Friday, 1 May 2020

Madeleine Barnes : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

It’s vital. I learned to play the piano around the same time that I became interested in poetry, and this timing inspired a dedication to musicality, especially cadence, harmony, and prosody, in writing. I remember reading a book of poetry and realizing that a musical experience was taking place, and it depended on spatial arrangement, similar to sheet music. Even though I was classically trained, I loved playing in jazz bands and preferred to play by ear. When I would do this, my teacher, a nun, would scold me and say, “stop and read what’s there.” She insisted on perfect posture and wouldn’t let me hear a song before I muddled through the sheet music. If I didn’t practice and leaned on my ear during lessons, she put a neon green Mr. Yuk sticker beside my name for everyone else to see. Yikes! She required her students to write papers about dead composers and to describe in detail what we noticed about their music. I owe my obsession with craft and lyricism to her. Above all, she taught me that music, like poetry, has a history, and to before you improvise, you better read what’s there. Doing so will make your flair and style stronger when your moment arrives. Whether I’m engaging with music or poetry, I’m absorbed in the moment, connecting to something otherworldly. I don’t necessarily believe in God, but I believe that poetry and music are connected to divine creation. If we focus too much on interpreting art literally, or completely ignore its historical foundations, we risk losing the magic.

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