WHAT SONG IS YOUR POETRY: PART 2
I asked six poets a question: if you wrote the poem that most completely satisfied your ambition and ideas about poetry as art, what song would it be?
“A New Career in a New Town” — David Bowie
Just the (unspoken) title alone is something to strive for. It contains an entire narrative that isn’t even there. I like it that way. I want to be more mysterious. More full of faith that this time I won’t fuck it up. Or at least confident that, when I fuck up this time, I’ll fuck up better than ever before. It’s what I’m striving for: a piece of something that acknowledges the past but plays inside the present while kissing the future full on the mouth. It’s a song that points us towards something better than where we are while reminding us of what we were. Fragmented, yet full. Backward looking, but ready to go, and always only to return.
“Street Fighting Man” — The Rolling Stones
Something about the opening chords, that duh-dun, and when the war drums come in, it makes me want to kick over trash cans and spit on children.
Whether or not that comes across in my poems is another story…but I’d like to think that there are ideas about masculinity, obviously, and also the expectancies of masculinity—like what is a poor boy to do—ideas that I keep in mind when I write. It’s a visceral song too but doesn’t sacrifice fun, real shit-kicking fun, by being aggressive.
I’m not so interested in the political implications of the song, at least not in any specifics terms, but if we’re talking about politics in a general sense (i.e. “said my name is called disturbance”) then, yes, this is something I will often work towards.
Really, I want my poems to be mean, to wear their meanness rolled in the sleeve of their white tees, just as quick to push you in the dirt as they are to buy you a beer. I wish my poems carried switchblades.
“Bewildered” — James Brown
First a beat, then “bewildered”, then “lost”, “in a dream.” Powerfully basic, raw speech, delivered casually, slowly, delightfully, mournfully.
There are moments during which you can feel that he’s still asking himself the questions that fueled the song, and it sounds like the audience has disappeared. His enthusiasm starts to feel a bit haunted, but then there’s one scream, and the others return. This is a relief, but you’re glad they left you alone with him for a bit.
Turns in the lyrics melt into the phrasing seamlessly enough to do a little spinning in you without slowing you down: “I’ll never understand / how you can love me / and leave me / bewildered.” There is ecstasy, humor, pain, and revelation in his voice, and the control-to-recklessness ratio is inspiring. I can hear it all, the whole person; I hear a life.
I hope to feel thrilled by poems, maybe even a little scared (of what humans are capable of), and then seen. I’d like to believe I could write a poem that does everything this song and its performance do, but it would be quite a feat for a poem to live at this volume. I’ve been reading Alice Notley’s In The Pines, and this line comes to mind: “It’s almost a story or a poem but it’s really a song because it’s ripping me apart.”
And here’s part one, with Lisa Ciccarello, Mark Leidner, and Janaka Stucky, in case you missed it.
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