candles on the dark way, or dancing in the rain, or just sharing where you are at and who you are today. And I am grateful to each of you for including me in the “company of fools and players” that we create together here and sincerely and humbly thankful for you, whether you like Shakespeare or not.

Cheers — Jane

My Convoluted Case FOR Shakespeare

The author of this article, “The Case Against Shakespeare”, may have a point about Shakespeare but his analysis of literature and what it’s purpose is and why it should be read and how it should be taught breaks my heart and makes my poor Literature / Writing teacher’s mind go ballistic. I have spent a life time trying to help students and sundry others try to overcome this philosophy. So, as I teach my students to write boldly, I shall simply say, the author could not be more wrong.  I hope to encourage him and others to rethink the purpose of reading, much in the way we should all constantly rethink the purpose of our lives.

One point of his only I will take up, and that is the author’s comment that “literature doesn’t exist for its symbols and imagery, nor are they the reason authors write”(Stratton). Woe! (Sound of hair being torn out!) The person who is not taught the importance of symbol and metaphor, imagery and the allusive allure of alliteration is not being fed by the best in our literary history; but instead, in the cause of “getting ahead”. That deprived person is being starved by an education focused on a future practical use of that person’s brain or brawn, not focused on their well-being, their being well, and the fact that every human being has always wanted to be much more than a cog in a well-oiled machine or a pamphlet that is glanced at then tossed in the trash. We long to be poetry, to have poetic justice, to be understood in all of our mystery and meaningfulness, and to think that we can be taught to read without being taught how to learn any of that about the human condition or the world or the universe or the mysteries beyond is a tragedy long in the making.

To be taught and coaxed, goaded and coddled in not books, but literature, not reading, but exploring and expanding the mind, heart, and soul — this is the charge of those of us in the past and present to pass on to our future and our children and our children’s children. We all must keep desiring the wherewithal of how to spend a lifetime in the exploration of the changes in the meaning behind the meaning, the sublimity of poetry, the divine essence beyond mere rational debate of the written word, comparable to that of the played symphony or the painted masterpiece. The person who is not taught and encouraged in this philosophy, is not merely uneducated in the type of classical, heady stuff that endures the passage of time, but unschooled in what it means to be the best human being a person can be. That is what Shakespeare can teach us today, yes, after all these years.

And of course, this poor human who is taught merely to read, and not to delve into the unfathomable treasures hidden in the deeps of the written word, that one will never have those moments of divine revelation, the sublimity of being awed by the essence of “The Why”, nor the hope that we really are more than black and white words on a page; much more than simplistic, useful, practical, or merely entertaining and entertained commodities.

Why one can not even understand what it means to be nothing more than “dust in the wind” or to have “everything to a season”, or to, as the poet read at the recent inauguration of a U.S. President, what it means to “brave the belly of the beast” and be as brave as we must be on ‘The Hill We Climb”(Gorman). No, one can not simply be taught to read, but must be taught how to read and above all Why to read. One can not be left to wade in the shallow end forever, to never know what it is to dive and swim. We must not be afraid of not knowing and not understanding, but we should be terrified of never immersing ourselves in the deep waters of great literature and poetry, never climbing to the apex of the mountain ranges of great artists, past and present, and still always to aim to climb higher and higher, and always finding more mystery there, even on the pinnacles of greatness.

The person who is not stretched early to expand the mind through literature and plays, poetry and Psalms, has a bleak, spirit-less life ahead of him or her. How to read Holy Scripture without being taught how to read poetry? How to listen to Amanda Gorman without first trying to stretch the brain on the poetry of Shakespeare or Frost, Whitman or Hughes or Angelou or the Psalms of David or prophetic metaphors of Isaiah? How to hope and dream for a better world without understanding the complicated but profound works of Dickens or Gabriel Marquez, Dumas, or Dostoevsky? How to understand America without being taught how to read Twain, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck? How to understand China without attempting to understand Wang Wei or Cao Xueqin? How to understand Latin or South America if one hasn’t been taught the poem “They Have Threatened Us with Resurrection”, by Julia Esquivel? How to march for Black Lives Matter without reading the essays of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or the poetry of Langston Hughes? How to know what it is to be from somewhere that you aren’t, to be someone you aren’t, and then how to realize that once you walk in someone else’s moccasins in the poetry of Native American poet Laureate, Jo Harjo or immerse yourself in some other place or time’s literature, and to find that one can turn a corner or turn a page and be stunned by the realization that we are all so much more alike than we could have ever guessed, and we are all much more unique and special than we could ever hope for! 

