Monday, 31 May 2021

Adam O. Davis : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

I grew up in transit which meant long trips filled with country music and books-on-tape. One of my earliest musical memories was Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler,” which I maintain is a stone-cold classic. As a child, I loved the cadence of the lyric, “he crushed out his cigarette,” and also its specificity. He didn’t put out the cigarette; he crushed it out. Paul Simon’s Graceland was a mainstay during family road trips and his use of repetition fascinated me: “I know what I know/I have said what I said.” I immediately aspired to that rubberband-like fluency and logic. Finally, my hope for every poem I write is that it have the prayer-like intensity and spookiness of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song.” The song has the bluesman’s skill of making the same lines sound new each time (their initial playfulness giving way to dread), and the atmospherics kill me—there’s something sacred in those acoustics, that pitch-black room in which the singer decries the horrors of his workday knowing the next workday is only a night’s sleep away. All this said, I’m careful to recognize that music and poetry are two separate enterprises—though they can both inspire each other, they can never be each other. As Glyn Maxwell notes in his masterful book, On Poetry, “The other half of everything for songwriters is music. For poets it’s silence, the space, the whiteness [of the page].” Poets have to make the language work double-time to communicate the atmosphere that music does for the song. Plus, a killer guitar solo can make even the clunkiest of lyrics forgivable. Just look at Van Halen.

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