Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A Recipe for Sound

05:00:00 Posted by Lara Clayton , , , , , , , , , 5 comments
I would describe myself as a page poet. By this, I mean that my poems work better on the page than they do at a microphone. I am not a performance poet and, more importantly, I don’t aspire to be one. I’m instinctively shy and just convincing myself to stand in front of a room full of people is challenging, then asking me to read poetry is even more difficult. But I do it. I stand at the microphone and read my page poems. I do it because it’s always good to do something that frightens you – throws you outside of your comfort zone – and when you survive, it makes you realise that you can be stronger than your greatest fears.

I’m a page poet that likes sound. That cares as much about how my poetry sounds as the way it looks on the page. I don’t just look, but I listen as well. I read aloud as I’m writing, feeling the lines rolling off my tongue and changing anything that doesn’t ‘sound right’. However, regardless of how much I like sound, it needs to work in conjunction with the overall meaning. It can add strength and emphasis to a poem. But on its own it will never add the depth and the multitude of layers that I love within poetry.

I can use sound to give a poem a specific feeling. I can manipulate assonance or alliteration, not only to accentuate a line but, also, to impart harshness or softness. If I consider syllables – stressed and unstressed – and place them in a given order, then I can create rhythm. If I use a string of monosyllabic lexemes in short lines, then I can create the illusion of speed, haste, panic. Therefore, I would argue that sound is as important to poetry as a line break – although probably not as important as the connotative meaning of individual words.

Recently, my mind (usually in the early hours of the morning) has been thinking about a new analogy for poetry. Like a simile it can allow you to think about things in a different way, and this can often enable you discover something new, something that you hadn’t considered before...

Poetry is like cookery. You start off by following recipes, weighing everything out and following each step. Then once you’ve mastered the basics you begin to experiment: taking what you’ve learnt from the recipes and applying it to something new. You learn the rules before you start to break them.

Cookery is about balancing ingredients, while poetry is about balancing words – with all their meaning, sound and power. If you get the balance wrong, it creates something that is inedible. For instance, it doesn’t matter how much you love spices, with all their autumnal colours and vibrant scents, if they’re used without a degree of skill then you’ll create something that fails to function as a meal. The very same philosophy is applicable to sound. It doesn’t matter how much you love sound, if you don’t achieve the right balance with poetry’s other ingredients then ultimately the poem will fail to fulfil its full potential.

Poets should be aware of sound, should employ sound techniques, and should care about the overall sound of their poem. But, equally, sound should be used like a spice: with care and caution.

Thank you for reading,



Ste said...

'However, regardless of how much I like sound, it needs to work in conjunction with the overall meaning. It can add strength and emphasis to a poem. But on its own it will never add the depth and the multitude of layers that I love within poetry.'

That's what I tried to say recently on the DGPS Facebook page (and somehow pissed someone off - it's becoming a talent!) - Lyricism is a huge part of poetry but it's not the be-all and end-all. Coming from a musical background and having started writing for the sake of having some lyrics, I find myself rhyming almost by accident. What I really like about your stuff, Lara, is that you don't feel the need to. The poetry is in the placement of a word, just-so or the juxtaposition of imagery. I'd be very interested to read something from you about those 'depths and layers' Again, thought provoking. I shall be doing a lot of hmming and chin stroking before tonight :)

Ashley R Lister said...

Poetry and cookery ?

There's pans
and there's cans
and there's old tinned hams
in our Dead Good poetry kitchen

And we rhyme
And we bake
Makin' poetry cake
And the taste is described as being bitchin'.


vicky ellis said...

I like the cooking analogy because it reminds me that I am the kind of cook who throws ingredients into the bowl and sometimes serves stuff that tastes wrong. But it's OK - that's how I learn. I agree that it's good to learn the rules so that you can break them but I also love it when someone has obviously thrown caution to the wind and written something mad and a little bit wrong :) Perhaps those poems won't ever taste quite right, they won't win any prizes at the summer fete, but I do love the sense of abandon which goes into them. Here's to the carefully crafted poem and the lawless frenzied verse. May they coexist at poetry events forevermore :)

Jim Murdoch said...

I do not write poetry to be read aloud. I’ve only attended three poetry readings in my life and I never enjoyed any of them; the words pass by too quickly and I can’t follow them. Poetry, by its very nature, needs time spent on it, in its writing and in its reading. A poetry reading is an onslaught of words and, let’s face it, not all poets are good performers of their own work. A poem has a shape and that is lost in the reading. There will be those who argue that, yes, it is lost but other things are gained; it’s a trade-off. I don’t mind hearing a poem read if I know it well—it’s often interesting to hear the author of a poem read something you’ve been familiar with for years—but even Larkin (who I’m thinking of as I write this) didn’t do readings; he did record his poems but only, he said, to should how they could be read, not how they should be read. This doesn’t mean that sound is not important to me when I write and I have been known to read both my poetry and my prose aloud to ensure that the sound is right—which is why my poetry can, and has, been read aloud (there are a few examples on my website) but, on the whole, it’s not something I’m fond of. I have a poem to record for qarrtsiluni as I write this and I’ve put it off for a week but I will have to get to it soon.

scottydotti said...

Luv this idea of poetry like cooking and Ash wat u wrote as always topclass loved it brought big smile to me when im ill luv to all u gr8 bloggers