Friday, 17 January 2014

The music of poetry

Most people consider poetry and music to be distinctly different art forms with the expressive qualities of poetry deriving from the narrative and meaning created by words whilst the expressive qualities of music arise from the emotions, atmospheres and drama expressed through sounds. Through words poets can express exactly what their work is about. Composers, on the other hand, lack this opportunity. These people would thus argue that poetry and music are distinctly different. I couldn’t agree less. In this blog I will present one counterargument by exploring the music inherent in poetry.

Working on Wind, Willow, Water revealed the proximity of poetry to music. When I wrote this poem I was not only looking for words that would describe the floodplain, I also wanted the poem to sound well, to be full of rhythm and tension. But even more music inherent in the poetry surfaced when even I recorded the poems. The heightened speech that I used to recite the poem emphasised pitch, rhythm, dynamics - and silences. Together this created the pattern of climax and relaxation similar to that what a composer is looking for in his or her music. The soundscape of the video poem Wind, Willow, Water thus not only consisted of the sounds created on a treble recorder, it also consisted of the music created by the poem.

In creating a poetic soundscape for Wind, Willow, Water I noticed that at times the actual meaning of words was less important than the sound and rhythm they elicited. The very title, for example, consists of three words that alliterate on the letter w to create an undulating and fluid experience. As these words are repeated, the meaning of these words gradually become less urgent than their sound and the imagery those sounds conjures up. Other poets have worked with onomatopoeia to create a similar effect. The poet Billy Letford (see video, copyright William Letford), for example, opens his poem There's Hunners O Burds On The Roofs with made-up words that, I imagine, resemble the sound of a flock of starlings on the roof of a building in a city. 

The landscape between poetry and music is a continuum on which the performance of poetry can be a musical affair that, at times, goes beyond the meaning at times. During my residency at SSW I want to explore the landscape between the two poles to find my own way to express the music inherent in poetry and, ultimately, to create a poetry performance that sings like music.

Copyright text Petra Vergunst

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