Poetry Overlords Mk II


Since my last blog entry, I’ve been stuck exploring the intriguing comparisons between poetry and music. I don’t know why, but I just am! And if you haven’t jumped on the “Follow UncannyDerek on Twitter” bandwagon, you’re missing out. Sort of.

Here’s the TL;DR version from my last blog:

Reading poetry out loud is a lot like performing music.

New Thoughts. Little. Yellow. Different.

Now what?

This next part is going to stir some debate, I’m sure, but try to follow me here.

As a musician, I personally find that with music I could record absolutely anything and put it out to the public. I could guarantee it would be understood and appreciated by people.

Take for examples, Fantômas – Suspended Animation (2005) or Devin Townsend – Devlab (2004). Both albums are ambient noise and rather chaotic to the listener. But I really enjoy both albums. There’s no real “sense” to each album and they’re both dramatically different from one another. For the average listener though, there’s no real construct or sense to them. For the most part, I’d confidently say that many people would dislike those albums.

Breaking down the instruments and themes, sure, one could find the inspiration and technicalities built within the albums. That being said, both albums can be difficult to listen all of the way through.

So, Poetry?

Right! So, this is where things get debate-y.

As I said, with music, it could get published despite how normal or bizarre it sounds (as with my examples found above). There’s an audience for everything in music. But with poetry and literature? I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. Sure there’s an audience for everyone, but. . . well let me explain.

There is a certain “universal standard,” per se, that is set with literature in which I think music is removed from. Due to “rules” in literature, a missing period could make or break a sentence. Paragraphs can’t be scattered too far as it could confuse the reader. The lack of capitalization could misplace titles or nouns. I could go on.

Now hold on a second because I know you’re already beginning to think of counter-arguments to mine. That’s good, because I had them too.

Let me yank out a few popular lines from Gertrude Stein’s Sacred Emily which appeared in Geography and Plays (1922).

Color mahogany.
Color mahogany center.
Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.
Loveliness extreme.
Extra gaiters.
Loveliness extreme.
Sweetest ice-cream.
Page ages page ages page ages.

So to start: this is a Canadian blog and she spelled “colour” wrong.

Okay, I’m kidding. But we can see – as readers – how some of the lines, when they are read individually, seem like incomplete thoughts. The final line, “Page ages,” is repetitive and has no commas. It looks strange to the reader and requires some attention when performing it out loud. Should “Color mahogany” have a colon to read “Color: mahogany”?

While Stein’s poem can fit under the same category as the Fantômas and Devin Townsend albums posted above, I feel it is much harder to cater to a literary audience than a musical one due to what some could say “universal standards” put in place with reading.

Someone listening to an album can (mostly) understand when they hear guitar, drums, saxophone, trumpets, piano, or vocals.
But when someone reads or performs poetry, grammar and understanding can get lost in translation.

To ALMOST Conclude

I can play a guitar solo – regardless how awful it would be – but people would still understand it as a guitar solo.

I can perform poetry – regardless how chaotic it would be – but people would have a difficult time understanding it.

With these “universal standards” put in place with reading, such as periods needing to come at the end of sentences, I feel many readers and listeners to poetry may just miss the point. As someone who goes to poetry readings, I often get scoffed at when telling people I’m going. Is it because they think poetry is pretentious, or is it because they simply don’t understand it? Would a “universal standard” to poetry help? Is there even a way to create such a thing?

There’s nothing really conclusive here. It’s more meant to stir the pot and flesh out more ideas.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

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4 thoughts on “Poetry Overlords Mk II

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