Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

February 11, 2007

The Lyric Minutiae (or the ee(cummings) in (katharine mcph)ee)

In a recent forum thread, the scanning of poems was touched on. It was asserted that one responsibility of the poet is to captivate the reader; such that if readers are losing track of theme and meaning, if we are not drawn in, the poet did not write the poem well; thus a significant difference between a good poem and a bad one. Let’s take the next step: even after all the right work is done to a poet’s best ability, we may get results from the ear of a gifted poet, or one not so gifted.

As a musing or inspiration becomes cast onto the page by a poet, no rules exist in poetry that cannot be broken. Even modern sonnets do not have to be 14 lines of iambic pentameter, nor with a regular endline rhyme pattern.

One general rule is that each word must count in a poem, moreso than in conversation, an essay or a story. And each word must count even moreso in the lyric poem than the epic or dramatic. Part of the reason is how we read a lyric. Words so cast upon the page, draw attention to the minutiae in language such that, it is not only the words but each sound and sense, each nuance of each syllable that becomes vitally important, even how each letter looks next to the others and in relation to the white space.

Below is E.E. Cummings’ lyric poem “anyone lived in a pretty how town.” Following that, is Katharine McPhee singing the song “Better off Alone” (and it is her song, not the homemade video that is applicable to this post’s purposes). There are other great lyric poets, and other great lyric singers, but these two illustrate the point of the lyric very well for us–just as others would.

Cummings pays attention to each vowel and consonant sound in his writing. McPhee does this in her singing. And they both do it, not only to the benefit of the flow of the lyric, to captivate us, but to the enhancement of each and every sound, every sense, and each and every moment as the lyric goes through its time.

McPhee, for instance rarely holds a steady note, nor sings a syllable like the previous, or the next. She charges each moment of sound with its own individual greatness: with soul. Cummings is blending rhymes and near rhymes, alliterations, archetypically charged words, in his own soulful way. These are living creations for us. Through both these works of art, the poetry lyric and the song lyric, our language is brought to supernormal heights, that only gifted artists who then work at their crafts can achieve to the high benefit of the rest of us in the culture.
 
 

_____

 
 

 
 
by E.E. Cummings (1894-1962)
 
 
anyone lived in a pretty how town
 
 
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain
 
 

_____

 
 
sung by Katharine McPhee
 
 
written by Austin Carroll, Susan Marshall
 
 
produced by Emanuel Kiriakou
 
 
Better off Alone
 
 

 
 

_____

2 Comments »

  1. Two absolutely spot-on examples of how-ev-ery-sy-ll-able-counts

    Comment by AnnMarie Eldon — February 12, 2007 @ 10:34 am

  2. It’s great to see you. Thanks for being the first one to post at the new blog. And thanks for confirming.

    (I thought I had it set for comments to come through, but there must be a box I didn’t check.)

    Comment by Clattery MacHinery — February 12, 2007 @ 12:07 pm


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