Process Notes: Turning Poem Into Song (About Writing A Poem)
dogtrax, Kevin's Meandering Mind, Nov 16, 2020
I’ve been trying to write each month with the folks at Open Write via Ethical ELA (it’s pretty inspiring how many people come to write there), and it works by having just five days of writing prompts each month (so, manageable). The email notifications are always welcome, as I always forget it is coming up. […]

I’ve been trying to write each month with the folks at Open Write via Ethical ELA (it’s pretty inspiring how many people come to write there), and it works by having just five days of writing prompts each month (so, manageable). The email notifications are always welcome, as I always forget it is coming up.

Mostly, I work on my daily poems with the prompts. The other day, the theme of ‘thanks’ came up for the first prompt of November, and I began a poem about the greeting cards you get from stationery stores, and then veered into something different, something more interesting (for me).

The shelves have become
barren of those silly cards,
those throw-away phrases
that always tried so hard
to make us laugh, in aisles
of the grocery store and
boutique shops and kiosks
in the mall, manufactured thanks
spit out by cold machines,
while I’m still one of those few
who settles down in the quiet,
pen in hand, to carve out poems
from the bones of memory,
a crinkled paper-cut of words
tucked into the folds
of your jacket pocket

It was the place where the poem took a turn in the middle with the writer becoming self-aware that I could not shake throughout the day. I found the words becoming lyrics in my mind all day long, small phrases dancing in my mind, and finally, I had time to sit down with my guitar, and I slowly began wrangling the poem into another shape altogether, turning the lines into lyrics of a song.

An interesting and challenging element of this process is that the rhythm and rhyme of the poem didn’t quite work (I’m not sure why I even heard the poem as song verses, given the lines) and so I found myself moving the pieces around, adding words, twisting phrases — all in the service of song.

I was intent on keeping the meaning, though, of a poet — feeling a bit estranged from the world, of thinking they are “one of the few” still scribbling words to paper – still writing, and intent on tucking words into the pockets of another person, hopeful that the poems will be found and recognized, and read. I think I was successful in this thematic connection from song to poem.

Paper Cuts You (Everywhere You Go)

I may be one of the few
to settle down
in the quiet and write you a poem

I wish I knew
how to share the silent
the way memory holds us like bone
the paper cuts you everywhere you go

These four walls
these blue lines
the days turning into night

I can’t recall
what it is we said
I’m tucking words inside your sleepy head
dreaming on this paper bed

And if it rhymes, it’s time
to break it all apart
I’m the poem inside
the pocket of your heart

And if I had the words
then we’d be OK
I’d hold you in the dark before the light

So close the door
pull on the shades
I’m writing you from somewhere yesterday
and tomorrow will be better than today

And if we find it’s time
that we make it from the start
I’m the poem
inside the pocket of your heart

The music was first recorded as a rough demo with only guitar and voice as a way to get it down. I found I liked what it was in that rough format but the song needed a bit more lyrically to bring things around to something hopeful. So I began all over again — adding other instruments — keyboard, piano, bass, guitar, strings. I wanted to keep my voice front and center — the poet, thinking — and the guitar fairly sparse strumming, more like a mandolin (the capo is high up the neck).

In the end, the song is different from the poem — the middle section, with worries that the poet is falling into method as opposed to heart, turns things a bit and the last parts give more hope, with the poet being the poem inside the pocket of the heart — but the pieces are still connected by some invisible string, circling around the central idea of a writing having hope that words can still impact the audience – even an audience of one person.

Peace (sounds like love),
Kevin