Words and Music

Songs combine the rhythm of musical instruments and the rhythm of words. Songs are a mix.

Poetry, on the other hand, and all writing really, is an a capella song. Poetry carries its music through only the instrument of words.

I think Leonard Cohen would understand this. He writes poems and sings them. Songwriting adds more instruments to the music of words.


Sometimes I sit on my favorite river rock and write. The river’s white noise cancels the restlessness of my mind, and in the rustling I find my inner river of thoughts. It is a clearer water I seek, a signal in the noise. I do not play a musical instrument well, and so the rhythm of the river comes to me in words.

Lately, to get away from my own rhythms, I have started listening to my music again. In my world of parenting young children, I rarely listen to the music of my choice, let alone hear the words. I’ve rediscovered the private oasis of the CD player in my car, an island that I control completely. I’ve found myself drawn to what I call “poets who sing”.

An an obvious choice, there is Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Her odd tunings and seemingly off-key singing adjusts my inner sense of melody and expands the possibilities. Joni and Richard Buckner remind me what it means to bleed through words. Leonard shows me that the space between the words is where all the wonderful meaning lives. The songs of Tom Waits and Vic Chesnutt birth an odd beauty out of the darkness.

I am rediscovering my music slowly. The songs that are most intriguing to me now stand on their own as poetry but add the voice of music to blend a new harmony. It is a collaboration to explore as I sing my own a capella songs.


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