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  • Writer's pictureK. Lucius Boyd


I wonder what came first for me—music or poetry?

I'm not the first to ask that question. Why are answers from academia and working poets so vague? They’re certainly nothing I can personally identify with. Ideas of some evolution of “primitive dancing” and “inarticulate noise” and rhythmic similarity are limited and don’t provide a workable answer for me. The basic similarities for me are time and sound. Beyond that I can experiment with elements of the two art forms.

Is the answer worth pursuing? It is if it will make me better musician or poet. Chronologically music came first. But there was poetry (ideas, form, rhythm, tone, meter, flow, stanzas, lines, phrases, etc.) in my sound from the beginning. My poetry and music seem unrelated but have so many similarities. The qualities I seek when I choose types of music are the same that I feel in my poetry. There are differences. I am physically exhausted from the rush of adrenaline from playing the trumpet. My exhaustion from writing is mental. This difference also results in a similarity—the need to rest.

What was the starting point for my music and poetry? Listening, most of all listening, to myself and others. At first listening was all I could do as a young musician. I had little technique so I listened to great trumpet players and mimicked their sound. I found other voices I wanted to emulate.

That’s how writing poetry started for me. I just read and listened and I read more. Reading poetry is like listening with my eyes. I find commonality in the creative processes of music and poetry. I read my poetry out loud to listen for the sounds and to make sure the meaning is correct. I wonder how a jazz standard is like a villanelle? Is listening to My Funny Valentine like reading Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night? They both have urgent but sad tones. I use this to tie together genres just like a quote from Henry Ford can link a pastoral poem with the industrial age. My music is improved by drawing on poetry. My poetry follows that same direction.

What was my next step as a beginning musician and poet? I began with ideas, of course, but accelerated by learning patterns. I found patterns in music by using combinations of notes to form musical phrases. I found patterns in poetry as combinations of words that formed literary phrases. It’s a mystery that they can sound nearly the same. Patterns require practice to make the leap from the practice room to the stage. Patterns are rehearsed but only used at just the right time.

In adulthood I found the creativity and imagination of my childhood. Can others say the same? What I do not have in physical agility I make up for in creative agility. Both music and poetry consume me, they make the outside world stand still. They are my distracting forms of therapy, I get lost in both. That’s a phenomenon for medical research. After years of playing jazz trumpet my wife frequently asks, “Why are you tapping your fingers on your leg?” That question interrupts the unconscious improvisation I play out in my mind and on my fingers. It hounds me. Now I play out the rhythms of a poem with my fingers on my leg or chest. Again she notices.

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