Painting isn’t great poetry practice.

Sound has always been at an arm’s length. Before this I only painted.

The fundamental gulf between art and sound is so deep that they are complete polar opposites in almost every way. Sound is flowing, formless, fleeting and transient. It moves on regardless of your processing of it. And then it’s over, gone. A painting is silent, unchanging, tangible, concrete.

I have never picked up an instrument, and you can tell from my poems. The syllables in a line are never the same,  rhyme scheme is a fleeting hurdle. Meter and melopoeia are absent.  I don’t know much about sound, and it shows.

Overbearing visuals and antiquated didactism are what I need to break away from as a crutch for lyricism. There is a delicate balance between these two gulfs, which we would just call good poetry. As much as I’d like to walk away from sound entirely, it’s difficult when poetry itself is rooted in spoken verse- and just an extension of language. Our idea of poetry, too, is inherently musical. The word itself conjures rhyme more than insight or epiphany. Language as a auditory medium will gravitate towards melody, the same way  visual art gravitates towards what is pleasing to the eye. Turning away from sound for didact would contradict the medium.

 

My Snapshot Mentality

When I first started to write poetry, I pictured it as capturing a flash in a moment, one snapshot. Not to say this is never the case, but I’m learning that if you want to show your readers a log cabin, how you let readers arrive at the scene plays a role in letting the readers find their way, that they can linger in a sentence, or speed along quickly enjoying the momentum of the piece, that the poem doesn’t have to be standstill; there is a journey in reading along.

My command of sound is more tied to the visuals of the poem, such as how I prefer shorter lines look on a page with my poems surrounded by plenty of white space. I often keep my poetry terse and as close to the point as I can, and I try to root out unnecessary words, so my lines are typically shorter than average. While this tends to make my poetry read more slowly, as the pacing is heavier on each word I choose to keep in the poem, it is often unintentional. When I do read through lines of my poetry my mind is more concerned with how the individual words carry meaning and how they can best be expressed through insights in the poem’s line and how it captures a snapshot I think with my work I am often trying to express a moment in time and I try to carry the readers to that rather than considering the reading itself as the real experience. When I envision what I am writing about, it is so vivid to me that I do not consider the reader’s experience or question the gaps between reasoning in my poetry. I write from a snapshot perspective. Due to this, I tend to use more abstract terms in my writing, assuming that everyone is holding on to the same visual that I am.

I’ve never been on such a level of my work where I consider the impact of word combinations but I am eager to start my journey with sound. I look forward to learning how to surround my reader with my words in a way that they take their time through the piece, that my readers may not just see what I’ve fleshed out, but they can breathe in it as well.

 

 

Return to Rhyme

Poems that we write in childhood follow the most boiled-down ideas of the traditional hallmarks of poetry, going something like, “I got out of bed / And bumped my head / And now it’s red.” Rhyme is something that we see as the shining star of poetry, especially end-rhyme. We grow older and are let in on new knowledge: poetry doesn’t have to rhyme. In fact, it begins to seem, rhyme is chintzy. When I reached college, I stopped rhyming all together–it seemed to sound like a cheap gimmick, like a poem trying to dress itself up as A Poem, I thought. But in Advanced Poetry this past Monday, a new idea was brought to my attention: that writers use rhyme to generate a word that we wouldn’t normally use. I was very much intrigued by this idea. I often find the same language cropping up in my writing, acting as satellites to again more of the same, and try as I might in revision, I seem to always get swept up in the same vortex of words. In the coming weeks, I am interested in experimenting more with rhyme: slant rhyme, perfect rhyme, internal rhyme… bring it on! While I don’t believe that rhyme matches all content–and as an extension, form–it certainly seems to be a useful tool to keep in our belts.

down to the pitch, the word, the letter

In the past few years, I’ve become more interested in food and tea, and I’ve tried my hand at more complex cooking and brewing. When I was a kid, for example, my version of “making tea” was pouring whistling water over a black teabag, and adding cream and sugar. I thought I loved tea and that I knew a lot about it. But I had no idea what tea was made of, where it came from, or that my methodology was crude. It was only recently that I looked into the different types of tea, the locations, the brewers, the ceremonies, and the cultural significances behind the drink (I now understand how little I actually know about it). Each type of tea, whether it be black, pu’er, oolong, green, yellow, white, or even herbal tisanes, are intricately complex and have many diverse forms with different shades, flavors, aromas, colors, and effects.

