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Can a Song be a Poem?

Can song lyrics be considered poetry?

This article in the New Republic states that “Song Lyrics are Poetry.”

This writer feels it’s a bit murkier.

In The Paris Review, some poets reveal their favorite song lyrics. For instance, Major Jackson picks the Fugees’ “How Many Mics.” A fun read!

After comparing entire poems next to entire songs, I would say of course certain musicians, Dylan, Cohen, Joni Mitchell have songs that could hold up as poems, but there are lots of songs which have one or two strong stanzas but the entire song doesn’t hold up as a complete poem. Feel free to disagree and give your viewpoint.

Here’s a quiz. Five excerpts are from poems. Five are from songs. Can you guess which is which?

Answers given at the bottom.

1.

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Pay Attention

 

Pay attention—two simple words essential to creative writing.

One definition of “pay” is to “give or bestow.”

The word “attention” derives from the Middle English word “attend” or to apply one’s mind—one’s energies to someone or something.

To me, paying attention means being present with a purpose. It’s active and focused. By paying attention, we engage our five senses and absorb our surroundings. We take from life to create fiction.

As you go through your day, zoom in on small details then write them down (as you in your own individual and unique way) see them.

Here’s a quick observation of a young woman in a coffeeshop…long wavy hair hanging over the back of the metal chair…color…mousy brown flecked with fine strands of iridescent blond…strong aquiline nose…to make a point she slaps the back of her hand into her palm….

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Dialogue and Shot Reverse Shot in Raising Arizona

My favorite Coen brothers’ film is Raising Arizona. It’s the story of a soft-hearted, ex-con husband H.I. McDunnough and his infertile wife, Ed, who decide to kidnap a quintuplet in Tempe, Arizona because his real parents already “have more than they can handle.”

It’s full of frantic fun and makes me laugh out loud and the dialogue is the best.

The Coens’ use of eccentric “high hick” diction first starts in Raising Arizona and later becomes a staple in consequent films. It’s an oddball dialect—simple direct language mixed with old fashioned and articulate phrasing.

A few examples:

On discovering that they’re unable to have children, H.I. says that…

Edwina’s insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.

Or this poetic speech by H.I. about the Lone Biker.

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Georgia O’Keeffe: The Ultimate Minimalist

The way Georgia O’Keeffe lived her life inspires me—from her art to her clothing to her home design.

O’Keeffe was born in Wisconsin in 1887. Her family then moved to Virginia. She went on to study art at various schools, but it happened to be one particular art professor at Columbia University in New York who greatly influenced her.

Arthur Wesley Dow had a system of art education, based on frequent themes in Japanese art. He advocated simplifying forms as a means of capturing their essence and developing a personal style.

For creating art, Dow outlined three principles of successful composition: line, notan (Japanese concept of light and shade, or mass), and color.

In 1915, following her time with Dow, O’Keeffe destroyed all of her previous work. While teaching at Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina, she went back to the basics,

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Boiled Peanuts

Joseph McDougall owns Forest Lake Produce in Columbia, SC. He makes boiled peanuts on site for his customers who love them.

A few fun facts about peanuts.

— They aren’t nuts. They’re legumes.

— Peanuts are originally from South America, but scientists are pretty sure the plants took the long way ‘round, coming to the South from Africa. The Portuguese took the peanut plant to Africa around 1500 where peanuts became a culinary staple.

— Americans didn’t call them “peanuts” until the late 19th century. Before then, they were called ground nuts, ground peas, and goobers, a term derived from the Angolan word nguba.

—Boiled peanuts are freshly harvested or “green” nuts that are boiled in their shells in salty water for hours.

— By the 1920s, boiled peanuts were so popular that they started getting noticed by the “bemused Yankees.”

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Claire’s Knee

In 1987, I was studying art history at the École du Louvre when I met an older German man named Peter.

Peter was stern, didactic, exacting, prickly and super intellectual. He relished arguing loudly at dinner for the fun of it. Something a young twenty-three-year-old Southern woman wasn’t used to.

He was also a perfect gentleman, and I had zero attraction to him. Thus, the friendship rolled along seamlessly. Even though I don’t remember exactly how we met, I do remember everything we did.

Peter took me to the opera at the Bastille. He gave me a historical book about Rome. He introduced me to small movie theaters in the Parisian arrondissements. We went at odd times of the day, and the theaters would be packed. Through him, I learned the French loved films.

One film in particular, I distinctly remember — Claire’s Knee by Éric Rohmer.

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The First Line.

The opening line. That ever important first impression. The way to draw the reader into your story. Those previous words were easy to write. But the real thing is not.

Every writer struggles with the first line of his or her novel, because they know that if that first sentence is killer, the reader will most likely read the second one.

Stephen King spends “months and even years” (see this article) writing his opening sentences. When reading other writers’ first lines, King says, “It’s a voice, and an invitation, that’s very difficult for me to refuse. It’s like finding a good friend who has valuable information to share.”

A few tricks to get the opening line down on paper:

  1. Put something in forward motion.
  2. Keep the backstory for later
  3. Go straight to the who and what of the plot.
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Query Letter and Synopsis

In a few weeks, I want to contact literary agents with my young adult novel. I wrote this post to wrap my mind around how to go about it, and maybe, help other people in the process.

Literary agents help navigate the business side of publishing a novel.

They will negotiate a stronger contract with the publisher than you could manage by yourself. Agents usually take around a 15% commission on the sale of your book.

Start with five or so agents who might be a good fit. Make sure they’ve represented authors with books similar to yours.

Each agent has specific submissions guidelines. So it’s important to follow his or her instructions on how to submit.

A few things to consider before reaching out.

First, finish your book before contacting agents. Because if they happen to like it,

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The Hero’s Journey

Some say there are only two plots in the world—a stranger comes to town and someone goes on a journey.

My novel’s plot definitely falls into the latter journey category. So I decided to find out a little more about the Hero’s Journey.

I was familiar with Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces concerning the journey of the archetypal hero in world mythologies and that Campbell made famous the term “monomyth.”

Interestingly enough, I learned that Campbell borrowed the term “monomyth” from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.
I then found out that Christopher Vogler had distilled Campbell’s ideas into a book titled The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.

Vogler took Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and broke it down into the following twelve stages:

  1. The Ordinary World – The hero is in his or her ordinary surroundings
  2. The Call to Adventure – The inciting incident
  3. Refusal of the Call – Maybe from fear or some other reason
  4. Meeting with the Mentor
  5. Crossing the Threshold – Hero leaves the Ordinary World
  6. Test,
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