“letters don’t talk” and the tension between poetry and music

Throughout the semester, I’ve been struggling with the tension between words as something that makes sense and words as conglomerates of sounds.  In what way are words representations of greater things, and to what extent do words speak for themselves?  Is a word itself without the proper context, and does a “proper context” even exist? I’ve been attempting, in my own writing, to use words just for their sounds and their connotations, not necessarily their denotations.  Throughout this growing process, I’ve continually found solace in the musical work of poets whom I’ve grown close to.

This week, I’ve been delving deeper into Mary Lambert’s EP letters don’t talk as well as her poetry blog to try and discover how she makes the connection between words and sounds so seamless from poetry to lyrics.  I think that, for the most part, her music and her poetry tend to lend more power to the words themselves and their vibes than the sound.  However, the way she articulates the words and sings them is reminiscent of the spoken word tradition more so than the conventions associated with a song:

“This heart is tired and old/This heart is charcoal and cold/This heart throws the white flag where it gets hard and numb” (Mary Lambert. This Heart. Dungeness Records, 2010-2012. MP3.)  While the lyrics do contain rhyme and fit nicely into the music, the song feels as if it was written on the page and then set to music, rather than the words being written to a particular tune.  Simply because the lyrics hold so much weight, I can’t see the song being more than a vehicle for the lyrics, just as form is an extension of the content according to Charles Olson.

Just as a last thought, I looked into some of her poetry, particularly a poem she read when she came to campus in the spring, called “Pistolwhip.” You can find a video of her reading it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpNEQE0ph0o. The way she sings and her poetry do have very different sounds, but the delivery is so in sync and one bleeds into the other and vice versa so much that even her song, “Body Love” (recorded in two separate parts) is a reading of poetry set to song. I almost wish I had a more musical mind, because I’d like to be able to challenge myself and write poetry the way she does, with a deep connection to music and rhythm but able to stand alone.

One Reply to ““letters don’t talk” and the tension between poetry and music”

  1. Hi Nicole,

    Wow, I just watched the video of Mary Lambert, and I am in love because I had no idea that she did spoken word poetry. In regards to the tension between words as denoting meaning and words as “conglomerates of sound” I have also been struggling with this a lot lately. I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, also known as the Theory of Linguistic Relativity,[http://zimmer.csufresno.edu/~johnca/spch100/4-9-sapir.htm] but it basically says that language determines how we think. I don’t agree with it one hundred percent but that it’s interesting to think about how language itself has influence over the way we think. Especially in regards to music!

    -Christy L. Agrawal

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