Poetry and Music

I use music a lot when I write. A lot of my poems have been written to what amounts to a a “theme song” – a piece (or pieces) of music that fits the emotional texture of the poem. That takes me back into the emotions that the poem is coming from. Writing being the stop-start affair it is (in my case anyway), I find it really useful to have something that can do that. (I also use aromatherapy, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Some concrete examples might be useful here. When I was writing Lighthouse-keeper, I needed to find a way of tapping in to the emotions I wanted – desolation turned inward so long that it becomes a sort of ecstasy. We never see or hear from the “she” of the poem, but I wanted her presence to be quite literally everywhere. I’d been listening to the CD Howard Goodall’s Big Bangs (a seriously good source for this sort of thing), and found the perfect music: ‘Io La Musica’ and ‘Possente Spirto’, from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. Glorious stuff. Well worth seeking out. Just the right mixture of anguish and control.
One that doesn’t need any explanation: writing Seamstress to the sound of Credence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Fortunate Son’…
Less obvious is the music I used writing Skeleton. Early drafts had all swirled around what became the central image: rebirth. I could imagine the way it would feel when you got to the end of the run – the g-forces letting go. Coupled with the sheer lunacy of throwing yourself head-first down a track that the bobsled guys use … (I admire the courage of the skeleton sliders, but I have no desire to try it myself.) I knew what physical feeling I wanted – the sense of emergence, of pressure suddenly lifted, with a touch of sadness (it’s over). I was also trying to write it in very short lines, the words tumbling down the page. The last line – the cold/ the brilliant/ light – crystalized very early on.
Believe it or not, this one is set to Kate Bush. ‘Feel It’, from her very first album, The Kick Inside. The rhythm is from the chorus and the coda; you can actually read the end of the poem over the end of the song, and have them both finish on exactly the same beat. (A minor triumph, which pleases my inner nerd.)

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