Auld Lang Syne

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The power of music on poetic inspiration

Last night I attended a concert in Portland, Maine. Straight No Chaser, a ten-man a cappella group, was delightful, fresh, funny, accomplished. Throughout the concert, I was itching to write. I did not write however, made myself just enjoy the music. This is not the first time I've experienced this kind of an urgent need to whip out a notebook and pen during a concert. Last year (or maybe year before last) I was at a concert of the Portland Symphony and actually did a first draft of a poem during the concert.

Why is it, I ask myself, that music is so inspiring to me as a writer? Why is it that I get such a strong urge to write at these times? I think the answer is rhythm. As a formally-trained poet (yes, rhyme, meter, form!) I feel the beats in poems I read, and seem to find a natural rhythm as I write. I am tapping it out in my head as I compose. Hmm, as I write that last sentence, it occurs to me that what I do is compose poems rather than write them. OMG, I am a composer! LOL

Seriously though, I am interested in that being the way I approach and describe my writing. It makes more sense to me that what I do is composing. "Writing" seems more like transcribing to me. Oh I have heard many "poets" say that they feel as if they are indeed taking down words that "come to them" from some mysterious source. (eye roll)

I'm not saying that there is never any of that raw inspiration, the interruption of life by the "muse." What I am saying is that composing poetry is more than that. We have responsibility not only for the words, but also for how they appear on the page, in what order, with what emphasis, and strengthened to their most perfect selves in combination with others. It is the revision, the deep revision, that separates writing from composing. Placement of food on a plate to its most appealing presentation is called composing the plate. So too ought we describe the revision part of the poem as composing.

But, I digress a bit here. I started out speaking about the influence of music on poetry composition. When I am listening to a piece of music, no matter which piece really, I feel something in my body. That feeling wants to go somewhere, to make a reply. If I were a dancer, my body would want to move itself around to reply. I am a writer, not a dancer. So my body's reply is in words.

There's another way music is involved in my poetic life. When I'm stuck, or in a rut with my poetic practice, I turn to music for help out of the inertia. I wish I could say how many times I've blasted Pink Floyd in order to change the mood, kick start myself. (I listen to "The Wall" when in a deep cave of inertia). I also listen to Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" for a swift kick in the doldrums. At other times, when I simply want to up the ante in my writing, I might listen to something more soothing, something classical or R & B. I have favorites in nearly every genre. I listened a LOT to Oldies from the 60s when working on the new manuscript, The Boyfriend Project. I listened to Gregorian chant, old hymns, and monastic music when writing Psalms From the Commons: invocations for everyday life.

The bottom line here is, for me, a deep connection to music and composing poetry. I leave you with this: where in YOUR LIFE do you find music that inspires or fuels your writing? Is there a favorite piece of music that gets to you in such a way as to turn on or up your writing? Or perhaps some sounds in nature provide that music. My natural world music is the sound of the ocean (especially a stormy ocean) and the rustling of wind through grass and treetops.

Let's chat about this. Please feel free to post a poem that was inspired or instigated by YOUR music.