Saturday, September 4, 2010

Poetry Prompt #21 – Music & Poetry

“Music resembles poetry: in each are nameless graces…”
                                                              – Alexander Pope (“Essay on Criticism”)
Music and poetry have been linked for centuries; in fact, poetry predates written forms and was originally recited aloud or sung rather than read. Poetry, even free verse, has maintained a musical quality in rhythms, meters, rhymes, articulation, and phonetic timbre. In poetry, as in music, texture is often achieved through contrasting smooth lyrical sounds and staccato or discordant sounds; in poetry, alliteration and assonance, internal and external rhyme, imagery, and mood all add to a poem's “sonic texture.” 

Interestingly, while poetry is often inspired by music, music is also inspired by poetry.  One of the best examples is Stéphane Mallarmé's poem “L'Après-midi d'un Faune” (“The Afternoon of a Faun”), written in 1876. This poem inspired Debussy’s tone poem of the same title. Debussy completed the work in 1894; in 1912, it was choreographed by Nijinsky and premiered by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes at the Théâtre du Chatelet, Paris (with Nijinsky as the Faun).  
1. For this prompt, let’s use music to inspire a poem. 
2. Select a piece of music that you haven’t listened to in a long time (or music that you’ve never heard before). 
3. Before you listen to your music and begin to write, consider how other poets have used music to inspire their poems. Here are a few examples.

4. Now, relax and listen to the music you’ve chosen. 
5. How does the music speak to you? 
6. How do the tempo, rhythms, and meters of the music make you feel? 
7. What images does the music invoke? 
8. Does the music cause you to recall a particular time or experience? A person? 
9. Does the music create an atmosphere of discovery that you can translate into written language? 
10. What story emerges from the music? 

Remember, you needn’t write about the music but, rather, what the music suggests to you. 

Alternatively, you might try writing a poem about what music in general means to you; or you may write about a piece of music that has a special meaning for you. Sample opening phrases: 

They were playing our song…
I never hear that song without remembering...
But, then, I heard the music…
Nothing but sound and…
Where the music was…

Another “musical” possibility for this prompt is to write new lyrics for an old song. Oh, and if you’re musically inclined, how about writing a poem and setting it to your own music?


  1. For anyone interested, there are two great books (both available on that relate to this prompt.

    1. Music's Spell: Poems about Music and Musicians

    2. The Music Lover's Poetry Anthology


    Self-taught dad plays
    Lady of Spain on the
    accordion, bellows-shaking,
    like Dick Contino.

    I imagine the woman
    on the record cover photo,
    behind a fan, coming to life,
    skirt hem in her hand,

    clicking out a rhythm with
    her heels on tavern boards.
    My heart yearns for you. My
    father hoists the accordion

    from its curved, red fur- lined
    case, stored like a Torah-scroll,
    at our bungalow colony in
    Spring Valley. He plays the

    special occasions, bonfires,
    July 4th, Labor Day. We are
    Druid offspring, Simon-Sez
    at Stonehenge, a couple of

    steps at a time beneath a cloud-
    less sky. I'd hear women say
    it's nice to have a husband
    who plays a musical instrument.

    My mother would agree, then
    mutter something under her
    breath in Yiddish about him.
    My father would move on to his

    next song-Bei Mir Bist Du
    Schoen. Rough translation:
    Hey, babe, how about throwing
    some love my way? I adore you.

  3. Thanks, Bob R.!

    This is great. I think you should start Reunion Book 2.

  4. I find this poem so engaging. It blends music, family and childhood memories so seamlessly that it feels as if watching some family old movies sipping wine. Only the movies are "talkies"- full of accordion music.

    Basil R.

  5. Thanks so much for your comment, Basil!

    I hope Bob Rosenbloom visits again and reads your kind words.

    It would be great to get some dialogues started here.

  6. Yes, dialogues would be great. Your inviting me to follow your blog is a great tool. I can now see all your prompt postings on one page and click to go wherever I want instantly.


    PS So visit Bob R.!!

  7. I tried to work with program music, initially- Vivaldi's 4 Seasons and Beethoven's 6th Symphony, The Pastoral. I had hoped the images would just filter in. I think I might have better luck with number only works- Vivaldi's Concerto for 3 Trumpets or even something like Beethoven's Rasamouvsky String Quartets, written in honor of that patron, I think, and try and wonder just who Rasamouvsky was- a Russian Count, perhaps. Some thoughts about Lady of Spain popped up and it seemed like something I could tap into for family and time capsule stuff like Dick Contino. Even with H-bomb tests, I had a happy childhood.

  8. Bob, I think this last posting of yours has the roots of a poem. It seems like it is a deliberate attempt in lightening up the description of the creative process but is quite intriguing and witty.
    SO, there. It is indeed fun to thread the comments back and forth and hopefully engage others.
    Thanks Adele for urging us on with the dialogue..

    Basil R.

  9. Thanks to Adele for acting as the go-between. Or medium. Or conduit. I'm thinking about what I read in a new book by Sean Wilentz about Bob Dylan- songs that are so familiar began with different titles. The music and rhythm would get changed as well. It oculd take months. But that's what we do.

  10. bloom306,

    Editing, revising, changing ... yes, it's what we do.