The Sounds of Writing Poetry
Malu Sciamarelli is a teacher, teacher trainer, and conference presenter. Her main interests are literature, creative writing, and creativity in the English language classroom. She is the current coordinator of the Creativity Group (http://thecreativitygroup.weebly.com/ ) and the IATEFL Literature SIG Web Manager. Website: http://malusciamarelli.weebly.com/
Some years ago, I was preparing some creative writing activities for my students when I came across Clarice Lispector again in my life and started to wonder what was so unique about her way of writing. In her novel ‘The Hour of the Star’, she herself wondered about her way of writing: The question is: how do I write? I can verify that I write by ear. What is her ‘writing by ear’? It is a connection between the written words and the sense of hearing.
We can find several examples in her own novels:
- Angela is the vibrating quake of a tense harp string that has been plucked: she remains in the air still, speaking to herself, speaking – until the vibration dies out, spreading in foam on the sands. Then – silence and stars. (‘A Breath of Life’)
- Macabea is dead. The bells were ringing without making any sound. I now understand this story. She is the imminence in those bells, pealing softly. (‘The Hour of the Star’)
- The words are sounds transfused with shadows that intersect unevenly, stalactites, woven lace, transposed organ music. I can scarcely invoke the words to describe this pattern, vibrant and rich, morbid and obscure, its counterpoint the deep bass of sorrow. Allegro con brio. (‘The Hour of the Star’)
That was when I decided to do the opposite of C. Lispector’s writing by ear, that is, listen to sounds and write; feel the emotions provoked by sounds and write, and remember something when you listen to sounds and write. Then I created The Sounds of Writing which is simply hear sounds and write words - the acoustic properties of writing, present at the moment of creation. From my point of view, sounds are so powerful that they can help to focus and create a good environment for learning. In his book ‘The Joy of Phonetics and Accents’, Louis Colaianni (a teacher of voice, speech, phonetics, and acting Shakespeare performance) describes the connection of sounds and our senses:
Sound has a profound effect on the senses. It can be both heard and felt. It can even be seen with the mind’s eye. It can almost be tasted and smelled. Sound can evoke responses of the five senses. Sound can paint a picture, produce a mood, trigger the senses to remember another time and place. From infancy we hear sound with our entire bodies. When I hear my own name, I have as much a sense of it entering my body through my back or my hand or my chest as through my ears. Sound speaks to the sensorium; the entire system of nerves that stimulates sensual response.
Activity – The Sounds of Poetry
Under the spell of verse, alliteration, rhyming and rhythm, musicians have long been enchanted by the masterminds behind poetry. Whether it be the mention of a poet’s name, appropriation of lines from their works, or some other tribute, literary references pervade many bands’ lyrics. And it is always inspiring to hear how one artist’s work can open the doors to creativity across other art forms. In the songs shared below, the musicians were inspired by poets. In my classes, I suggested we do the opposite, that is, listen to the musicians’ work inspired by poets and write. This is ‘the sounds of writing’ in action.
This activity can be done with teenagers and adults, from B1 to C2 level.
- Listen to the songs below or watch the video and write a line of what you feel or remember. Do not associate them with the poems yet.
- Dying is fine (Ra Ra Riot): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGuP6ZN8Qxo
- Apres Moi (Regina Pasternack): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_1mCJKGfGc
- Blake’s View (M. Ward): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAbgJc0agU4
- Cemetery Gates (The Smiths): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rl2TFmjdCo4
- I love my Jean (Camera Obscura): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLRj-T6-Nw4
- Read the poems and match them to the songs according to their melodies/sounds. All the poems can be found free online, e.g., Poetry Foundation website at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/
- Dying is fine (Ra Ra Riot) – Dying is fine (e.e.cummings)
- Apres Moi (Regina Pasternack) – A Dream (Boris Pasternak)
- Blake’s View (M. Ward) – The Nurse’s Song (William Blake)
- Cemetery Gates (The Smiths) – Bright Star (John Keats)
- I love my Jean (Camera Obscura) – A Red, Red Rose (Robert Burns)
- Choose one line from each poem.
- Write a new poem combining the lines you wrote and the lines you selected from the poems. You can add words and punctuation to construct meaning.
Dying is fine. But death? Oh, baby, I wouldn’t like.
I want to go out and run on a sunny day again.
But time went on, I grew old and deaf.
I was sitting on a chair, drinking, thinking about life.
But I had to come home, the sun has gone down.
I am calm, just chilling out.
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Til a’ the seas gang dry.
- Pedro Pincerno
Perfectly natural, perfectly
It mildly lively like in high school times.
But time went on…
When thinking about how life goes on, I grew old and deaf.
In a cold afternoon, up in the sky, a little bird flies
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell
Though it were then thousand miles…
- Ana Claudia Paffaro
If I were to teach a child the beauty of music, I wouldn’t start with a musical score. We would listen together to the most pleasant melodies and I would tell them about the instruments which make the music. Then, amazed with the beauty of music, they themselves would ask me to teach them the mystery of those little black dots written on five lines. Because these little black dots are only tools for the musical production. The experience of beauty must come first.
(Rubem Alves, Brazilian writer and poet)
Clarice Lispector was born in Chechelnyk, Podolio - Ukraine on December 10th, 1920. She was still very young when her family moved to Brazil in 1922, so she always considered herself Brazilian. She was a journalist, translator and writer who has been acclaimed internationally for her innovative novels and short stories. She has been the subject of numerous books, and references to her work are common in Brazilian Literature and music.
More reference and activities on ‘Writing by ear’ can be found here:
- Clarice Lispector’s Writing by Ear for the Creative Writing Classroom
The ETAS (English Teachers Association, Switzerland) Journal, Volume 31, no. 2, pp. 40-41, 2014.
- The Music of Words upon Words , iTDi Blog, available at http://itdi.pro/blog/2014/04/18/the-creative-writing-issue-malu/
Another activity on poetry writing and our senses can be found here:
- The Scents and Tastes of Reading and Writing, HLT Mag Year 17, issue 2, April 2015, available at http://old.hltmag.co.uk/apr15/less04.htm
Alves, R. (2003), A Alegria de Ensinar, Edições Asa, Serzedo
Colaianni, L. (1995). The Joy of Phonetics and Accents, Drama Publishers/Quite Specific Media, Los Angeles
Lispector, C. (2014). A Breath of Life, Peguim Modern Classics, London.
Lispector, C. (2011). The Hour of the Star, New Directions, New York.
Maley, A. (2012). Creative Writing for Students and Teachers, HLT Mag, Year 14, Issue 3, June 2012 available at http://old.hltmag.co.uk/jun12/mart01.htm
Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.
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The Sounds of Writing Poetry
Malu Sciamarelli, Brazil