Where am I going with this? you may ask, and I understand. The point is that I’m realizing how important details are in doing things well. Of course, if I fussed too much over the exact temperature at which I brewed my white tea, I may miss the experience of sensing its aroma and the pleasure of tasting it. So I can’t lose sight of the big picture, certainly. But if I want to cook a dish well, I ought to pay careful attention to the spices involved. I want to brew my tea at the right temperature and for the correct amount of time. I want to pay careful attention to what sounds bother (or delight) my loved ones, so that I can care for them by creating silent spaces, or spaces swelling with the sound of their favorite record. I can turn off the TV, the music, my own voice if it’s too  stressful or stimulating. The quality of the food, the tea, and the space all create an emotional response in the person experiencing them, whether positive or negative.

I’ve realized something that should have been clear, that every little detail is important when writing poetry, and if I want to create excellent poetry I ought to pay attention to every small detail in order to create the best poem I can. A number of things were brought up in the last workshop that I hadn’t considered before. One of them was pitch–I didn’t realize that poetry could have pitch, because I thought that words were just words. But when asked to consider pitch, it suddenly came to me in Owen’s poem “Strange Meeting,” and I would like to examine how Owen used pitch and to try to use it myself at some point.

I felt most compelled in considering letter choice, though. I didn’t necessarily think that dwelling on a poem at the word level or even the level of the letter was useful, but exercises we went through in class led me to see how important it is to consider not only what poems say, but how they sound. As we learned in workshop, content and form should be embracing one another, and if I have something to say in a poem I want to say it without saying it, i.e., I want to say it through the form, by creating an emotional response in the reader synonymous with how the speaker is feeling rather than “telling them straight” what’s going on.

Sounds of Slam and Song

My relationship with sound in my poems is very much reflective of my relationship with sound in my daily life; in both instances, I rely upon sound to fill up empty spaces. Interestingly, though, the former seems to be done in an act of repression, almost, given I feel the urge to fill spaces of silence as to ensure that I don’t think too much about any one given thing. Silence, for me at least, amplifies whatever is going on in my head and if my thoughts in those moments are, for whatever reason, anxious, the results can be disastrous. In poetry, on the other hand, I fill up space with sound in a distinctive effort to confront and cope with the things that I am anxious or otherwise upset about. Filling up the silence of a blank page is not about running from my problems in the same way that filling up the silence of my daily life is; poetry, as such, becomes an act of offense, not defense.

To touch on the specifics of writing poetry, I think that sound is probably a lot more important to me than I ever realized, as is evidenced simply in that I often read my works-in-progress aloud to myself, and if sharing a completed poem with somebody, I prefer to read it aloud to them rather than letting them read it silently to themselves. Perhaps some of this behavior is rooted in fear; I am afraid that my poem will be misunderstood, and as such I feel the need to control all of the facets of sound which have the capacity to shape meaning; which words do and don’t receive emphasis, volume and tone of voice, etcetera. I also, on occasion, venture into the realm of slam poetry, which exists as performative sound, oftentimes on-stage. For me, the primary difference between writing poetry for the page and poetry to be performed is, when doing the latter, I am much more concerned with the speed with which the poem will be spoken, something which I suppose is more difficult to control when writing traditional poetry.

All in all, though, I think that my relationship with sound is evolving; it’s not an aspect of poetry which I have previously given much thought, and I think that simply by considering it as I am right now, I will be more aware of it in my writing henceforth. Additionally, I have interests in the performative aspects of poetry, both as a slam poet and as a musician (albeit, a pretty bad one).

I, as a written poet, a slam poet, and a musician, will continue to reckon with the relationship between words and sound, perhaps now more consciously, in the creation of my work.

