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I was 17 and taking a computer class in high school when I realized there was poetry about stuff other than death or trees. It was a very advanced computer class at the time, involving us opening word documents out of DOS. (Yes, I went to school in the Stone Age. Big shocker.)
Now there was a document on the computer called “So We’ll Go No More A-Roving”, which caught my eye. I glanced ahead on the project and saw that at no point was this file even being used. It was just some extra file they put on the computer. Still, the title was intriguing. I already knew we were opening poetry documents, but we were opening things about trees and death and bugs on leaves. I mean, this title looked far more promising.
I clicked it and the document unfurled before my eyes, as magical as a genie in a lamp.
SO, we'll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.
For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.
Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.
My eyes burned holes into the second stanza. For the sword outwears its sheath? I’d been reading real bodice-ripping, sex-out-the-wazoo romances for three years. I could recognize a euphemism when I saw it. This was a break up poem. With sex in the middle of it. Poetry about sex? This was a revelation!
I was hooked. No more Thanatopis or Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. No, no. This was interesting poetry. I fell in love with Lord Byron that day and have had a special place for that man ever since.
Despite Ms. Yount’s questionable taste in interesting poetry (she loved Thanathopis), she did introduce a revolutionary concept. Songs are poetry. This was probably pointed out a number of times before middle-school, but listening and comprehending are acquired skills for teenagers, a fact Ms. Yount knew well. She actually played an example this time to make it stick: The Sound of Silence. I suspect this selection had more to do with the fact she missed the sound of silence rather than because she actually liked the song.
I was not impressed by Simon or Garfunkel and insisted Poison could never, ever be topped in their lyric-writing skills.
Cause baby we'll be
At the drive-in
In the old man's Ford
Behind the bushes
Till I'm screamin' for more
Down the basement
Lock the cellar door
Talk dirty to me
Or they might. Whatever. Ms. Yount had her childhood faves; I had mine.
Still. The idea is sound, even though some people’s tastes in what qualifies as good poetry—or even music—can be called into question. What I enjoy most about poetry (and songs) is how it can encapsulate an entire novel in a mere three verses and a chorus. And there are other songs that tend to bring into focus a particular part of the novel.
This is why I like making soundtracks for my books, using songs that reflect this moment or that, or is a wonderful summation of a particular character. I can’t always sit down and name a character’s quirk, but I can tell you that her favorite song when she was 11 was Vogue. She could sing all the words and do all the dance moves; and to this day, even in business meetings, she’ll sometimes strike a pose. I think your favorite childhood song says much more about you than how you take your coffee.
Now there is always that moment in the romance novel where the “noble sacrifice” is going to be made by one or both of the main characters. *sniff, sniff* Tall-Dark-and-Dreamy would be so much better off with that strumpet with the legs up to her ass instead. I will let him go because it’s best for him. We’re not meant to be. I can see the Kevin Costner flick cueing up with that scene, can’t you? With Whitney belting out: “I Will Always Love You.”
I couldn’t end this blog without paying homage to that other big hair rock band staple of the 80s, Jon Bon Jovi. (He’s aged well, hasn’t he? Much better than Bret.) There are a lot of songs to pick from where he’s concerned. I love books where the hero and heroine fight all odds and have a HEA anyway. (“Living on a Prayer”) Or when the end rolls around and the hero grovels and says he’ll never leave her again. What we’re really hearing is “I’ll Be There For You.” If Jon stops singing, he could always turn his hand at romance writing.
So the cultural question of the day is “What is your favorite Poison song?” and barring that, are there any (big hair band era) songs you like that remind you of moments from novels or any songs you’ve listened to that have inspired a story you’ve written?