Rumor has it that Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is an acquired taste, like salmon, Brussels sprouts, and all those other things you steer clear of as a kid. Repetition. Tintinnabulation. Waves of mesmerizing music (much of it religious in nature) washing over you.
I love writing poetry to classical music, but none more than Pärt’s. Whether his minimalist style shows up in my writing, I don’t know. In some cases, a definitive maybe. Can music genes long-jump to writing ones? And what is the sound of one note writing, anyway?
Koan-like questions, but some say ours is not to ask why, it’s to accept when inspiration strikes (with help or without), which is why I steal a page from the Bard and say, If music be the food of poetry, play on. (Yes, I snuck “poetry” in for “love,” but, in the final analysis and after checking the nutritional facts, what’s the difference?) The preceding link is to all instrumental pieces by Pärt, but you can find plenty of choral works, too, such as this meditative collection or this old favorite.
If your Muse is not inspired, it may sneak away for an Estonian nap. And yes, dozing mid-poem can be refreshing, too. To coin the well-minted Shakespeare once more: “to sleep, perchance to dream the next line.”
For an example of a minimalist poem from The Indifferent World written under the influence of Pärt, here’s a poem that’s so simple and so given over to mood that it may seem like empty calories to some, but it’s all a matter of taste, of course. Strawberry shortcakes and hot fudge sundaes with whipped cream are empty calories, too. It doesn’t mean you always scowl and put your nose up when they’re offered.
“Sitting in the Dark” by Ken Craft
In the dark
in the kitchen
before the lake,
when the windows
and the room
is still shadow,
I like to sit
and stare at black
glass glaring back,
beady with reflection,
runny with rumination
and the slip of sadness.
Though I don’t think ole Arvo has read any of my poems, I think he would approve of that little guy. Nothing fancy. Simple words. And not the best poem I ever wrote, but it does mirror a contemplative mood–one created while writing to Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, as I recall.
How about you? Do you write to music? And does it sometimes infuse the blood of your poems-in-progress?
2 thoughts on “If Music Be the Food of Poetry, Play On!”
My favorite piece of his is “Spiegel im Spiegel.”
I write in silence, or at least as much quiet as can be had in an apartment. Music commands my attention, so I can’t have it on when writing.
I like “Spiegel” as well. As for music scrambling your muse, I have the same problem if the song has lyrics. I catch myself either listening to the words or singing them (if I know them).
If it’s classical or the words are Estonian to me, no problem. It’s background inspiration, is all. It’s an individual choice, I realize, different from writer to writer.