Sunday, September 14, 2008

Re-Thinking Poetry

For awhile, I was into writing short forms of poetry: haiku, sijo, sonnets. I'm not sure that I ever mastered any of them, but they were good writing exercises. At a poetry workshop, the leader--himself a published poet whose work I liked--told me that I should try writing longer poems. Funny thing is that I used to write that sort of stuff all of the time and found that the restrictions of shorter forms required me to whittle away the luxury words and say it with less.

One thing the songwriting workshop showed me was that how some of those old classics like Under the Boardwalk, Up on the Roof, and Stand by Me really pack a lot into a structure that consists of two short verses, a bridge, followed by a final short verse--often just a repeat of the first verse. Sometimes you don't even get that third verse. And the imagery is usually so simple and direct, yet it resonates.

When Peter (the songwriting workshop leader) performed Up on the Roof for us one night, you could tell that the song had resonated with him. He sang with emotion and was practically weeping when he had finished.

Sure, these songs were written by people paid to generate hits, often working in an office building in teams, but something crept out of these song writers' imaginations or memories that gave the songs endurance over time.

The other day, playing Stand by Me at the uke circle was kind of a spiritual moment for me. There we were, just strumming, picking, with the lady singing in her deep, throaty warble. I felt I could have played that song for whole two hours and not get tired of it.

And this type of song grows with time, even though the words and music stay the same. It's kind of like William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience--except the innocence and experience are found in the same song. From a kid's point of view, the song is about the idealism of young friends or lovers. From an older woman's point of view, it's about how and why a relationship has weathered the tests of time--and it's a promise that, even when insurmountable problems close in, at least you can take comfort in those close to you.


Anonymous said...

Good post. I'd do thoughtful posts like this on my blog, had I any thoughts.

Try writing a rondel. Merriam-Webster sez:

"a fixed form of verse based on two rhyme sounds and consisting usually of 14 lines in three stanzas in which the first two lines of the first stanza are repeated as the refrain of the second and third stanzas"

Longer than a haiku, but still constrained. You have to pick each word pretty carefully.

I wrote one once. Long since lost. I then calligraphed it onto a long, thin piece of paper that wound up (on a little crank) into a decorated eggshell and presented it to my then girlfriend. The poem, of course, was about her.

I wonder if she still has it?

Brother Atom Bomb of Reflection said...

She might still have it. But the real question is: has she still GOT it?

Brother Atom Bomb of Reflection said...

Actually, I bought a book on how to write rondels a long time ago. It was called Help Me Rondel.