How important is music to your poetry?
I really appreciate this question, and I think I alluded to an answer when I wrote about Gertrude Stein’s “Lifting Belly”. Music is so important to me. I was trained in classical piano, and I also studied voice and sang in several choirs as a youth and young adult, so music is absolutely a fundamental part of my life. Music inspires my writing, and there have been a few occasions where I’ve been driving, and I’ve had to pull over to the side of the road to write something down in response to some music I’d just heard on the radio. And it’s really a response, and not an echo – I’d just like to be clear about that. For instance, I wrote a poem that I named after the piece of music that inspired it, Jane Antonia Cornish’s “Wave Cycles” from her album, Constellations. There’s nothing in the music that necessarily evokes being in a hospital room and looking out a hospital window, waiting for the patient in the room to pass away. But that’s where the music took me – I guess it evoked that image for me.
Even if there’s no music playing, if I’m at my writing table working on something, I find that a poem might actually start out as a rhythm, as something that begins with a word or a phrase whose meter just stops me in my tracks for some reason. I think the experience is similar to the way others might be captivated by a particular image. I have some friends who write ekphrastic poetry, where the poem is inspired by a work of visual art, and while I think that’s fantastic, the image is not paramount for me, or at least, not initially. Even when my poems actually do stem from, or are guided by a very strong image, music is never far away, because once I have sculpted a poem into something that has some kind of shape, some kind of recognizable form, I then put it through a process of reading it out loud. I have to hear how the poem sounds in order to determine where it should go, what it needs, or the extent to which I consider it finished. I guess that emphasis on sound, on hearing the poem comes from my musical training and background.