A long poem does not exist. Nor does a short one.
[Tweet “Like a pop song a good poem plays out in under 300 seconds.”]
Ah, there the poetry pontifex goes again!
O, yes, but hear me out.
A poem is a short burst of emotion spoken straight to the ear and mind.
Note the keywords and phrases, “short burst,” “emotion,” and “spoken to the ear and mind.” Ear, as opposed to eyes, for which we have prose.
Like a pop song a good poem plays out in under 300 seconds. Not a very long time. Then it gives the mind time to absorb it, the ear time to rehear it, should the ear want to rehear it. Should the mind make the connection.
Let me show you one way to craft such a poem that gets repeat hearing, listening, repeat plays, like a pop song. A sequence of aims to take. 4, actually.
Just know you have to keep it short!
No Short Poem, No Long Poem
Saying a poem is “short” is tautologous. O, boy! Yes, because a poem by virtue of its form is short. The moment you hear it’s a poem, what do you expect?
But you must keep it short for it to be a good poem. A good poem is one that gets that repeat hearing. So, short is only useful in the description of poetry to help us steer clear of long, the ugly extreme. The unpoetry of poetry.
So a long poem does not exist. It’s okay to say poetic narrative. I’ll give you that. But not a long poem.
Hey, Did You Read Homer?
But almost all of Alexander Pope’s! Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Dante’s Inferno? Yes, even the psalms of the ancient king David. Most of the time.
And how about your very own poet, Robert Frost’s “The Death of a Hired Man?” “Home Burial?” “The Witch of Coo?” Ugh. Well, I managed through those ones, maybe two times. Maybe three. I read them silently. Read. Silently.
Critics berate me for calling these, not poems, but poetical works. Poetical narratives. Not, narrative poems, which shouldn’t exist. Which will cease to exist going forward. But these “long po-,” these poem-enhanced prose pieces, have been canonized as poems, as poetry.
We can tolerate the past, can’t we? They’re works of art, alright.
Now What I Mean By “Like a Pop Song”
Then again, a good poem ought to lend itself to replays. Repeat plays. Rehears. Relistens. Rebroadcasts. Re… Just like a pop song. But like a pop song in the sense of medium length. Where length is short for duration.
What I Do Not Mean By “Like a Pop Song”
Attention deficit disorder is…
As the screenshots show, you have barely entered the keyword “atten…” and what do you the googles suggest?
Attention is as missing as a pinhead in a desert!
But poetry is not about attention. Listeners of poetry (they read to hear, are also read to) have attention for poetry. Appetite for poetry. Belly for that food of mind. Poetry. So attention is not the problem hear.
So, while the world will like a Rihanna tonight and dump her fewer than 300 seconds later… She must keep at churning those hits out to keep in the love… That’s not poetry. Or that’s not how I mean a poem should be like a pop song. Of course, a poem would do awesomely well with some of Rihanna’s “melodic tunes and hooks!”
But a poem is not like a pop song in that it appeals to popular culture, appeals to popular counterculture, appears to and has to be “ephemeral and accessible” because “people don’t have time,” and “just want something catchy and easy to digest.” Such a poem will fade away before long.
So, I hope I’m clear when I repeat, “a poem is only like a pop song” for length’s sake. Short.
If you agree, fine. Now I’ll show you four ways you can write a poem that is, okay, short and gets repeat plays (permit reading, hearing).
How to Write a Poem Like a Pop Song – The 4 Sequence to a Poem That Gets Repeat Plays
Sequence #1: Aim for Short
There I go again! But it’s worth repeating because it should be on your mind as a keeper-in-checker. First tell yourself, “this is gonna be short.” This ought to be short. Yeah.
Then start. Short sentences. Shorter sentences. Shorter words, fewer syllables. But a splattering of longer (Rihanna-like) flowing words, sometimes. Sometimes. Just for effect. Think Emily Dickinson. Like Emily Dickinson. And she’s the best example I can give here.
Now where the eyes come in, not visual poetry, let it look like a poem, as soon as it is sighted. Seen. Taken. I don’t know where this analysis places Walt Whitman and his disciples. But you know what a poem looks like, right?
To the left. One page. Short stanzas. Short blocks of words. Short. Short. Short.
Sequence #2: Aim for Clarity
You know why “poetry is notoriously difficult to translate?” Robert Frost said, “poetry is what is lost in translation.” Blunt.
So, if you heard Homer in English and not koine, if I recall correctly, that’s the language Homer spoke, you heard English Language, not poetry. No, not narrative poetry. Very blunt! Frost was.
My point is, let the poem be very “clear” on the surface, not necessarily ‘the content of the language.’ If it has to be in English, use English words clearly, on the surface. I’m calling this “obfuscation,” then the hearer can make their own associations. Then at least some of your poetry can be preserved from one language to the next.
As an example, look for “The Aim Was Song” by Robert Frost and read. Pay attention. Listen.
But, what the heck is “long enough for north To be converted into South?” Man!
Sequence #3: Aim for Parable
Your poem can be “clear” to you. Very clear. You know what you’re doing. You should know what you’re doing. But your poem should be clear only to the mind that is open enough to make associations.
You see why it needs to be short?
Repeat plays. Listen. Listen. Listening to be sure the associations are right depending on choice of words, depending on how these words are ordered, depending on the rhythm these words produce. (Music is the 4th sequence.) Come in.
You see, there was no “prodigal son.” But now there are prodigal sons. I escaped that institution! Narrowly. So, you pick your verse before you and ask, “in how many other ways can this be understood?” Interpreted. You see why Frost said, “a poem may be worked over once it is in being, but may not be worried into being?” See?
Paint people the way the world paints them!
Sequence #4: Aim for Music
Sorry. Neither am I a fan of Rihanna’s but always I cannot help it when “Man Down” plays. The point?
Not just short. Not just superficially clear. Not just a parable answer to a Bob Marley song by a female. But an irresistible hook that is irresistible because it’s persistent. In some way. It enters. It leaves. It’s subliminal. You hear it like you don’t. Now you do. Now you don’t. That kind of thing.
But think the way you speak. I speak English. My kind of English, somewhat American. Only somewhat. All me. But once I’ve been able to drop the first line, first few lines, first stanza, a block, then see what sense I want to convey, what music is resulting, then I only use words that keep that music. The music of natural talk.
Another reason it has to be short. If it’s too long, no, can you really listen to a great song 900 seconds? That’s just 15 minutes. Why am I thinking in seconds?
So if you want your next poem to get repeat plays download the Pinterest graphic and place it before you, wherever you compose that poem. Share it with me (us?) at the community at Pop Song.
Alternatively, if you tag me at #PopSong on Twitter, I’m your guy. Peace. Like a pop song!