Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sunday Morning Press: Portals and Piers

With or Without Music

When you have a poem to write, that is, a daydream to transcribe or edit, do you play music in the background? Or does the lightest distraction, the most microscopic noise, mute the muse?

Poets who believe daydreaming invites epiphany or at least reveals a psychological truism, require a silence generated by their own special quietude to be productive. Branching from a pre-time pedigree of aesthetes, they operate under a canopy of fragile magic, guided by interior chanting. Break the spell with someone else’s song and a good poem will never be.

Other poets require the mediating affects of music to daydream their way into a poem. They believe we may never realize we are all in a state of shock and that history, more often than not, is haunted by human silence. These poets rely on the benign intrusion of music to alleviate the chill of wordlessness. Like most of us, they are moving toward something unsayable that cannot go unsaid. They conjoin the emotions and memories triggered by their favorite playlist to a personal iconography that becomes a poem we could all use.

Where do you fall? Do you work alone or with music?


  1. Great post! I would have to say that I fall into the second category. I do have certain artists that I listen to when I write, Bob Dylan is at the top of that list.

  2. I always write in the solitary confines of my study or some other room in my house where I can have a peaceful communion with my initial poem idea, and the poem itself as it emerges hopefully with wings as pure as a baby's skin. Writing in a coffee shop, library, classroom or under the influence of my favorite music or some other potentially marvelous distraction just doesn't do it for me. That is not to say, however, that a piece of music, a stunning photo or people or situations that I may have come across in the past do not serve as the grist for my poetry—they certainly can and do.

  3. It depends on the daydream. And it depends on the transcription I'm hoping to create.

    My preferences on this have changed over the years. These days, I prefer writing either in relative silence, or to primarily instrumental music (or music in a language other than English, so that I can tune out the meaning of the words).

    I'd also say that for me music might be more helpful at the beginng of the poem-writing process. I get ideas for poems while walking and listening to music, but in order to really write the poem, I generally need to sit down and concentrate a bit. At those times, music can be more of a distraction.

    One other factor that determines my soundtrack is the noise level in my apartment building at the time. I'll often play music to drown out the barking of dogs, the ringing of door buzzers and the loud neighbors in the hall (where they are busy training their barking dogs in everything except for how not to bark in the hall). Loud sounds, as long as they have beats and/or melodies, interfere with my creative process much less than the quieter but random noises of city life.

    1. When I first started writing poems, I blasted the music. You could hear Dylan and Prince subwoofing in my room while I abused the chunky keys of my word processor. As a result, my poems mirrored a landscape of bullet-punctured doves and women from the northern counties offering anti-heroes shelter from the storm. In other words, images found in the songs of my favorite crooners contorted themselves into my work. I needed the richly associative vernacular of Dylan and emotive screeching of Prince to figure out what I wanted to say about myself and others. It was a fine line between self-expression and coded pilfering.

      But now that I’m older and adopted poetry as a mode of witness and contemplation rather than narcissistic outpouring (or so one hopes), the old songs fail to work me into a tizzy. I need the medicinal energy of silence to write. That is, until the revision process begins. Having finished the hard part of producing the core of a poem, I reward myself with a playlist of instrumental ditties, drawing on their wordless rhythms to discover the final shape of a piece.

      I wonder, though, if the upcoming generation will value silence when they get older. At university, I see students scrolling Facebook on their laptops during lectures or doing homework in cafés while playing iTunes through earplugs. Since multitasking is a euphuism for putting a chore aside until forgetting about it, I doubt students benefit from spreading their focus thin. Goaded by customized access to media, their noetic scaffolding may be grounded on swampy foundations. Have the poets among them ever experienced silence? Will future poetry omit line breaks, where silence makes its mark obvious?

  4. Interesting thoughts about future generations of poets- Societally I wonder about the "multi-tasking" done by our younger people and if it really gets them ahead. They seem to do it so fluidly but is anything really ever getting their full attention?

  5. It should be termed multi-masking not multi-tasking

  6. In silent refuge for me unless of course the sun is whispering in my ear or the wren is screaming words for me to transcribe