Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Iambic Pentameter ALL UP IN YOUR FACE

I've been thinking a lot about poetry lately.

Don't click away. This might be interesting.

Probably not.
You know what? Just go a different website. I'll just talk to myself.

My thoughts on poetry as of late revolved around prose, music, lyrics and...AOL? No joke. AOL instant messenger is a big part of this theory. You see, when I talk to my friends on AOL instant messenger (hereby referred to as "AIM"), I talk to them in a way that isn't wholly conversation, but isn't completely dialogue. This isn't anything special; lots of people do it. We realize that if we were to read our AIM conversations aloud, they wouldn't sound like actual conversation, nor would they sound like a conversation between two characters in a book or play if we transcribed them onto paper.

We also realize that dialogue in prose doesn't exactly sound like how someone talks, but is designed to sound like reading what someone talks like. Did you follow that? If dialogue in prose sounded like the way we actually talk, it would, uh, sound a little different, and uh, not quite enjoyable to, ya know, read. The same works in reverse; the things characters say wouldn't sound like real conversation if enacted by real people. They would come off as supernaturally articulate and manufactured. So, in summation, conversations are not prose and prose is not conversations.

At the risk of sounding redundant, music and lyrics have a similar relationship. If you were to transcribe your favorite lyrics into poetry, they end up being shitty poetry. I'm sorry, I don't care which band or musical artist you borrowed them, but the lyrics will turn into bad poetry or at the very least, fail to capture the same feelings you would get from listening to a song. Example:

Dismantle the ground they stand on
Give power a name
(Power a name)
Sad rejection
Learn to follow the wolves

Ok, on its own it theoretically works, but you're not getting the full story with just the lyrics. You can't hear Demon Hunter's singer screaming "power a name". You don't get the punc.u.ated. effect of "learn to follow the wolves." You're missing an awful lot by just reading the lyrics.

Again, the same holds true in performance poetry versus (excuse the lack of a better term) literary poetry. Some poems were meant to be read, and some were meant to be spoken. Just as songs were meant to be sung, books were meant to be read, and AIM conversations can only exists in AIM. In short, nothing is equal to anything else.

Now, here's where talent can help blur these lines. If you're reading a book, you might come across a piece of dialogue that jumps off the page, that sings to you. You can hear the character's voices and the words they're saying sound real. They are words that can never, ever actually become a spontaneous conversation between two living, breathing human being, but if you're reading them, you can become convinced that they could.

Go back to the top of this page and read those first few lines. I don't actually talk like that, but if you squint super duper hard, you can almost pretend I could say something like that, in that way. The way that you read it determines how it sounds in your head; that much is obvious. The punctuation after "So", the line breaks, the three sentences all in one line, all of it helps put together a "conversation" in your head when you read it. You can hear me pausing after "So" and you can hear my speech speed up in those last three lines. The cool part is, you did it all without really thinking about it.

Alright, but what the hell does this have to do with poetry? Well, in the same way that good prose can emulate a conversation, good poetry should emulate a song, or at the very least, rhythm. What I'm saying definitely isn't anything new, and Shakespeare was doing this long before I was even a ham sandwich. I'm sure you could even go back even further than Shakespeare and find more examples of this, but Shakespeare's easy enough to demonstrate.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May

Hear it? ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum.

ee cummings is another poet I highly respect. Check this out.

and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat

he was a handsome man

Just by reading it on the paper, you know exactly how to read it in your head. You have automatically paused after "Jesus" and you have heard "onetwothreefourfive" quick in your head. Amazing. Just amazing.

But it doesn't sing does it? It's not a song and it doesn't emulate a song. That's what I would like to do. I would like to write a song that's only pretending to be a song.

I'm not going to say that I can achieve that, or even come close. I'm no poet. But I've been experimenting by working in reverse -- taking a song and turning it into a poem that reads like a song, without changing the font, text size or colors. Just punctuation, capital and lowercase. Here's what I have so far:

The first attempt was with Anberlin's "Everywhere In Between". The link will send you to my Multiply page, and if you have an account, you can listen or sign up for free. If not, I'm sure you can google it and the streaming demo you find will give you the gist of what I'm trying to do. But anyway, the poem:

and you are my fA.ding phO.tograph.
or rippedup memory
and your bUrn.ing mEmoirs rest. here.
youknow they resthere with me

you are the noise in here. i cannot sleep without
const tant remind ders, everywhere inbetween
you are the way out of here. the grace that i have found
const tant remind ders, everywhere inbetween

i've come totellyou
i'm coming hOme tonIght
i'm on my wAy. bAck. hOme.
and your arms tellme it's been toolOng
i'm on my wAy. bAck. hOme.
and your lips tellme it's been toolOng

Ok, two things that are important here. First, don't read it aloud. It should sound like a song in your head, not in actuality. Second, I know this isn't great. Part of that is because like I said, it's hard to translate a song into something else, and the other part is because I am a shitty poet.

Also, it's important to notice the "toolOng" section. I really struggled with that part, because even though it sounds like that in the song (and I will argue that point ferociously), when you read it on paper, you probably read it just like I did: "tool ong". Am I right? Like I said: Nothing is a perfect translation.

The next attempt is Ill Nino's "Guerrilla Carnival". The link will send you to their myspace page, so now Multiply account required. This poem starts after about halfway through the song.

melt. with. me.
are you afraid. todiehere.
melt. with. me.
are you afraid. todiehere.
melt. with. me.
are you afraid
justletitgo. thisisall. gonnago. misunderSTOOD.

complicated, self-addicted, feeling like i'm twisted, but i.
fight it.
whatever it.

complicated, self-addicted, feeling like i'm twisted. i'm gonna fight it
whatever, it may be
whatever it may be
compensated, self-sedated, feeling bored and fated, i'm gonna find you
wherever, you may be
wherever you may be

Alright, I think you get the point. I'm working on trying it in the opposite direction, writing a poem that gives the illusion of song. I encourage everyone to give me feedback on these, and to be as harsh as you feel necessary, because it's not like I'm married to them or anything.

I told you you should've just gone to a different site.
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