IMPROMPTU #5: Sarah Blake

Sarah Blake

Blake - PortraitI’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:

Soft beginning

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.

43 Comments

  • April 5, 2016

    Massimo Soranzio

    Wow! Intriguing prompt, I love it, but — will one day be enough?

    • April 5, 2016

      Carol A. Stephen

      Massimo, that’s what I said over on Facebook. A month, I figure.

  • April 5, 2016

    Mark Staniforth

    OK, I’ve really veered off the brief here, but it’s a piece inspired by both a popular song and an historic closed form (albeit a loose interpretation of it). It’s all the imperatives in “Touch Me” by Samantha Fox, re-arranged into a ghazal: https://goo.gl/M9jpWq. I like how repetition alters the sound, and flattens the sentiment…

    • April 5, 2016

      Misky

      Aren’t you the clever one! :)

    • April 5, 2016

      Sarah Davies

      love the idea of someone using a Samantha Fox song for something poetical!

      I was inspired, but have to say I went off brief , by having to listen to a Glee-type muzak mashup of songs in a cafe recently:

      glee

      It’s only easy listening,
      it’s not easy though –
      this cotton wool and saccharine,
      this sickly processed sweetness –
      pure pop badly cut
      and sold back pre-digested.

      Explain Glee Club to a seven year old,
      or glee as an ideal, that joy
      how does it relate to
      this choir of desexed 20 teen year olds,
      denatured by autotune,
      a host of sub heavenly blandness?

      How frozen maps to foreigner perhaps –
      or katy perry tells survivor how she’ll roar.
      The boys indistinguishable from the girls,
      the girls unwomened.
      Every lyric a substitution as dilution,
      a sweetener when sugar’s craved for.

      This new harmony headaches me.
      Here they are, bronde and gold and blue,
      the granddaughters of britney:
      rihanna with a fag on, old queen bey.
      A bird is mimicking my thin whistle, piping muzak –
      First I was afraid….but…if I was a boy…..

      • April 5, 2016

        Mark Staniforth

        Samantha Fox, Glee… same idea really – like you say, I love the juxtaposition of “trash culture” (or whatever you want to call it) and something inherently traditional as poetry… for me that’s the root of why conceptual-ish poetry works… I love the last line, which lurches the reader off into an an entirely new, somehow triumphant-yet-karaoke-ish direction…!

    • April 5, 2016

      Stephanie Ellis

      Sam Fox and poetry, never thought I’d see the day!

      • April 5, 2016

        Stephanie Ellis

        Oops, comment meant for above. Really enjoyed the dig at the blandness of glee, last verse is a wonderful finale. (Hope this comment goes in the right place!)

  • April 5, 2016

    Misky

    Intriguing method of pulling poetry from the airwave (so to speak). Here’s my attempt, short but I like to keep things tight.

    https://thirtydayspoetry.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/day-5-a-comfortable-fall/

    • April 5, 2016

      Amanda Earl

      loved the sound play here & the dreamy nature

  • April 5, 2016

    Mark Staniforth

    Love the first two lines in particular. You’ve really captured the essence of the song.

  • April 5, 2016

    Vinita Agrawal

    A completely intangible prompt but fascinating to work with! Thank you Sarah Blake. Here’s my poem:
    https://wordpress.com/post/vinitawords.wordpress.com/133

  • April 5, 2016

    Nathalie Boisard-Beudin

    Woah. This is going to take some time.
    Thanks!

  • […] Memory/Ode to Hair prompt” Kate Foley’s “Guilty Pride prompt” Found Poetry’s “Replicate the Movement of a Song prompt” Lagan Press’ “Mind Connections […]

  • […] Susan Powers Bourne Sources: Impromptu | Sarah Blake and You Don’t Own Me | Lesley Gore Process: Finding replicating […]

    • April 5, 2016

      Amanda Earl

      fun twist on the challenge. you could sing this one to the original song :)

  • […] Finally, the Found Poetry Review prompt, today from Sarah Blake, calls for a poem that follows the rhythm of a song.Found Poetry Review […]

    • April 5, 2016

      Amanda Earl

      i hear ya, sister. i don’t know how you’re doing three NPM challenges daily!

      • April 6, 2016

        Carol A. Stephen

        Amanda, not always three. Sometimes the one of the three that takes my fancy… but I am saving the ones I don’t do for later maybe!

  • April 5, 2016

    Amanda Earl

    • April 5, 2016

      Vinita Agrawal

      Lovely imagery in your poem, Amanda!

    • April 6, 2016

      Carol A. Stephen

      great interpretation of the music. Lovely imagery in the lyric too.

  • April 5, 2016

    Stephanie Ellis

    Introducing some Finnish metal to the poetry world. My poem, Seeking Redemption, is here http://stephellis.weebly.com/.

    • April 5, 2016

      Vinita Agrawal

      I liked the raw pain in your poem. Well done!

  • April 5, 2016

    JM Scott

    Wow, this was a tough one. I choose to use “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the poem, I hope follows the movements pretty well. http://candlesticksandcadavers.blogspot.com/2016/04/the-eventual-collapse-of-solar-system.html

  • April 5, 2016

    A. Garnett Weiss

    Am not sure I followed the prompt as it was meant to be followed. Because, when I chose Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” and sang it and then, look what happened!

