What Colour is there?  When Songs Sing Poetry?

Slide1

Rock Star painting by Thomas Fedro: http://fidostudio.net/

When music and poetry meet, it can be a beautiful thing.  Sometimes, music can carry and keep words in our minds far better than static words on a page.  A vocalist can interpret and add an emotional connection to the words.   With music, a poem can become an anthem.

So what’s the difference in a song, once poetry gets involved?  This is open to interpretation, and argument, as with any art-form that wants to evolve.  However, I think it’s safe to say that lyrics, which are also poetry, shouldn’t sound too stupid or naked once the vocals or music are taken away.

Songs lyrics can actually be considered a separate literary genre because they build meaning and emotion in a unique way.   Through repetition, tone and rhythm, songs have an incredible power to communicate and tell a story that goes all the way back to tribal times.  The power of song can actually change the meaning of a story by the way the words are sung.  Spoken word poetry works in a similar way; however, this is only one genre of poetry and does not define all of poetry.

A song lyric needs more, or even less, than a strong message or emotion or a desire to be serious, intellectual or important to be poetry.  Of course, that’s arguable.

Slide2

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110 by Robert Motherwell, 1971, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum c/o: Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10881894

However, the most irrefutable statement about poetry is that it is not prose.  Why does a writer choose to say something in this ‘different’ way?  Just to be weird or something?  Hopefully, when we choose to express ourselves in verse it is simply because we think poetry expresses, whatever we are expressing, better than prose; and becomes proof that sometimes the human race feels and communicates beyond ordinary speech and language.

So this week’s video, as part of the ongoing poetry campaign on the lyw Youtube channel, is a poetry compilation, taking pieces of lyrics from popular Western music.  I was so sure I could quote at least one Smith’s song in this video but, alas, these are lyrics that not only need the singer and music behind them but a strong dose of teenage angst.

I started this video with the opening lines from Homer’s, the Odyssey.  It is not a song itself but captures beautifully why literature would want to get up and sing.

Some extra notes about the making of the video:

Google searches for poetic song lyrics are not adequate.  I had to dig through my own library for songs thus totally outing myself and my corresponding generation.  Though part of this video may seem like I am a Baby Boomer, that is actually one good indication that I am, in fact, Generation X.

The second note, about the making of this video, is that I became acutely aware that my search was limited by the English language.  Music is a multi-national and multi-cultural art that unites.  Half my collection is not in English.  I have no idea what these songs are saying and they still mean so much to me.

© lyw

a tantric guide

Slide1a tantric guide is a funny poem about a woman’s introduction to tantric yoga in her pursuit of personal wisdom while living in an urban, middle-class society.

Yoga has been a popular form of exercise in almost every major Western city for decades.  Not only is it great exercise, it helps the body prevent and heal from injury – and some argue, from sickness.  The physical practice also calms the mind and relaxes stress.

Yoga is more than just physical exercise, however, since the physical is enough to cover the above benefits, most of us don’t look further.  In the twenty years that I have practiced yoga, I satisfied myself mainly with just the physical study and a little meditation.

The focus of this poem surrounds my attempt to go a little further out there into tantric yoga — with as open a mind as I could possibly manage.  I started with a book.  I took from it what wisdom I could but had to leave a lot of it behind.

Tantric yoga is a fascinating study that makes the asanas (physical exercises) of yoga seem like child’s play in comparison.  Though there is wisdom in this study, I am glad that I had enough self-awareness to decide what was or was not for me.  I’m also glad that I didn’t close myself completely at the first sign of ‘I ain’t doing that’, for I would have lost the opportunity to find what beauty and wisdom that I did in tantric yoga.  I didn’t forcefully reject anything.  I put aside what wasn’t for me, kept what seemed good for further consideration and continued to the end of the book.

Slide2One needs the courage to be vulnerable to accept life lessons. However, one also needs the self-confidence to know when something is not right for him or her. This may seem difficult if one is trying to learn that self-confidence.  I think your heart will always tell you, regardless, if you listen carefully.  I hope so, anyway.

You know what I think is my saving grace in life lessons?  I never take myself too seriously.  Lessons, I absorb as earnestly as I can but I remind myself that I am an absurd little human and I learn wisdom very slowly and because I am uniquely absurd, somebody else’s mantra is not necessarily my own.

I have wondered if this mindset prevents me from taking the greater wisdom from life lessons.  This has been suggested a few times in my personal and literary studies as much as the opposite.  I do take some things very seriously but this is an exclusive list.  And even then, I think there is room for a little humour.

