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  • Writer's pictureKenneth Boyd


In some ways my musical voice and my poetic voice are very different. But both have a clearly understandable voice. In music I scream high, confident notes on the trumpet. I lead. In poetry I like to sound gentle, tender, skeptical, and humorous. As long as I know my two voices do they have to be the same? That question eludes me as it has for famous poets forever. It baffles me that my voices are different yet my music and poetry both require voices.

Other similarities between my music and my poetry include:

  • Starting a tune or poem by thinking about the form that fits

  • Lines, stanzas, a bridge (a turn), repeats, and refrains that reflects the tone

  • Finding devices to create tension and resolution, or no resolution

  • When dissonance needs to resolve with harmony

  • Flowing like lyrical enjambment or caesuras and hard stops

  • Standard rhythms, odd rhythms and unexpected rhythms

  • Sounds that are soft and buttery or sharp screaming attacks

  • The strategy of high and low register of musical notes and poetic words

I play, literally and figuratively, from my musical library and as Bardo Poetry, I write from the library of ideas in my head and on my shelf. Is that enough? Not for me. I want something more. I want my trumpet to sing just as a line of my poetry sings. I once sang when I played the trumpet solo from An American in Paris by Gershwin. There is no adequate word for that high. I have musical clunkers and poetic clunkers. They are both very obvious and rise above the well-formed phrases. They are both rare occurrences when all the elements and techniques I have found and learned come together in a book such as Grasshopper Dreams. I always wonder why one bad note, or word, can taint an entire piece of music or prose—but it does. What makes us that way? Music and poetry are right-brain companions. To be drawn to one is to be drawn to the other. To find one in my nature is to find the other. When I just play the notes it is a left brain activity. For me it’s mechanical and boring. Is just writing the words also mechanical and tiring? I hope I play music and write poetry with sounds and ideas that are pleasing and surprising.

1 Dabney, J. P. “The Relation between Music and Poetry.” The Musical Quarterly 13, no. 3 (1927): 377–83.

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