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.

2 Replies to “A little about my thoughts on music and poetry”

  1. Henry,

    The idea that you don’t listen to music while you write because your writing begins to take on its qualities is fascinating to me. I completely understand what you mean by “When I revisit it, sans music, I find it to have a stranded quality to it,” but I had never consciously visited that idea before, even though I’ve stumbled many times across the same quality that you describe. Thinking on this, I began to wonder why this is. It seems to me that an essay by Philip Lopate that I read recently contains some insight that may carry over. Reading this, I am reminded of music as a background for a poem much as Lopate discusses unstated background for the “I”:

    “The problem with I is not that it is in bad taste but that fledgling personal essayists and memoirists may think they have conveyed more than they actually have with that one syllable. In their minds, that I swarms with a lush, sticky past and an almost fatal specificity, whereas the reader encountering it for the first time in a new piece of writing sees only a slender telephone pole standing in the sentence, trying to catch a few signals to send on.” -Phillip Lopate, Telling True Stories.

    In other words, perhaps in order to breathe life into a piece generated while listening to music, one could search to build upon the music scaffolding imbued in the piece when returning to it for revision (through purposeful sound choice and other poetic elements).

    1. Gabriella,

      Thank you for the feedback. That bit by Lopate gave me my literary fix for the day! I like your advice about scaffolding around the music and intend to explore it further. Thanks again.

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