Thursday, March 21, 2013

Poetry with a Pulse

I’ve never been one for poetry.  As much as I love reading, I have just never felt very connected to this particular genre.  Don’t get me wrong:  I completely understand that it is an art, a fluid expression of thoughts and ideas, sometimes imaginative, sometimes all-too-real.  I am capable of appreciating these characteristics, but I would never opt to read it over other forms of literature.

Today, while driving along on my two-hour commute from my home to my office, I realized there actually is a form of poetry that I wholeheartedly and unreservedly adore – MUSIC. 

I listen to music almost all of the time.  If I’m awake, there must be music.  Even as I’m teaching, there is music.  When I take a shower, I turn on music.  If I can’t sleep at night, I sing to myself!  Music is a huge part of my life.

To many, music might simply seem like beats of bass or extra sound; but, in fact, music is both an art and a science.  It is comprised of precision as well as chaos.  It is rhythm, but it is also lyrics {most of the time}. 
I am a lyrics person.  While I love a good beat or killer guitar riff, I need and seek out good words.  To me, songwriting is a whole lot like poetry.  The rhythm is just the accompanying track to the literature from the songwriter.

Like poetry, music includes a wide array of styles.

For instance, we can consider that pop music is the “Roses are red, violets are blue…” of the lyrical world.  The word choices and structure of these songs might be simple, end in rhymes, and come to a predictable conclusion, but they still require some writing skill as well as an understand of what might catch a listener’s ear.  {Please don’t take my comments here as an affront to pop music.  I channel my inner Kelly Clarkson on an almost daily basis while dancing around in my car.} 

Examples of this approach to lyrics {and poetry} can be found in several current pop songs.

K$sha’s “C’mon” includes lines like the following:

Feeling like I'm a high schooler
Sipping on a warm wine cooler 

Hot 'cause the party don't stop
I'm in a crop top 
… … … …
We been keeping it PG
But I wanna get a little frisky

Rihanna’s “Stay” includes similar rhyme-ending lines:

Round and around and around and around we go
Oh now tell me now tell me now tell me now you know
It takes me all the way
I want you to stay
Ooh the reason I hold on
Ooh ‘cause I need this hole gone
Funny you're the broken one but I'm the only one who needed saving
Cause when you never see the light it's hard to know which one of us is caving

More advanced songwriting can be compared to less obvious rhythms and themes in poetry.  Literary devices like metaphor or personification might be utilized.  Word choice may be highly varied and creative.  

Like their poetic counterparts, these sorts of songs may prove to be complex and quite deep.

My favorite band of all-time will forever be Led Zeppelin.  I find their songs rhythmically and lyrically interesting.  One of their most popular tracks is the highly-successful “Stairway to Heaven.”  The song – while certainly appealing based solely on Jimmy Page’s guitar work, John Paul Jones’ bass recorder and electric piano work, and John Bonham’s ever-stunning drums – is ultimately made by Robert Plant as he sings thought-provoking lyrics like the following:

There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, and she's buying a stairway to heaven.

There's a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure
'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.
In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings,
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.

Other complex lyrical schemes can be found in all genres of modern music.

Ben Folds, another favorite of mine, penned these lyrics to his song “The Luckiest”:

What if I'd been born 50 years before you
In a house on the street where you live?
Maybe I'd be outside as you passed on your bike
Would I know?

And in a wide sea of eyes
I see one pair that I recognize
And I know
That I am…
The luckiest

I love you more than I have
Ever found a way to say to you

Next door there's an old man who lived to his 90s
And one day passed away in his sleep
And his wife, she stayed for a couple of days
And passed away
I'm sorry, I know that's
A strange way to tell you
That I know we belong…

Literature has often inspired musicians to either allude to or outright mention certain works or authors.

Regina Spektor – who I think is some sort of modern-day musical genius – mentions authors in at least two of her songs.

In “Poor Little Rich Boy,” she sings:

Poor little rich boy, all the world is okay
The water runs off your skin and down into the drain
You're reading Fitzgerald, you're reading Hemmingway
They're both super smart and drinking in the café…

In “Pound of Flesh,” she alludes to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and also mentions a poet from our current text:

Ezra Pound'll sit upon your bed
ask you which books as of late you have read
ask you if you've read his own
and whether you could spare a pound
of flesh to cover his bare bones
You'll say, man, take a pound, take two
what's a pound of flesh between
friends like me and you?
What's a pound of flesh among friends?...

To me, these lyrical examples illustrate the commonalities that music and traditional poetry share.  Writers, whether song or literary ones, aim to express an idea and elicit some sort of emotional response from their readers {or listeners}.  Even pop songs or elementary poems seek to achieve this.  Their goal may simply be to entertain or lighten a dark mood.  More complex poems and songs may strive to communicate a vision or express an intricate concept.  They may hope to force their audience to consider alternate worlds or visionary ideas.

Ultimately, the success of these goals depends on the appeal of the work.  Skill, while clearly necessary, is not usually the determining factor for an audience.  Instead, the audience seeks connection to the message.

I can read volumes of poetry and find only a small number that spark connection; however, I can name many songs that have provided this.

To each his own, of course.  Some might feel that pulsating rhythm overshadows lyrics, making music more of distraction than a means of communication.  But for now, I will choose musical poetry over the textbook kind any day of the week!

1 comment:

  1. Ashley, I too, love music. Music has always been a form of poetry to me. The following is the end of a eulogy speech that I did for public speaking, it was my Dad's eulogy that I wrote: When the wind blows gently, it’s like a whisper from Daddy that says just as his headstone reads: “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be alright.” Gone are the days that I can walk up and give Daddy a hug, but I know he will be waiting for me with open arms the next time we meet!
    Let me end with a few lines from 12 Stones song “Crash”

    "And I feel like I’m falling farther everyday
    But I know you’re there watching over me
    And I feel like I’m drowning, the waves crashing over me,
    But I know that your love, it will set me free."

    Another song that really helps me is "Somebody Wishes They Were You" by Adelitas Way. Some lyrics are:
    "Life ain't that bad, look what you have,
    When the high's aren't so high, just do what you can.
    A world you can change, and a life you choose.
    'Cause somewhere out there,
    somebody wishes they were you."

    I, too have music playing at all times, it's good for the soul. For the record I particularly like hard rock, and I love Zeppelin!