Feeling the Beat: Music and Poetry

Sometimes to my wife’s chagrin, I have eclectic taste in music. She rolls her eyes when I listen to country or rap music… As a poet, I feel this wide range of music is beneficial to my writing because music and poetry are closely related artistic expressions. Listening to different styles of music helps me get a better feel for how to use rhythm in my writing.

Rhythm is important, not just as a requirement for a collection of words to be called poetry, but as a tool in that poetry. The rhythm controls the pace, the emotion, the sound, the feel of a poem.

Though I read and listen to a lot of poetry, sometimes it helps me to listen to the more obvious beats of music. The train of Johnny Cash trudging by Folsom Prison. The slow, drawn out emotion of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The upbeat (in tempo and emotion) sounds of the Black Eyed Peas.

Songs that employ changing rhythms are particularly interesting. Sometimes rhythm changes as emotion or content changes, and mastering this is good for poetry. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and “Load Out” by Jackson Browne are good examples.

All of this music derives meaning through both rhythm and content. Just like poetry.

p.s. My wife’s blog is right here. She posts amazing vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free recipes.

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2 thoughts on “Feeling the Beat: Music and Poetry

  1. Poetry is always for the ear, and only incidentally for the eye. Old Irish poets used to learn the oral literature in pitch-black “singing huts” where the ollaves (master-poets) recited all the songs. I don’t compose while listening to music and sing back whatever’s tiding in my ear at the moment. (Might be Bill Evans, might be Outkast.) :)

    • I don’t compose while listening to music, either. They have to be separate activities, or someone else’s song tries taking over my poem.
      The only exception is when I write in a public space. You can’t do much about music then, but it becomes part of the image that I’m painting.

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