I hope you enjoy this funny poem despite being a little out there.

© lyw

 

The Art of Looking Sideways, Instead of Up

I read a great quote from actor Tom Hiddleston (loved him as Henry V) who said of his contemporary peers, “I used to look up for inspiration, like every actor does, to people like Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh … Now I look sideways.” [Quote Link]

Most artists learn by studying the masters of whatever craft that we aspire to learn; however, by looking sideways to our great contemporaries we learn to be part of our craft’s current zeitgeist.  Our peers inspire us to get to work towards our own ‘mastery’.  Comparing masters and peers is like saying that was great, what about now?  That’s the great thing about art.  Any creative craft by its nature wants to evolve.  Whether we are great or not, if we’re going to call ourselves artists, we are responsible for now. This may seem like an obvious fact but if you’ve spent most of your career studying instead of doing; it becomes a necessary reminder.

Now, we wouldn’t call anything a ‘master work’ if it didn’t have a timeless quality that speaks to any generation.  However, it’s not comparable to an artist who is living in that generation.  I guess that depends on whether you believe that art is a reflection of its society.

One startling realization, after reading Tom Hiddleston’s quote, is that all of my favourite poets have already passed away or are definitely from an older generation.  I don’t pursue contemporary artists unless they are being loudly celebrated and awarded.  And unfortunately, contemporary poets are not loudly celebrated.

Funnier still is that there are many masters and master works that did nothing for me. A ‘master’ work can suck as much as amateur one, in my subjective opinion, and a master work can easily escape ever being published or promoted, yet I still assume that I should study the established canon more than a contemporary artist.

The poet, Warsan Shire, that I featured in a previous blog is one of the first living and contemporary poets that has truly moved me – ever.  She’s just 28!  How did I find her?  During a Google search for something other than her.

I would love to say that for this week’s poetry video on the lyw YouTube channel, I have a montage of clips from our latest and greatest contemporary poets, but the task to hunt down copyright permissions is not worth a 5-minute video.

Instead, here is a link to some great contemporary poetry contest prize winners online as well as larger poetry sites, with copyright permissions.

Thanks for reading this blog/rant.  I realize many of my opinions in this one are strong and there are many other artists that would argue in other directions just as strongly.  It is just something to consider, and should in no way take you away from your art — to argue about art.

blog by lyw

This Rock Wears a Wild Crown

This Rock Wears a Wild Crown is a poem about a funny guy, royally stubborn in loyalty, steadfastness, inappropriate humour and recreational pugilism.  The zen quality of rocks and the flow of time has failed to smooth any part of this demeanour.

Ironically, this poem and character can be a great yet indirect support to overly-sensitive people or anybody stuck in their own heavy moods.  His inappropriate humour and proud opinions dumbfound sensitivity and disrupt both serenity and melancholy.

Despite his roughness, he is friendly.  Despite his offensiveness, he intends no harm. Despite his admiration for the art of war, he is honest – relatively – more honest than you’d expect, anyway.

And despite my persistent confusion over his approach to life, I can’t help but think he is searching for the same things as me – just in a more combative way.  What is that, ultimately?  Love?  God?  Maybe. I’ll only indirectly admit that in poetry.

I’d like to invite you to meet this character in the poem, this rock wears a wild crown; the latest video installment to the lyw channel on Youtube, promoting poets and poetry through online media, as well as a selected poem from the poetry chapbook, ya helu.

written by lyw

Warsan Shire: the Reads of a Modern, Living Poet

Warsan Shire is a great example of a modern poet who inspires her readers to the point where they engage.  At risk of infringing on copyright laws, her fans have produced their own Youtube videos, blogs and websites to honour her work.  She has inspired her readers to be active and passionate about poetry.

As a result, Warsan Shire has achieved exactly what I aspire towards as a poet.  She has achieved what I think poetry needs in its readership: active engagement — not just for our beloved ‘dead poets’ societies’ but also our living ones; the poets of this era and generation.

Warsan Shire’s popularity on YouTube alone has garnered over 100K views from these independent videos.  Her poem, ‘For women who are ‘difficult’ to love’ has generated so many different interpretations by other artists that it inspires me to think: Wouldn’t it be great, if all great poems, from living poets, were celebrated in such an unabashed way — giving pop music videos a real run for their money?  And suddenly the reader becomes more involved in judging and valuing what today’s poetry market will and should be.

