Poetry is SOUND before it is SIGHT.
This rule is especially true of songs. Notice how Dolly Parton carefully uses elements of her voice to convey the meaning of the words in her famous “I Will Always Love You”. This is one of the earliest versions of the song.
In special cases, however, Poetry is SIGHT before it is SOUND.
SIGHT becomes an important element when the poet decides to play with the position of the words on the page.
Shifting the position of the words is one of the hallmarks of free verse. When a single word is placed on a line, with other lines presenting longer phrases or sentence elements, then that single word carries a gravitas far greater than its mere meaning and connotation.
The typography of the words *can* capture us visually before the ideas capture us. If the *shape* of the letter ensnares us, we will stay to read the ideas.
One of the earliest poems (that I am aware of) which plays with the typography is George Herbert’s “Easter Wings”
The soul is in flight to Heaven, and wings help us understand this. Then we start to realize Herbert’s hidden point: on Earth we are like caterpillars, inching along. We enter a cocoon state (death) prior to our soul’s in Heaven being transformed into something new and gloriously wonderful—just like with butterflies.
Lewis Carroll does not have such a deeper image in his Mouse Tail (Tale), yet he plays just as strongly with the typography.
With free verse, it is the SIGHT, the typography, that captures our attention.
Divide to Conquer
The realm of poetry can be divided in two different ways:
1st, the purpose of the poem.
- Lyric (songs of emotion, virtually everything we hear in music)
- Narrative (story songs, lot of the hits by the Eagles: “Lying Eyes” and “Hotel California”).
- Dramatic (story without exposition, folk ballads like “Lord Randall”).
2nd, the method of the poetic structure.
- Pure Verse
- Blank Verse
- Free Verse
These three methods are our focus in this season of blogs.
This is the poetry we are conditioned to accept. It is controlled by Rhyme and Rhythm. The poems of childhood and the songs of our everyday life fall into this method. Even rap music has an expected rhythm (beat, cadence, meter) as well as rhyme. This is Dolly Parton’s “I will always Love You” or George Harrison’s “What is Life”.
This is Rhythm WithOut Rhyme.
Blank Verse is usually intellectual. Think Shakespeare, especially the major dramatic speeches: Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” and Hamlet’s “What a piece of work man is” or “To Be or Not” soliloquy. Think Robert Frost at his best and most unexpected, in “Out, Out—” or “Once by the Pacific”.
Poetry which is Neither Rhyme Nor Rhythm (but plenty of reason). The poet controls the line in other ways than the expected.
A Word on Line Structures
Songs become memorable when key elements are emphasized. Emphasis through unusual punctuation and capitalization are not acceptable means for our minds unless our minds truly love puzzles.
*Emily Dickinson and e.e.cummings break the punctuation and caps “rule”, but they are purposeful with their rule-breaking. It’s not communication anarchy.
Come back on the 15th for a closer look at the MMO of Free Verse.