Music as Poetry

I find a lot of solace in the sounds that come out of my headphones. Coming back to Geneseo has been something I long awaited during the summer, and the moment I arrive back, things start to go downhill. Not due to any forces that I can control, things just happen sometimes. And when those things happen, music is something that always soothes the mind, induces tears, and brings me the strength to show up to class.

Music is, in a sense, poetry. Especially to some artists who really work to create lyrics that mean something. For example, lets take a look at Elliott Smith.

Smith was a deeply troubled individual, and of course his lyrics reflect that. Songs like “Between The Bars” that discuss heavy alcoholism, “Say Yes” with regret upon past relationships, and even the poppy “Baby Britain” carries heavy, dark overtones. Some lines can be blatant, outright, such as “situations get f*cked up, but turn around sooner or later” from “Say Yes”, but there are some lines that hit harder, and are very poetic. Like this verse from his song “Rose Parade”

Tripped over a dog in a choke-chain collar, people were shouting and pushing and saying they’d “traded a smoke for a food stamp dollar” as a ridiculous marching band started playing”

While it paints an incredibly intense picture, it also shows an underlying confusion of the speaker, and the hilarity that is occurring around the speaker as they try to make sense of everything. While it’s not the most happy lyric, it does a lot of work in terms of setting a scene, characterized the speaker, and creating an event that can carry on through the rest of the song.

I find Smith to be incredible not just because of his instrumentalism, but I am always impressed by the complexity of his lyrics. He studied philosophy and political science at Hampshire College, which perhaps help to explain just how he is able to take grand ideas and put them into lyrical form that not only tells a story, but makes a point. His troubled beginnings also add to this, as Smith was abused as a child and was an addict for most of his adult life. He suffered depression and committed suicide by stabbing himself in the chest (although this fact as been disputed with an argument towards him being murdered by his girlfriend at the time). These factors come together to help him create songs that hit hard, especially for one such as myself who has suffered from depression for most of my young life, thankfully not so much anymore. But even if you’ve never experienced depression, you can still connect to his music; thats how talented Smith is.

While there are many other artists who show this type of lyrical genius (KT Tunstall, David Bowie, Kendrick Lamar, Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys off of the top of my head), Smith serves as a great example for the combination of poetic verse and music, as any one of his songs can be separated from the musical component and stand on their own as great pieces of poetry. It is an interesting exercise for poets to work with.

Invasive: tending to intrude on a person’s thoughts or privacy

Much of my writing is based around an intrusive thought. There are always moments in my day where I see something that will remind me of someone or something that I want to push far back into my consciousness; something that I desperately do not want to remember. It could be brown and curly hair, a song on the radio, the smell of a burning cigarette; anything can send a grenade into the psyche that explodes into an intense memory that I have tried my best to erase. These little invasions lead to some great poetry, as, at least for me, it’s easier to write about trauma and the things in life that are less than happy than things that make my heart sing. Yes, some of these memories are positive, like the sounds that my ex-boyfriend made while he slept beside me, but they are always tinged with some form of sadness, or perhaps regret. They are no longer, they are but moments in the past that come back to haunt the present. Even if I am in a better state of mind when I was when the memory took place, part of me is always sentimental about the past, always wishing to go back. But, as I am here, in Geneseo, the only place to go is forward, into the future.

The invasion of thoughts stands as a foundation to a work. My process most often starts with a thought popping into my head, most of the time completely out of the blue. I have found myself on line at the grocery store, at a bank, driving a car, when out of nowhere I will need to stop whatever I am doing to write down an idea before it slips away, never to return. These thoughts are fleeting, however they are strong in nature, and require immediate attention, and then more and more attention until I feel satisfied enough to post them to a blog or put them in my google drive folder of poetry, to forget about it until I find it at a later date, and have to start revising again.

Basing poetry off of a memory has always been an interesting idea to me. Not only are you able to vividly describe a scene, but there is room to put the conclusions of the event, as well as the implications of what has occurred, and how it will effect the speaker. The speaker of each piece is given the opportunity to not only share something that has occurred, but to give it meaning beyond what is actually being said.

Invasions of the mind are inescapable. It is not only difficult to truly push these memories out, but it appears to be impossible as humans don’t even know the entire capabilities of our own brains. So, if you ask me, the best thing to do with these thoughts is to write them down, and see if they provide any clarity to the present day that could be useful in everyday life. Embrace the little invaders, and remember that no matter how unpleasant the memory, it is still your life, and is, in the end, under your own control, and no one else’s.