However, we should note that while her readers are showing love, they aren’t obtaining proper copyright permissions; a sensitive issue with the level of share on the Internet. We all need to hesitate when at risk of infringing on another artist’s intellectual property, no matter how good the intentions are. These laws are in place to protect the work of the artists as well as the publishing industry.

However, I have met lots of obstacles in producing the videos for the current poetry campaign on the lyw Youtube channel.  I, too, have worried a few times if I was going too far in the liberties I was taking to show my appreciation for some poets and poetry. Copyright permissions are hard to get.  Contact information for the poets or the publishers is hard to get, as well.   I have done my best to adhere to the ‘fair use‘ concept used in copyright law and persisted because I believe poetry would have more love and reads, if it were more accessible, in a contemporary way.

I have a small story to illustrate a startling point.  In trying to find choice material for this blog’s poetry appreciation campaign, I started digging for poems from my own dusty library.  My library is a collection that comprises four years as an English Literature major, one year working in a bookstore, which gave me a huge discount on all books, and the rest found while wandering through used and new bookstores looking for random ideas to inspire me in any which way.  In this collection I found an anthology of ‘world contemporary poems’.  I must have bought it about 20 years ago and most likely only read about 30% of it.  Just one month ago, while producing the video ‘… a small piece of poetry can sometimes march’, I found the most amazing poet in this book  –  an amazing poet lying dormant and unknown in my own library all this time because he was buried in a 600 page anthology.  Apparently, he is also described as the greatest living poet of the Arab world.  I had no idea!  Again, he was buried in a 600 page anthology.  I was young when I bought that book.  I skimmed!  How easy it is to miss the extraordinary!

And when I discovered that his poems, ‘Song for A Man in the Dark’ and ‘Elegy for the Time at Hand’ weren’t copied all over the Internet like all my other English favourites, I just wanted to shout his poems to the world.  Adunis.  His name is Adunis, aka Adonis or Ali Ahmad Said Esber.  He’s around eighty years old now.  He has no lack of controversy posted about him online but too few poems.

I wish I could show you all the great poems in my library that are not being actively celebrated online.  I would love a great big, ‘show and tell’, online because there are too many poets lost in my library.  I think poetry needs readers to be encouraged to be active fans. I love the passion of Warsan Shire’s fans.  It gives me hope for the future of poetry.  But there is that fine line:  How do we protect the artists and the artist’s industry while keeping our reads bright and burning?   Something to think about.

Till then, this week’s poetry appreciation video(s) are links to two videos produced for Warsan Shire on Youtube by other artists.  Please enjoy this amazing poem, ‘For women who are ‘difficult’ to love’:

written by lyw

Who is Helweh, the Troll?

Slide1‘helweh, the troll’ is a poem about a character who seeks an answer to a question that is thrown upon her: ‘how do you earn a living?’ She is a mythical creature considering the human pursuit of financial security and quality of life. She is a character who finds herself in employment that does not suit her natural talents.

Written with affection and humour for somebody I know, as well as many people who I suspect have a little troll blood in them, she was a former co-worker who I shared many a coffee break and, back in that day, a smoke break. We worked many hours in the same business district and cultivated a strange balance of dedication to our work and finding time for our own personal well-being. She, unfortunately, had a shorter fuse and patience for office culture and never stayed at any job for long.  Funny as hell though and as long as I work downtown, I hope she does, too, even though she would prefer something else.  Office environments need people like her.

This quasi fairy tale / myth was written using the breadcrumb trail of poetry as the vehicle for narration.  The poem is part of the poetry chapbook, ya heluas well as this week’s addition to the lyw channel on Youtube, currently rolling out a poetry campaign making poets and poetry our daily treat and exercise.

When creating Helweh as my hero, I drew inspiration from Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy. In this poem, Helweh’s character makes a hapless comparison between her journey and that of Dante’s epic journey through Hell and Purgatory towards Heaven.

Slide2In regards to Joseph Campbell’s, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, many years ago, I found this non-fiction book a compelling read that dissected the role of the hero in human myth and story. As well, this book left me with the hopeful idea that I am, or can be, the hero in my own life’s story – alas, a hope that I have often found disappointed ever since.  Still, it’s a beautiful and passionate book for a work of non-fiction and I don’t regret this aggravated kernel of hope imbedded in my heart. I humour it sometimes and it keeps me humble. At the end of the poem, I left Helweh with a possible answer to her riddle yet it is unknown if or how she will implement it.  If I, or my friend, have not lived up to the call-to-adventure, then perhaps this Helweh lass will.

