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
 
 

 
 

_____

December 24, 2006

J. Geils Band’s ‘Floyd’s Hotel’: A place to get our poetic souls back

 
 

 
 
For Christmas, I got myself The Morning After, the 1971 album by my favorite band to see in concert in my teens, the J. Geils Band. In those 70s, some of us from Massachusetts had good friends from Manchester, NH. And I remember one time being in a car heading home from Montreal, with a mix of us as we all got into singing and swaying to the song “Floyd’s Hotel,” a song written about a New Hampshire hotel, done by the Massachusetts-based band. I have many J. Geils albums, the early albums, and the concert ones mainly, in a box down in my basement–but never got this one, and always should have.

Another thought, in watching the video below, it occurs to me that the latest American Idol, Taylor Hicks, has a similar energy to Peter Wolf. This makes me wonder if there is an influence there. I have no inclination to go see Hicks in concert or buy his albums. The reason might be that he comes across too pop. R&B and Rock ‘n Roll, versus pop, are rooted in the realities and hard core emotions of life, which include such a hotel as Floyd’s and the encounters there. The song enters that world, becomes an anthem for it, and speaks from it. It may turn out to be too “bold” a move for someone like Hicks to do, even if he wanted to. Maybe Hicks has sold his R&B soul to the American Idol devil.

Now, we come back full circle to J. Geils, and whether the band sold their souls in their later albums. The song “Centerfold”, a song I would not buy, does not address human sexuality the same way as “Floyd’s Hotel.” How do you get from “South Side Shuffle” to “Freeze Frame”? One answer might be through the Love Stinks album. Other answers, though, might be through the easy life or the desire for the popularity of pop. Do we need to forgive the band for selling out before they broke up? And, if so, do we forgive Geils and Hicks alike?

The difference between the tightrope Taylor Hicks is walking, and the J. Geils Band’s historic journey, is in what Geils demonstrated: that it could be done. J. Geils Band represented the artistry, or should I say the poetry of all R&B artists, in showing that they could do other types of perimeter-inspired poetry as well. “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold” are standards that will survive in pop culture far beyond we who are living today, as will the band’s blues rock survive for R&B seekers in forthcoming generations.

The best pop artists, the ones selling the most records, are not doing it because they do it better. That’s settled now. The challenge Peter Wolf and the J. Geils Band has for any pop band or singer, is can they now, with their talents, sing from their for-real souls, as well as from their musical abilities. When and if Taylor Hicks can get his pop standards up for forthcoming generations, he will still need to return to his music for his soul.
 
 

_____

 
 

Note: The video is no longer available on Youtube, but here is the Myspace link:

J. Geils Band – Floyd’s Hotel


 
 
The above performance of “Floyd’s Hotel” is from BBC TV’s Old Grey Whistle Test on January 9th, 1973. I have not been able to transcribe the words precisely. Below is what I am hearing. But I cannot make out the first few words, so I include the words from the album “The Morning After” in parentheses, like so:

(She had big rosy red) hips, oh nice and round
Red rosy lips, you know they really got me down

I know very well that that is incorrect, as the progression itself is altered. This is what is on the album:

She had big rosy red hips really knocks them right on
She had juicy red lips that really laid me down

It is interesting to hear how the progressions are different from the album in 1971 to the 1973 rendition. What has come out, and been replaced is this:

Smilin’ Jim, he’s the cat that checks you in
Big fat Smilin’ Jim, you know he signs you in
Don’t ask where you goin’
He don’t care where you been

What we have instead, is the Hyde Park stanza below.

If you hear it better, let me know. I am open to corrections.
 
 
 

_____

 
 

performed by J. Geils Band
            Stephen Jo Bladd, drums
            Magic Dick, harp
            J. Geils, guitar
            Seth Justman, keyboard
            Danny Klein, bass
            Peter Wolf, vocals

 
 
written by
            Seth Justman
            Peter Wolf
            & of course, Juke-Joint-Walden
 
 
Floyd’s Hotel
 
 
(She had big rosy red) hips, oh nice and round
Red rosy lips, you know they really got me down
She stuck me in a taxi
And drove me way across town

She got me down, down to Floyd’s Hotel
She got me down, down to Floyd’s Hotel
Lotta cheap rooms
Always something nice to sell

Fellow there, you know they call him Tyrone
Fellow there, you know they call him Tyrone
He don’t care where you go
Always leave you alone

Met a fellow hanging out in Hyde Park
Walking around Hyde Park, met a fellow called Tyrone
That was his name–gave him five quid
You know he really turned me on

Going down, down to Floyd’s Hotel
I’m going down, down to Floyd’s Hotel
Lotta cheap rooms
Always something nice to sell
 
 
 
 

_____

Blog at WordPress.com.