Music & Poetry

Something that caught my attention about the Gallaher reading “A Line Is a Hesitation, Not a World” in A Broken Thing is a line in which he says, “I dislike hearing someone mention the ‘music’ of the line just about as much as I dislike hearing someone speak of the ‘poetry’ of things that aren’t poems” (97.)  I understand this sentiment in context to the idea that the “music” of poetry can lead to someone reading a poem in a way that feels too “poet-y,” but I feel like this view is a little short sighted.  From an anthropological/historical perspective poetry is interesting because the written form was born out of an oral tradition (at least in North America; I’m not confident enough to say this is universal, although I feel like it would be.)  If we look at poetry this way the music in the words is unavoidable.  Although I don’t know much about music, and I tend to always view poetry as literature, I do find that the way the poem sounds out loud is important to me.  I always read poems I write out loud to try and hear the sounds and rhythm better.  Has anyone gone to a reading a felt a certain way about a poem after they heard the poet read their work aloud?  I know this happened to me when I watched videos of Ilya Kaminsky reading his work after we read his collection Dancing in Odessa in Poetry last fall.  Has anyone else thought about this?  When you write poems do you pay attention to the sounds out loud, or have we forgotten the oral tradition of poetry?

One Reply to “Music & Poetry”

  1. I think Gallaher might be a little imperious with his definitions, but as someone who doesn’t know much about music and gets totally annoyed when someone talks about the poetry of something that isn’t poetry I can see where he’s coming.

    Gallaher would probably place all the auditory qualities your discussing under the auspices of poetry. Talking about the music of poetry could be a double edged sword. It might make poets think more of the auditory qualities of their poems, but push it too far and their reading voices will become those awful affected voices that squeeze out anything of the poet’s real voice.

    I know I forget about reading poems all the time, I constantly surprise myself when I do read them aloud at an open mic or some such event. My forgetfulness is particularly embarrassing when two of my blog posts are basically about how great it is to hear a poet read their poetry, and how secretly pissed off I get when I’m at poet’s society and a slam poet calls something I just shared “page poetry.”

    I could go on for a while about how much that term stinks, but I think it will suffice to say for now that if people think it’s OK to call poems that aren’t slam focused “page poetry” we have some work to do.

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