As an aside, I remember having a cynical thought when I finished reading Campbell’s book, that today’s real world did not look for leadership from heroes or encourage the possibility of living heroes. It is as if the concept is left to fantasy, film and fiction; for those who wear capes and need special powers.

It was a wonderful journey writing this poem. I did not know how it would end or how I would help Helweh answer her question when I first began writing it.  I guess if I wanted to make myself feel better about Joseph Campbell’s book, I could say that I did answer a very subjective call-to-myself in this poem.

Thanks for reading this blog and please visit our latest link and video to the lyw YouTube channel:

written by lyw

Blog Image Sources:

Atlas Obscura Rakotz bridge: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/rakotzbrucke

Under the Mosswort Bridge: http://www.wizards.com/magic/images/cardart/LRW/Mosswort_Bridge_640.jpg

… a small piece of poetry can sometimes march

 

painting: "Charles Leslie - Landscape" by Charles Leslie (British, 1835-1890) c/o wikipedia

painting: “Charles Leslie – Landscape” by Charles Leslie (British, 1835-1890) c/o wikipedia

Watching the news, reading Hemingway and most non-fiction tends towards that factual quality that says: take it or leave it for what it is.  And when the news is unpleasant, it can leave one feeling a little helpless.  And when such a story meets a great poet, this combination can be an effective vehicle for delivering uncomfortable truths.

Like the news, a poem can inform a reader on all the realities of our day but with a lot more empathy. A great poet can make a news story, the poet’s story.  A great poem invites readers to make the poet’s story, their story – if for just the moment of reading.  Thus, this kind of news can be quite powerful.

Painting: "Magdalen with the Smoking Flame c1640 Georges de La Tour" by Georges de La Tour c/o wikipedia

Painting: “Magdalen with the Smoking Flame c1640 Georges de La Tour” by Georges de La Tour c/o wikipedia

Some of the best poems ever written are about the ugliest subjects such as war, hatred and other such human sorrows and evils.  My purpose in this blog is to attract more readers to poetry not disturb them away, however, since we explore the best qualities in poetry I think this less sunny side must be touched on a little bit.

Langston Hughes was the first poet, in my research, to pull me in this direction.  While his work is very soulful and searching, his poetry is also very politicalfor lack of a better word.  I don’t think he crafted himself that way as a poet.  His life was simply submerged in political and social circumstances and he let that out in his poetry.

painting: James Ward - Gordale Scar c/o wikipedia

painting: James Ward – Gordale Scar c/o wikipedia

Deeper into this research, I found two incredible poets who wrote amazing poetry about war. It was late at night. I was alone in front of my laptop.  I fell into the war poetry of Miklós Radnóti and Wilfred Owen and it felt like the world stood still.  The poems are disturbing but I can honestly say I am grateful to be disturbed by this work, especially the postcard series from Miklós Radnóti.  Not only did he write powerfully but he gave the raw story about his circumstances, while still retaining his humanity and helping me feel my own even when reading about such a horrible time in our history.  I’m being deliberately vague.  If interested, please find the full poems.  They are uncomfortable, though.  His poems brought me closer to that time in history than any film, book, teacher or documentary I have experienced on that subject.  And they are very short poems.

If this blog has peaked your interest, please check out this week’s ‘poetry appreciation’ video on Youtube, … a small piece of poetry can sometimes march, which is a short collection of fragments from brilliant war and political poetry, with a fitting intro from one of Dylan Thomas’ famous poems.  I took care to exclude anything that was too graphic or depressing.  The purpose of this video is not to disturb anybody but to suggest that some poems, some poets – like some subjects – may be worth being disturbed by and to invite readers to seek out these poems, as well as other poets that have the skill to tell our harder stories.

Also, if interested in exploring other art forms that were inspired by social/political circumstances, please check out:

  1. ANPO: Art X War – a 2010 documentary film directed by Linda Hoaglund. This film discusses the post-war American military occupation in Japan through the eyes of visual artists.  http://www.anpomovie.com/
  1. The Wasteland – an uplifting documentary of an artist who goes to Rio de Janeiro’s largest landfill site to create portraits with garbage aided by local garbage pickers. http://www.wastelandmovie.com/
  1. Also please check out Andrew Graham Dixon’s art documentary series on Russian Art where he features the courageous work of the Wanderers. It was available online but unfortunately I was unable to find an active link. He’s prominent on YouTube. I imagine it will become available again soon.

