In journalism, there is no music that does not conform to truth; in poetry, no truth that does not conform to music. If you can’t find truth that makes music, you must change truth to make music. ~Judson Mitcham
I’m sure that is not an exact quote, but it is the gist of an idea I heard Mitcham express in a writer’s conference in 1996. He asked, “Where does the poem sing?” At the same conference, Mike Fournier asked us to consider how a poem would sound to someone who doesn’t speak English. He said the sound of a poem is what makes it memorable.
The two books I remember from my earliest reading days were a cloth book and a Disney book. The cloth book began, “How big are you baby, why don’t you know? You’re only so big, and there’s still room to grow.” The Mickey Mouse book began, “Bang, bang went the hammers, and zzzzz went the saws. A new house was being built.” I remember these lines because they were music. As were the Cautionary Verses of Hilaire Belloc I memorized and recited as a child. (“The chief defect of Henry King/was chewing little bits of string…”) Verses may not be poetry, but they can teach us about words that sing.
Charles Olson talked about the poem as syllable + line: The head, by way of the ear, to the syllable. The heart, by way of the breath, to the line. Makes perfect sense to me. I don’t know if this one sings, but here’s a poem from 2004.
The ones we saw: violets in profusion,
dwarf crested iris, trillium,
the ubiquitous cinquefoil.
We stooped to see the brilliant red stamens
on the tiny star chickweed
and exclaimed at acres of mayapple
umbrellas all along the trail.
The ones we didn’t see–
pink lady’s slipper, mountain laurel,
and the majestic rhododendron–
will come in their own time.
And the ones we overlooked
will keep their secrets, while we
will go on planting our huge feet
one in front of the other until
we must lie down with our sisters
among the leaves.