Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Tyranny of Poetry


If you’ve visited here before, you may know that I love reading, and writing, and words, and the way words are used. In fact, I often fall prey to the tyranny of poetry, a phrase that came to me this afternoon. I’d been thinking about a note I sent to a colleague and wondering if it had been a bit over the top, and whether I’d been blacklisted (it happens). When the inbox remains eerily empty for nearly a week, where normally there is an abundance of messages, you can’t help but wonder.

I get into all sorts of trouble because I cannot resist the rhythms, the shapes, the varied and marvelous meanings of words. Perhaps it's because I'm also a musician; my thinking seems dominated by rhythms, tones, and structure, whether it's in music or in words. Much as I revel in the internal harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic structures in music, I delight in parallel constructions, tidy metaphors, expansive vocabularies, the cogent appeal of a well-turned sentence, and the inevitable and natural rhythm of iambic pentameter.

I’ve never met a thesaurus I didn’t love, and I confess to being “one of those” who reads the dictionary for fun. (And in each of my choral folders there's a stack of crossword puzzles for those occasional stretches backstage or before rehearsal when I need a quiet bit of something to do.)

Words can be seductive, enticing one into entrapments and snares, woven of golden and silken threads that are so beautiful, sounding and feeling so very good that one fails to see how very dangerous they are.

Now, while this propensity is useful when I’m writing poetry, or describing a bird watching outing, or (especially) writing about my musical experiences, it can sometimes be a real liability.

I always have to be on guard not to introduce lyricism for its own sake, despite the temptation.

If I’m writing a report for a client, for example, I have to work very hard to keep excess poetry out. The client does not care if I’ve used a beautifully turned metaphor, and he may not even notice the subtle phonetic or orthographic alliterations that turn dull prose into something bright and interesting. He may sense that this is not “business writing as usual,” but will probably not take time to consider what makes it different and why he might find it interesting and engaging.

In writing program notes, a certain amount of lyricism is encouraged, even expected, but only when it serves the larger purpose of illuminating the music about which I’m writing.

My biggest challenge comes in personal communications, especially when I'm writing to those who also love words, who I hope will respond to the lyric touch. But too often, I let words shape my message, rather than the other way around. The poet in me hopes (assumes?) that the reader will sense my desire to impart beauty and to rise above the ordinary, and will understand that I let the words flow because they must. I regret that this writer-reader connection doesn't occur as often as I hope it would. In my personal interactions, I probably confuse and distance people who read or think prosaically, or who don't expect sudden influxes of lyricism in routine communications. And email complicates everything, since it’s too damned easy to send off a message and impossible to recall it, and where, like a comet, a sent message seems to leave a burning trail of regret as it flies off through cyberspace. [See what I mean??]

So the days go by, and I wait and wonder and worry.

[Oh, isn’t that the coolest alliteration?]

[revised 10-23-09]

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