Spending a lifetime trying to read anything without a basic understanding and at least grudging admiration of symbol and metaphor and imagery, is like spending a lifetime trying to dine on steak and potatoes or baguettes and cheese or sushi and cupcakes by trying to suck on them out of a baby bottle. Not being taught the joys of chewing on poetry and imbibing great literature is like having your teeth ripped out and not being allowed to taste when you masticate.

Let alone personal enjoyment, we haven’t even begun to wonder how one would find expression of one’s own deepest emotions and thoughts, in any relationship of love, whether of a God or of a mate or of a friend or of a tree or of cat or dog or garden or sunset — of anything or anyone that awes us. How would we enthuse over all of that which exists beyond the mundane, that which surpasses and endures the test of time?

And why can’t one be entertained by C.S. Lewis, or Lewis Carroll, or Stevenson, or Barrie, or Nikki Grimes or Rowling and still learn about symbolism, metaphor, allusion, and irony (God knows, we need to learn something about irony in America!)

By all means if someone can find writers today who do poetry as well as Shakespeare or Dickinson or Frost or Neruda or the Psalms or even Silverstein, by all means, teach it and read it. Feel free to add to Dostoevsky and Steinbeck and Dickens and Forster and Angelou, some novels by Atwood or Ishiguro for deep thinking. Include with the reading of Wordsworth and Cummings, modern poets like Claudia Rankine or Amanda Gorman, and with Shakespeare and Chekhov, plays by Miller or Shephard, along with the Shakespearean-worthy plays by Tony Kushner or Lin-Manuel Miranda (although on my salary I doubt I will ever actually see “Hamilton”). Teach everything but Shakespeare if you don’t have the heart for it, but for pity’s sake, don’t throw the baby out with the bath-water, nor the metaphors out with the dated conversations or jokes.

If it is tough to read or hard to understand, remind yourself there is nothing harder to understand than the human being; and nothing tougher than going through life without beauty and mystery, or empathy and wonder. Poetry and great literature will help you with all the tough parts, and if it doesn’t always exactly make life easier, it certainly will make it more worthwhile.

The dearth of education today lies in our thinking that all we have to do is teach reading and practical skills, not how to think, or how to feel and express those thoughts and feelings to others. The lack is not in not learning to love reading, but in not learning that by reading great literature, or by attempting to write down ourselves on page or screen, those ideas and ideals that require poetry and metaphor and imagery — in this lies something worth working at, something worth learning, yay, even something to be challenged by, to love and at times even to cherish. We must attempt, first the taking in, and then the expression of those human creative endeavors that try to narrate something more lasting and meaningful than an entertainment interrupted by yet another car insurance commercial. By those excellent and artistic forms of muse-inspired communications, we are enlarged, we are made to be “more”.

We have to learn, or relearn, be inspired by or remember how to find those things worth reading that teach and inspire us to live with meaning into a life that is richer, fuller, and paradoxically, metaphorically more human and more divine.

The world is full of that which we can not understand with a mere glance, nor a nod to being simply knowledgeable. We must teach and inspire within ourselves and others the hope and faith that there is more to living life than acquiring a desire to use and gain more “stuff” by our knowledge.

We will only truly gain the fullness of a life well-lived when we learn to desire to be awed. As the Bard himself says in one of the plays people don’t think we should read, “the time of life is short; to spend that shortness basely, were too long”. 

The mystery of that which defies all comprehension but that which is expressed by our artists, by the shared hopes, dreams and experiences of humankind, and by the ineffable faith and progress of our greatest ideas and ideals, the stuff of our lives set to poetry awaits our engagement to be One with the Sublime. Reading the “good stuff” can even just be a rollicking good time, and vastly more fun than the literary junk food we are led to believe we can get by on. Let’s stop teaching others to spit out the good food of great art before they even try it. We all need to know how to look for the tastiest morsels, how to “taste and see that it is good”*.

As for me, to riff on the Bard once more, “if poetry and literature be the food of love, give me excess of it; that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die”.

Here’s to the banquet feast of the written word. Feast on!