Muscle Memory

When I began penning my first poem of the semester I began to feel nervous. I racked my brain for ideas, words, phrases that would offer me some inspiration or a starting point, but I had no such luck. I spent way too long staring at a blank page. I asked myself what if I had simply lost my ability to write a poem. What if my lack of writing over winter break had left my poetry rusty? Last semester, writing poems felt like muscle memory and suddenly, a month later, I had forgotten how to work my writing muscle.

Fast-forward to class where we had begun talking about sound. As a somewhat inexperienced poet, I tend to stray away from sound-focused poetry. Considering my newfound writer’s block, sound was not on my priority list- I needed something to write before I could contemplate how it sounds.

Fortunately, I eventually realized that nothing gets me more excited to write a poem than a challenge. I love difficult writing exercises and I quickly came to the conclusion that “sound” was just another challenging writing exercise. Rather than feeling frazzled by the inclusion of sound in my poems I am now eager to try my hand at it.

A little about my thoughts on music and poetry

I don’t know how often I consciously think of the connection between sound and poetry, but I do, on some level, acknowledge it. When writing poetry for instance, I turn off any music that may be playing. If I write to music I find myself following it’s beat whether I mean to or not. Unwittingly mimicking the rhythm of whatever music may pulsate in the background. When I revisit it, sans music, I find it to have a stranded quality to it. Abandoned by the sounds present during it’s gestation. For this reason I try and write in a silent environment, so that the poem can develop its own sound, one it maintains no matter what.

I do regret to say that I end up listening to more music than reading poetry. I do both a fair amount, but it’s far harder to read a poem walking to class or while doing work than listening to a song. However, musicians like Lou Reed, who blur the line between music and poetry, offer me a way to enjoy both at the same time, or at least the illusion of doing so.

Easy access to music not only detracts from my reading and writing of poetry but may also detract from my overall experience with music itself. I read stories and accounts where individuals, long deprived of music, have epiphanic experiences when reintroduced to it. People breaking their auditory fast at some classical concert, or quenching their melodic thirst at a jazz bar, and having ecstatic or perspective shifting experiences. Usually such things take place in the days before music became something that could be stowed away within one’s pocket and channeled through chords into the ears. Never deprived of music I worry that I will never fully appreciate it either.

I guess this has been something of a tangent, but I can attempt to justify my rambling by saying that this surplus of sonic stimulation means I could never write poetry on an experience of lacking it. Lately, I’ve been disheartened by thinking about things, such as what I mentioned above, that I will never be able to experience and write about, but that’d be a whole other page of keyboard meandering. I hope that this wasn’t too all over the place, and that it shines some sort of a light on my relationship with sound and poetry.

Sound in poetry (???)

I’ll confess; in a prioritized list of all the things which swirl in my mind as I compose poetic lines, sonic qualities are typically near the bottom. It’s not that I believe there is no value to sound in poetry, which would undoubtedly be a form of blasphemy, it’s more just a product of the way my writing brain works and exists. Semantics are my focus. I tend to think chiefly in terms of conveying particular meanings, a concentration which keeps much of my thought processes entirely detached from the sonic nature of the words I choose. My recent transition to poetry workshops has certainly prompted a reevaluation of this method, yet its remnants still form an operational basis for most of the things I put on the page.

That isn’t to say I pay sounds no heed whatsoever, though, for I do tend to count syllables, or capitalize on alliterative opportunities in the poems I heavily revise. I’m a frequent user of thesaurus.com, and lately, I’ve been turning to it much more for the purposes of alliteration or assonance. Sometimes I just know a line could read better, it could have just a little more cohesion. I don’t right know how to pin down this tactic, but it takes me to another point: I have come to believe that a “default poetic state” lives within me, one which would endlessly write cheesy limericks were I not present to rein it in. For an example, I often find myself reading a poetic line at a very particular pace, while my mind races to fill syllabic gaps in order to better construct a rhyming couplet. However, it’s a habit I consciously suppress, for I always hate the way these lines read once they are completed; campy, overdone, and cheap. I can’t say how many times I’ve completely deleted a document’s contents due to this phenomena.

But perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to delete these documents. Why couldn’t I try for the opposite, to channel this cheesiness into a poem focused primarily on its sonic construction and rhyme scheme? It would definitely take me out of my comfort zone, yet I’d be very hesitant to let someone else read something which I myself hate… At any rate, even after a single week’s worth of readings I feel I am coming to realize the potential of sonic qualities to affect a poem’s semantics, a revelation which may prove to be paradigm-shifting for my habits. As a writer, I am always eager to attempt putting more precision and thought into my work, and sound looks to be as worthy a focus as any.

indeed the tulips change tense too quickly

“Indeed the tulips \ change tense \ too quickly. \ They open and fly off. \ And, holding absolutes \ at bay, the buds \ tear through the fruit trees, \ steeples into sky,” –Jorie Graham’s “Strangers”

I purchased Jorie Graham’s “Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts” after drooling over it in a bookstore in Saratoga for an inappropriately long time. I felt that if I had already taken out my notebook and penned countless lines that gave me poetic aneurysms (whilst dog-earing nearly every page), the book deserved to be given some consistent shelter and love. Jorie’s poetry has continued to reach into the furthest corners of my mind through lofty and complex ideas that I still have yet to fully process. What I admire most, however, is her sometimes subtle and sometimes abrasive use of sound to carry these complexities to term.

I typically consider sound to be a means of transport, a way of emphasizing and extending meaning by carrying certain sounds throughout a piece (think the importance of s in Keats’ ‘”To Autumn.”) When done correctly, sonic elements in a poem can carry a heavier weight than the actual “content” or argument of the piece (though I would argue that, at times, sound itself is the provided argument). The reappearing in “Strangers” makes the first three lines echoes of themselves, carrying us with it until we reach “steeples,” where the t‘s have suddenly formed into a place of worship. Due to the repetition, however, we don’t blindly walk into the glass door of the steeple; we have seen it on the horizon since we were given the map.

There is a linkage of ideas, no matter the distance, when sound is utilized. We can connect “bay” to “buds,” but we can also connect “tulips” to “through” to “fruit.”

With sound serving to transport and manipulate meaning, we are offered a beautiful platter of impossibilities: tulips rearrange themselves into a steeple and “quickly” becomes the sky behind it.

SoundCloud

Sound is evident everywhere and created by our very own vibrations. But, the sound on our paper does not have any sort of real resonance, obviously. Because of this, writers must create sound by themselves with their deliberate word choice and punctuation. Many small factors can influence how a word is said out loud or read on the page. Some of these factors include hyphens, em dashes, or specific letters strung together. 

As of my enlightenment of the phrase “Hedge-crickets sing”, I will be sure to pay more attention to how I compile words around a specific moment of emphasis. Within my past as a writer, I usually do work with similar sounds because I like the chewiness and necessity of saying something out loud to mirror its importance.

Certain words specifically stick out to me while writing. I really enjoy writing about symbolism and sensitivity of teeth. So, surrounding the word teeth, I incorporate words that have a similar T, or clacking noise to mimic chattering. Or, when discussing a long journey, I write with longer vowels to show the propulsion of dense movement.

In class, during the end exercise, I wrote some lines that I want to work further with because the sounds had potential. One of the phrases was “orange-red walls whaling”. I think that these words together are very chewy and sew into each other well. I like the sound of “orange-red” because the beginning of orange matches the R in red, while attached with the hyphen. Then the repeated momentum of the R and W makes the reader truly read this phrase and go through it slowly. I intend to place this line in some sort of fast paced, intense poem so these words force the reader to slow down. I also wrote another line that reads: “boot buckles strap and clack”.  I really like the sound of this phrase because of the repeated CK sound.

Overall, I enjoy where these repeated sounds are taking my writing while strung together. They prove emphasis, and add pace to the piece. Because the R and W slow down the piece while the CK add a rhythm and quicker momentum to the poem. I plan to continue these patterns and hopefully emerge something new from my writing.