I’m Sarah Blake. I’ve published a collection of poems about Kanye West that incorporates a lot of research. I’m overall very interested in forms–sticking to them, breaking them, and creating them. I like thinking about what content calls for a significant break in a form, what calls for a new form completely. I like how form can call for interaction.
Here’s a prompt I’ve never tried. Wait–it’s inspired by another prompt that I should start with. Marie Howe once had us take a section of a Whitman poem and replace all the words while maintaining the parts of speech. We were forcing sentence structures on ourselves that we might not otherwise have written. Years later I thought, what if we tried this with bigger structure? And not by replicating a poem’s structure (because most of us are taught those–we’re familiar with those). So what about a song’s structure? Not the lyrics, but the music.
Ok, here’s the prompt: pick a song that you find dynamic. Track its moves. Try to replicate that movement with a poem.
Here’s an example. Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” is one of my favorite songs of all time. My husband and I picked it for our wedding song.
Here’s my attempt at tracking its moves:
At :36 the horns come in and then they disappear
At 1:15 he goes OW! OW! and then is like, can we do that one more time?and then he does it again and again (I love it)
At 1:50 the horns come in again and disappear again
At 2:30 there’s a slight tick of the drums
At 2:50 the drums really come in with this tut tut tut tut tut that foreshadows the repetition that Redding is about to launch into until the end
Or that’s how it works for me. So if I’m going to write a poem that follows that, I’m thinking, how can I start soft? What does soft mean for a poem? What can be the horns? How will the climax happen less than halfway through the song? How will the horns-poem-part reprise? What will be the drums? How will that escalate quickly? How will it foreshadow the ending? How will all of these parts interact and dissolve in its own sort of climatic ending?
You can see why I haven’t tried the prompt for myself yet. Those are tough questions to answer. But man, I like thinking about them.
Sarah Blake is the author of Mr. West, an unauthorized lyric biography of Kanye West, out with Wesleyan University Press. Named After Death, her first chapbook, is forthcoming from Banango Editions with an illustrated companion workbook. Her poems have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Threepenny Review, and many others. She was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship for poetry in 2013. She lives outside of Philadelphia.