(c) Jane Tawel 2021

Quotes from “Henry IV” and “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare

“The Case Against Shakespeare”. Stratton, Allan. The Walrus. March 31, 2021

*Psalm 34:8

Creating – a poem

By Jane Tawel

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash


A Poem by Jane Tawel

December 28, 2020


I love to poke the “create” button.

Such chutzpah to think I have that gift.

And while I watch the swirling rainbow,

While waiting, not with patience,

But with expectant need

I think of the Greats, and trembling yearn

To hide behind their shadows once again.

And then I dare anyway.


To take a flutter at this desk,

Is rather like a gamble,

Where I am always betting against the house.

I hope my tics and tells won’t distract

From thoughts that try to cheat me from my life.

I let the chips fall where they may — 

Will it be prose or rhyme today?

And out it pours like dreideled coins,

My soul to chance this wager with my mind.


It seems a rather small thing,

This time I take to make words sway.

And though my jig is awkward,

And graceless is my tongue,

I’ve entered into meaning

In The Great Dance we all are from.

And just by trying, I Am Become.

became. become. has become. 

Becoming. Will Become…?


For whether thoughts are light or dark

There are in words, that divine spark

Where our imagination lives,

And where our hearts peek out of hiding

Like sprites and fairies. Like supernatural beings.

Words, like gods once seen.

For humans leave no trace behind

‘Cept dust and shards and love.

Yet on a tattered page or flickering screen

We join our solitary syllables

into an Us Eternal.

© Jane Tawel 2020

Letters on Writing

Letters on Writing

“Ephemera_IMG_7599” by martin_kalfatovic is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Letters on Writing

By Jane Tawel

March 4, 2020

I work with a young writer who, like all young real writers, angsts over everything. I have only known her a short time and I adore her. Maybe because I am an old angst-er myself. She is, I am sorry to report, typical of the average American student today, in that she gets excellent grades and learns little. She, as so many, tragically learn precious little except what will take them any further than the next A- or the next school year and eventually the next job.


My dear student has been taught to write with great form and no substance. Or rather, she has been conditioned to ignore the substance she wants to write about, and to shove her writer’s dainty Cinderella feet into the huge ugly shoes of the Stepsisters of five-line paragraphs and “active prose”. So, I cheer her on with counterarguments to the propaganda that many poor unwitting, hardworking teachers of writing have been led to believe themselves. And I help her swim against the current of her own “shoulds”, until she can find the right way to swim with the currents of her ideas and imagination.


When writing, at any age or for any genre, one should not reach for the buoys and lifeboats of form until one has found one’s own strokes of function. Maybe a good writer has to even be a little afraid she will drown, but at least if she jumps into the deep end of writing, and she keeps moving, she will learn how to swim before learning how to tread in place or before she ends up standing and watching other people write from the shores of her couch or desk chair.


Now, I know, I know — what is going through my audience’s mind right now is, “Those who can’t — teach”. Well, I am very, very proud to have been a teacher and to still teach, especially writing. I think the fact that I am not a famous writer or even a particularly good writer, might encourage my audience to take what I will say more seriously,rather than less, because writing is for us, not for them. I have grown quite fond of my little “community” of writers here in the world of “Listen to Me, Please” Platforms.


I often will “like” or “follow” a young writer in my own writing platforms merely because I want them to know they are worth listening to. I like young people who want to write. I like all people who want to write. I think the loss of the idea that humans should daily be writing down their thoughts is one of the greatest losses of the species we call “humanity”. I think everyone should write out their life stories for prosperity and everyone should write down for their personal benefits their thoughts on everything from “What I Did Today” to “My Bucket List” to War and Peace.


I thought I would periodically share some of my recent back and forths with students, as we together explore ideas on writing. I like these letters through which I have listened and then tried to teach something, particularly because they have their genesis in my student writing a letter to me (via email of course), and my responding in writing. So, to learn about writing, we are expressing ourselves through writing.


These are thoughts that I have been eking out, teasing forth, and involve a sort of question / answer or a sort of Socratic teacher /pupil format. But what I love about teaching and about addressing specific student’s questions is that I am always learning myself. Plus I realize that the art of writing is so vast, so eternally creative, that the hows and whys and methods into finding the golden eggs, mining the nuggets, revealing the truth and addressing the crux, are an ever fluid, flowing fountain of possibilities and achievabilities. Addressing the way to write is both maze and Russian doll. One never reaches the end if one begins without knowing where it will lead, and that is where the joy of discovery — the joy of discovering what you will write — lies.