Flipping old-school Poetry Readings

Poetry readings were pretty bad when I was younger – the ones I went to, anyway.  I remember going to a few random poetry events in my late teens.  I convinced myself I wasn’t cultured enough to fully appreciate them and kept going. By mid-university, I wouldn’t go to a poetry reading unless a friend or I was reading.  I needed to be friendly or at least a compassionate fellow writer to sit through these things.

Photo by Ellwood jon.

Photo by Ellwood jon.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if the writers were better public readers. Or there was something else at the event to break up the rhetoric.  A reading could go on for an hour or two, with an intermission in between, much like a theatre play.  The stage directions were: stand or sit there and read.

I remember one lady who read poetry like a monastic chant.  She completely spaced me out; I have no idea what her poems were about.  I was no better.  I would shake like a leaf and bury my head in my piece of paper.

Poetry, like Shakespeare, is often read in the most grim and joyless manner even by some famous and well-established actors – regardless of whether the poetry is tragic or not.  I think this is due to English classes that teach poetry as something very serious and important.  It wasn’t until I studied Shakespeare in university that I had a great teacher who deconstructed the human passion out of our academic studies.  Poetry and Shakespeare was not written to be bitter medicine for my intellect but because it was printed, performed, or whatever to be experienced – be an experience.

A couple of years ago, I had a great idea.  I clearly lack the connections and charisma to pull it off, so this idea is free to be taken by anybody who does – and has interest, of course.

My idea was to make poetry readings into theatrical spectacles — though more like a little circus than a play.  The writers would collaborate with a small theatre group and have the poems performed at a small, cozy venue like a café or bar.  Three or four small stages or platforms would be scattered throughout the venue.  A few times throughout the evening, there would be a pleasant call to attention and the stages would be used to perform a series of poetry that ran for no longer than 15 – 20 minutes, alternating stages per poem.  The stages could also be used to showcase other live talent between poetry sets.  The audience could sit but also move around and mingle.  And there could be themed parties! Like a masked ball, disco-nite, a Brazilian carnival, a Mardi Gras party, etc.  Lots of possibilities, no?

So that’s the brainstorm.  I haven’t done disco in decades and never with poetry.  Maybe somebody can do something for me.

Thanks for reading this blog and please visit our latest link and video to the lyw YouTube channel, promoting poets and poetry through online media.  This week’s selection is written by me from the poetry chapbook, ya helu.  It’s a funny poem about a dedicated but struggling runner:

 

* Photography “Ghost Light on Stage” by Ellwood jon – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

ya helu, a poetry chapbook by lyw

book cover jpgya helu is a collection of poems that I wrote as a poetic self-portrait following the past few years since my mother passed away.

While writing, I didn’t want to be too self-centred in my approach to these poems. Instead, I tried to write about the people, ideas and activities that I gravitated towards during this time; I wrote about what I found most engaging about them as a way of painting a picture of myself.  The indirect approach to self-examination is sometimes more accurate and appropriate.

The book concept was also influenced by recent studies in classical painting.  Most students of this art usually attempt a self-portrait at some stage in their development.  I wanted to attempt something like this in a poetic form and as a progressive stage in my development.  Thus, my approach to the poems was also very visual and mostly in the third person.  Unfortunately, there is nothing classical about my written form even in literary terms. I haven’t any talent for iambic pentameter.  I also indulged in more humour and absurdity than would be typical of a classical self-portrait.

There’s a great scene towards the end of Virginia Woolf’s novel, Between the Acts.  In this scene, actors performing a festival play turn upon the audience with pieces of reflecting objects such as tin cans, mirrors, candle-stick holders, etc., ‘Anything that’s bright enough to reflect, presumably, ourselves?’[1]  The audience, while watching, suddenly become part of the last act of the play as characters watching themselves in fragmented pieces.

This is a lovely metaphor for how to piece together a temporary sense of identity with a limited human perspective.  In ya helu, I looked at the lives and activities that drew me when I found it difficult to be drawn — from the gruelling desk, the heavy bed, the funny moods — to reflect back to me interesting pieces of myself.

Thanks for reading this blog and please accept the below invitation, welcoming one and all to check out the book as it is introduced through various social media channels:

Please click on this link for a PDF version of your invitation: Ya Helu Invitation

written by lyw


[1] Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts, Grafton Books. 1978 ed.