Posted on May 5, 2020
I love to read all styles of poetry out loud. The sound of the words is as important to me as their meaning. Poetry is literary music and most classical forms of poetry speak to the musician in me.
The underlying rhythmic pulse and the use of rhythmic sounds in the text provide a forward energy that’s comfortable to my spirit (Carl Sandburg “The Rutabaga Tales”). Colorful imagery and lyrical metaphor touch my soul. I often chose this type of text for the choral pieces I selected for my choirs (Robert Louis Stevenson “I Will Bring You Brooches”). I don’t mind rhyme. I like rhyme, especially internal rhyme (Edgar Allan Poe “Annabel Lee”).
I appreciate poets of all styles who genuinely want the reader to understand the meaning; poets who don’t try to impress me with their powers of ambiguity. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate mystery, subtlety, or the use of veiled images to create mood, but I don’t like the feeling of “not getting it.”
The poetry I write isn’t always inspired—sometimes it’s just utilitarian in my evolution as a writer. I tend to reach for it when I’ve stared too long at an empty page that will not be filled with prose. A short, concise poem can jump-start my frozen creativity. As a bonus, writing poetry often helps expand my store of metaphor and improve my ability to communicate a complex idea using fewer, more specific words.
Posted on May 5, 2020
To me, a personal essay is just that—“the saying” of my personal thoughts, feelings, discoveries and questions. When curious thoughts or grand ideas well up in me, I feel the urge to shape them into words.
The longer I procrastinate the exploration of these ideas or feelings, the more they distract me. Writing an essay is often the best way for me to process life and then move on. I remember a time when I was going through a patch of disrupted sleep, brought on by worries about maintenance issues in my 100 year-old home, I wrote this short piece to help me clarify the whirlwind of emotions:
I walked slowly down the basement steps, pausing half-way as the heavy air wafted up, enveloping me in its dankness. Slowly, tentatively, I continued to the bottom step of the steep staircase and scanned the dry silt on the basement floor, the undeniable remnant of a recent flood. I had been away on summer vacation and this was my welcome-home party. My nostrils were assaulted by the musty air and my spirit sank. I stared at the damage, at the rusted useless drain in the middle of the cracked cement floor.
I feel unworthy to own this home, helpless, as I see it being carried away from me on the tide of disrepair. I know I can’t keep throwing money at this water problem, nor can I pretend it isn’t happening. Water, force of nature, dares me to win the battle, and then leaves me to confront my impotence. What am I doing wrong?
I bought this piece of architectural history because I revere antiquity. I wanted the privilege of caring for it. I wanted a share in its history, but clearly I had failed. I sat on the bottom step and the water within me ran down my face in rivulets and flooded my soul in defeat. It’s so easy to fail, I thought. I couldn’t remember the moment this particular failure began to overtake me but on that day, as I sat there weeping, I knew I had to move.
Posted on May 5, 2020
I’ve always had a yearning to be heard and understood. As a young child I developed an explicit vocabulary so my mother would understand my side of whatever had just erupted into my sibling’s furious tears. At six I could have been a lawyer.
In college, I learned the power of the printed word. Careful attention to sentence structure, vocabulary and style in any academic paper could be the difference between an A or a C. Once, a well-meaning professor, slapped a freshly graded philosophy paper onto my desk and said, “If this music thing doesn’t work out for you, you could always make it as a writer.” He probably meant it as a compliment, but at age 20, I was filled with too many doubts about my worthiness as a musician to appreciate it.
When I began teaching elementary school music, I learned the power of the synonym and the metaphor. I wanted my young students to develop a richer vocabulary, so when I deliberately used a word unfamiliar to them, I’d follow it in the same sentence with a metaphor or a series of synonyms to clarify its meaning.
As the artistic director of the Pennsylvania Youth Chorale, I learned the power of the detail. If I wanted the parents of my choristers to have their young singers at the right concert venue, on time, dressed in the proper uniform, with all their performance equipment in tow, I needed to be very specific in my weekly communications. If I wanted them to read that email, I had to be succinct.
Through a lifetime of extensive journaling I learned the power of honesty and vulnerability in my writing. Journals that hold my travel and meditation experiences, my nightly dreams and daily adventures, are treasure chests of the most intimate parts of myself.
In my 70th year, a traumatic personal crisis shook my world and threatened my very being. When I needed them most, the words I had served all those years, gathered to serve me. They comforted, healed, and eventually propelled me forward into a new relationship with them—into a life-sustaining love affair with memoir.