The letters between my student and me will, in no way, give you hints on how to be successful and make money as a writer. They may however, I hope, free your inner muse and make you, if not exactly happier, (because writing means hurting sometimes) perhaps fuller and more at peace with why you write. I hope they can do the same for me, because we writers know that what we say, always comes with the caveat: “Physician, heal thyself”.


A Letter Between Mrs. T and Cara

(I have changed my student’s name to protect the innocent.)

Letter One: February 28, 2020


Hi Ms. Tawel,

So, I was going through old documents in my laptop and came across a few unfinished stories that I thought would be fun to finish now. But then I realized why I abandoned them.

Too many subplots.

At least I think that’s what they would be called. They’re just random ideas I had for individual characters, the storyline, and backstories.

Anyway, the reason why I’m bringing this up is because I don’t want to get rid of them. They’re all (in my opinion) great ideas that’d make up a good story, but when I look at everything put together it’s all really crowded to the point where somethings seem out of place and very random.

But I really want to keep these ideas in! They seem fun to write about and would bring out a part of my story that’s somewhat unique.

I know we’ve already touched on this issue, but I think I need to hear it again.

…Darn, this’ll probably end in me having to get rid of most of the subplots. 😦

OH! And also…

I have an issue with backstories. Now, I LOVE good backstories, especially sad ones. But I tend to give it a lil’ too much love and end up making them quite complex. Do you think complex backstories are bad? I guess I could always start my story earlier and make the backstory shorter, but then… I’d just rather start my story when I originally planned to.

So, in short, are complex backstories okay? If not, how can I make them okay? How can I make it so that the beginning isn’t so hectic? Is a hectic beginning okay? Gah! I have so many questions, but I have to eat dinner so this is it for now.

Thank you for your time.





Hi Cara:

So here is what I think — although please don’t think I mean to make this sound easy, okay?

I think you need to give yourself permission to get rid of your inner critic in the initial stages of writing. For a true writer, there can not be “shoulds”. If all the world’s great writers had started with “shoulds”, we would never have a Fitzgerald or Dickens or Dickinson or Steinbeck or even Rowling. Even just regular writers, those who find creative joy in writing or those who are just beginning to find their voice and muse as you are or just so-so writers like I am, even we need to release ourselves from beginning with the ideas of some one else’s “should”. Think of that old adage from “Field of Dreams” — “If you write it, they will come”. You can not determine either your purpose or audience before you let yourself write what is inside you and in your heart / mind. Because separating the heart from the mind, is death to good writing and this is what happens when form comes before function.


As you know, I personally believe, you should never, ever, ever get rid of anything you have created. Yes, sometimes you have to lop off a limb from the tree of your writing to give it the best shape possible — like a bonsai tree, sometimes smaller is better and that means pruning. However, you don’t annihilate anything EVER!. You store it away for another day, cut and paste it into a stored document somewhere, just like keeping a tree limb in the wood pile to use someday in a construction of a different sort, or a fireplace that will keep everyone warm.


If you have to save an idea, a subplot, a metaphor or description “on a shelf” for a while, do it. But don’t do that until the FINAL stages which is when you edit — but editing is last, last, last — AFTER you have discovered by writing freely with love and joy and of course sometimes pain and sorrow — AFTER the purpose, style, and meaning are revealed to you. This is the old idea of listening to a “muse”. And a muse is not your teacher or your marketing shares. When a teacher or sales are made our audiences, we create characters without souls, and writing without nurturing love. Writing for school assignments today is like being taught how to have babies in test tubes.


It is good to have critical reasoning, and you are right to know that in the final stages you will need to shape and mold your stories and essays in ways that may hurt a bit, but to do that now means you are, frankly, finding an “excuse” not to stay vulnerable to your voice, ideas and “muse”. You must be vulnerable to your writing, just like you must stay vulnerable in any relationship that you want to survive the tests of times and trial.


Thank you for trusting me to “give you permission” to go with what your heart, head and gut tell you. Don’t be afraid of what the future tough minded, surgical “editor” — which will always in the end be yourself — may do. A surgeon is often necessary but not right now. Right now you are a parent, a grower, a writer. Write.


Mrs. T