The Music of Writing

I write a lot of poetry. To be more precise, I write a lot of stuff, -- heck, I used to write music -- but poetry tends to be my favorite. I like writing sensually (literally, engaging the senses – not so much sexual), and a short poem provides me the opportunity to dive into a brief scene or thought, puddle about for a while until it soaks me, and then dry off and return to the rhythm of my everyday life. It’s a brief, intense interlude, and I love it.

an e.e. cummings poem
One of the things I like best about poetry and don’t pull off as well in my prose is the use of rhythm. You know what I mean; each story has a plot rhythm, and each scene involves a specific, emotional and temporal pace. We authors do this through dialogue, mixes of interiority and exteriority, and length and depth of descriptions. Most importantly to me, however, is the rhythm one achieves with the choices of words, punctuation, and sentence length. Just like a poem, a story achieves part of its flow from the words, the pauses, the breaks. Just like poetry, stories and novels are as visual as they are verbal and intellectual; the length of words engage our brain differently, and seeing more white at the end of a sentence says something about the message we’re conveying.

Sentences of differing lengths and using words of varying complexities can simultaneously engage our readers’ senses of visuality, musicality, and emotionality. You know?

Or, to use another analogy, think of music: Like a song, a story can use staccato (think of machine gunfire: quick and contained) words to put our readers on edge, while a more legato series of sentences (smooth and connected) can soothe readers, even lull them into a kind of sleepy comfort with the scene’s progression.

I have no magical formula for knowing when to use short, jerky words and clipped sentences versus when to linger over the words and spin them into a long, seductive dance across the page. Poetry seems so much more straightforward. 

I love poetry. I love music. I love novel writing. All three seem to have so much overlap; they all rely on rhythm, cadence, snippets and phrases to convey a sense of immediate engagement and long-term commitment to the entire theme. All of them are combinations of form and function, and that’s a majestic power we creative artists wield.


  1. And your poetry is better even than damned good. You should publish snips of it here and there!


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