    Country, western

    So it’s a dark day, and a darker night
    And the rain’s still coming down

    You wanna put down the bottle
    but instead you take another swig

    And when I call you say you love me
    And I hesitate, oh I hesitate
    ‘Cause it’s hard to believe, so hard to believe
    after all that you’ve done, done to me

    I wanna say I love you, too, because I do
    But I hesitate, oh I hesitate

    So I ask, “is it still pourin’? Are the streetlights all on?
    Do they shine up the pavement? Ain’t they pretty”?

    You take another swig
    Then you tell me you love me again

    And I wanna say I love you, too, because I do
    Still I hesistate, oh I hesitate

    till it’s late; time to get off the phone
    watch the rain through my tears

  • April 5, 2016

    A. Garnett Weiss

    I started out following the prompt and chose Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” as the song. I sang it, I read the lyrics to get at the dynamics and then this is what happened. Perhaps Garth Brooks will take my lyrics up and have a hit!

    Country, western

    So it’s a dark day, and a darker night
    And the rain’s still coming down

    You wanna put down the bottle
    but instead you take another swig

    And when I call you say you love me
    And I hesitate, oh I hesitate
    ‘Cause it’s hard to believe, so hard to believe
    after all that you’ve done, done to me

    I wanna say I love you, too, because I do
    But I hesitate, oh I hesitate

    So I ask, “is it still pourin’? Are the streetlights all on?
    Do they shine up the pavement? Ain’t they pretty”?

    You take another swig
    Then you tell me you love me again

    And I wanna say I love you, too, because I do
    Still I hesistate, oh I hesitate

    till it’s late; time to get off the phone
    watch the rain through my tears

  • April 5, 2016

    Melissa Crockett Meske

    A Mellencamp Movement

    The guitar chords strike first,
    but soon the drum cadence joins in,
    As the cymbals crash, the vocals begin.

    Softer at first, because he’s just a young boy,
    Then louder as he asserts
    The grander ideas behind his teenage joy.

    In the background next rises the sounds of an organ
    To premise the sermon for when he takes the stand
    And declares to his girl, “I ain’t talkin…” at least for then.

    Hands clap to mark the beginning of something
    That just hurts so good,
    The drums all get louder; the guitar riffs follow suit.

    Each time the word love is met with loud cymbals on cue,
    As he answers the question “what hurts?”
    And says, “Hey baby it’s you…”

    –Melissa Crockett Meske, April 5, 2016

  • April 5, 2016

    james w moore

    “old hat” – wherein Neko Case’s lovely “Ragtime” gives more than a little shape to my insecurities: http://bit.ly/0ldHat

  • April 5, 2016

    Vinita Agrawal

    Here’s the corrected link to my poem based on Prompt #5

    https://vinitawords.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/splintered-inertia/

  • […] to these IMPROMPTU prompts are to experiment and take in what ever inspiration hurls at you. This cadence poem is no […]

  • April 5, 2016

    m.a.scott

    I attempted to follow the arc of Patti Smith’s recording of Gloria, and it ended up combined with catholic liturgy. https://mascottnapowrimo.wordpress.com

  • April 6, 2016

    Linda Crosfield

  • […] poem was written in response to a prompt posted by the Found Poetry Review, written by poet Sarah Blake. The instructions of the prompt stipulate that a song be used as a […]

  • April 8, 2016

    Wayne Berninger

    ALL AGES (with apologies to Jane’s Addiction)

    nightclub night transforms nightclubbers into angels of the morning, Angel
    line of inquiry
    all answers revealed, headache repaired, the song of skillet buzz

    I am a persnickety man in every way, trapped in the corner booth, Jamie
    age’s aches
    cigarette burns, all discernible paths forward transformed into mourning

    glorious brothers on prideful paths, we knew when we hit the beach
    mission, theory of
    we’d stay at it forever, noses to stone, persnickety men in every way

    Covered now by creams & unguents & potions of every description
    sunshadows
    we brothers perceive shadows cast by dawn’s early light &

    persist until we are able to perceive shadows cast by
    sunshadows
    dawn’s early light, & we persist until all of the abovementioned is one

    Sincere searching is finished, no crowds left for a leader to precede.
    lead, lose
    Without interesting research topics, scholars attack each other,

    the faculty’s faculties weaken by the by, they acquiesce
    capitulate, withdraw
    thought leaders are exhausted, they lose the land & the citizenry

    unlike the citizenry, they choose no kin, adopt no strangers
    do not pass go, do not collect $200
    the faculty’s faculties weaken by the by

    we are left with appendices, we are left with appendices
    we are left
    we are left with appendices, we are left with appendices
    we are left
    we are left with appendices, we are left with appendices

    Sensuous, sensitive shepherd, reclines upon his maternal ancestors, adores
    adorns
    he & his maternal ancestors, each the puzzle piece that completes the other

    we are left with appendices, oh maternal ancestors
    never be startled
    darkness is safe harbor for severity’s mirror

    once more, with feeling, with appendices
    .

  • April 10, 2016

    Richard Walker

  • […] 5: Sarah Blake Reference: “I See Fire,” Ed Sheeran for The Hobbit: The Desolation of […]

  • […] Finally, the Found Poetry Review prompt, today from Sarah Blake, calls for a poem that follows the rhythm of a song.Found Poetry Review […]