argo part

2 posts

If Music Be the Food of Poetry, Play On!

arvo part

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
before dawn,

in the kitchen
before the lake,

when the windows
are rain-runneled

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?

Ideal Conditions for Writing? Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

What are ideal conditions for writing? Far be it for me to offer advice, but since you didn’t ask, I’ll relent.

First of all, it is a myth that poetry, unlike it’s more verbose cousins (novels, plays, essays) is best written on paper. Sure, many famous poets wax poetic (what else?) about blue ink on long yellow legal pad, but me, I find the blizzard-like beauty of Word-.docx white just as enticing. Why? To preserve erasers. Nothing gets revised as many ways to Sunday as a poem suffering birthing pains. The confetti of eraser sheddings gets bothersome.

Writing position? As the Poles say, in their poetic way, on your dupa. (If you’re Polish and notice a misspelling, please forgive me.) I love Mark Twain, but never understood his elderly habit of writing in bed. Isn’t there a famous blues song, after all, called “Don’t Write in Bed”? (Ear worm works its way into my cochlea.)

Writing atmosphere? We cannot control the high and low pressure systems the Weather Gods (and their inept interpreters — read: meteorologists — on TV) send our way, but we can adjust ambience. For me, poetry is best written to classical music. Reason? The aforementioned ear worm. It doesn’t turn and do its night crawl when the music lacks lyrics.

Music with lyrics is like someone reading over your shoulder. Or worse, someone whispering another man’s poem in your ear while you are trying to compose your own. Have you ever tried to recall a song while another is playing? It puts the caco- in cacophony, let me tell you.

Some of my favorites? I love the Estonian wonder, Arvo Pärt, and his tintinnabulation. Kind of like Poe’s bells, bells, bells, only Pärt does it with more than bells. Like Bach, he’s also fond of repetition. Wave upon wave of musical refrain and echo and repetition. Are these not musical tools in the poet’s toolbox, too?

When Pärt is not around, I go with Johann Sebastian himself. Or Sibelius, whose music has a nice Finnish to it (don’t groan–the Bard is fond of puns, too, and no one groans).

Finally, before I sit down to classical music at the word processor and begin to write, I like to read good poetry for at least a half hour. Wonderful word play by masters sets the tone. Inspires. Fools you into saying, “Shoot. I can do that!” And, make no mistake, this conceit must be present, even if it is a wild conceit.

Results may vary, as they say. As will definitions of “ideal.” As long as you have some, that’s all. As long as you could write this column, too.