Write After Reading: Living the Life Poetic (Chapter 29)

Write After Reading: Living the Life Poetic is a weekly online book club with poetry participation. It alternates between my blog and Susan Taylor Brown’s blog. Susan hosted about Small Stones in  this week’s post,  and here we’re talking this week about Chapter 29: Making Music: Rhyme, Rhythm, and Repetition.

Song lyrics are some of my favorite poems, so I was drawn to this chapter. I love what Sage has to say about rhyme and rhythm and how they make songs stick in our heads and hearts. I especially like the section on repetition, though. I write lots of poems with rhythm and rhyme, but I rarely use a refrain or chorus. And when I do use one, if it works well, I think to myself, Wow, why aren’t I using this every time?

 

Here’s my favorite thing that she says: The real craft of repetition comes in offering something fresh with each appearance, using a recurring idea or image to peel back layer after layer, rather than circling the reader back to the same idea, of which he will tire easily.

 

This is something I always struggle with. Not just in a refrain, but in meter as well. I need to work to add more nuance, more variety to my poems.

 

One of my favorite songs is “100 Years,” by Five for Fighting. It’s so haunting and gorgeous. Here are the words:

 

I’m 15 for a moment

Caught in between 10 and 20

And I’m just dreaming

Counting the ways to where you are

 

I’m 22 for a moment

She feels better than ever

And we’re on fire

Making our way back from Mars

 

15 there’s still time for you

Time to buy and time to lose

15, there’s never a wish better than this

When you only got 100 years to live

 

I’m 33 for a moment

Still the man, but you see I’m a they

A kid on the way

A family on my mind

 

I’m 45 for a moment

The sea is high

And I’m heading into a crisis

Chasing the years of my life

 

15 there’s still time for you

Time to buy, Time to lose yourself

Within a morning star

15 I’m all right with you

15, there’s never a wish better than this

When you only got 100 years to live

 

Half time goes by

Suddenly you’re wise

Another blink of an eye

67 is gone

The sun is getting high

We’re moving on…

 

I’m 99 for a moment

Dying for just another moment

And I’m just dreaming

Counting the ways to where you are

 

15 there’s still time for you

22 I feel her too

33 you’re on your way

Every day’s a new day…

15 there’s still time for you

Time to buy and time to choose

Hey 15, there’s never a wish better than this

When you only got 100 years to live

 

And here’s the video. If you don’t have time to watch it, just play it in the background at least while you’re online today! 

John Ondrasik writes the simplest, most effective lyrics. And his chorus is repeated, but it changes a bit each time. Love that.

 

I also love “Let Evening Come.” Jane Kenyon wrote this poem while she was battling the cancer that later killed her, and the peace and strength and acceptance here blows me away every time I read it. The repetition of “Let…” and “Let evening come” is so soothing.

 

My plan was to write a poem modeled after “100 Years,” but I’m exhausted and fried and not in any shape to do a larger exercise like that. So I’m going to just try writing a poem that repeats a word or phrase.

 

Beyond

 

Beyond this breath

hover deadlines and dishwashers

and time assigned in

the smallest increments

 

Beyond this leaf

tangle limbs that need trimming

and squirrels

and emerald ash borers

 

So I close my eyes

and breathe and touch

and I do not go

beyond

Beyond this man
years hang empty

hollow and long

hot and sad

 

So I touch his arm

and kiss his fingers

and I will not go

beyond

 

Beyond this heartbeat

drift sorrow and chance

and chores and tomorrow

or maybe not

 

So I dance inside

the rhythm inside
I close my eyes

and I do not go

beyond

 

–Laura Purdie Salas, all rights reserved

 

Huh. That’s not what I expected to come out! I was going to write about infinity, eternity, the unknown…and instead it came out as kind of a praise poem to the moment, the tiny, the known.

 

Life is kicking my butt right now, in lots of ways. Maybe this is just me telling myself to think small and appreciate each moment I have and each person I love. Anyway, that’s my first draft.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this chapter. What are your favorite song lyrics? Will you write a poem imitating one of your favorites? Or, like me, do you want to write a first draft that uses a repeated word or phrase?

 

Can’t wait to see what you come up with! Remember—it’s just an exercise. Nobody’s expecting perfection. I’m not even expecting polished words at all. To me, it’s just a chance for us to challenge ourselves and see what happens! Join in!

 

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