In The Midnight

 

In the midnight

when all is still

the spinning bustle

wound down

quite listening

dreams waft

whispering on night winds

half toned swirls

of innocent dreams

dreamers war

unaware

lost in denial

 

What shadow moves

in that derelict house

neglected

abandoned

no witness

to sad countenance

reflected in broken glass

her sorrow in moonlight

locked in a forever night

 

Once there was laughter

children and life

love

bright sunlit hope

today eternal

yesterday passes away

imprinted

time stilled

between heartbeats

between breaths

 

There

laudanum numbed

termed illness

where there was promise

all stopped

ceased

with her last pain filled push

dying

 

Her child lived on

passed on long ago

she stays

waiting in her ruined room

standing by the window

reflected in moonlight

midnight image

on a broken window pane

waiting for the pain to end

 

ken lehnig(c)2011

The Ramblings Of A Vagabond Poet

On Writing Songs and Poetry

Here I am rambling again, walking down a dusty road, with musty bits and clever things floating in my much too crowded head. Crickets are cricketing and birds are birding and all is well in the world. All of those annoying emotional chinks and tragedies are all in the past and now I can reflect, changing memories into myth with the use of elaborate word choices and perfected lies. It is a world where I am the hero in the story and the bad is forever vanquished. Every couple hundred steps I stop and sit down on a convenient rock, next to a verdant field, and play a few lines from the lyrics in my head. My old guitar seems to already know the chords and magically places my fingers perfectly -and I, with my beautiful Bocelli vocal chords conte par tiro-ing up into the too-blue Tuscan sky.

Oh man! Wouldn’t that be the ideal way to do what it is we do? What if writing prose, poetry, and lyrics was just as easy as waiting for Br’er Rabbit to pop out da blackberry patch and add a few dippity-do-das to a near perfect song, finishing it for posterity? Or maybe some little cute singing bluebirds, or sing-sewing mice, could help with the perfect Disneyfying ‘o dat last stanza. Oh well. It dippity-do-not work dat way wit me. Getting it down on paper or computer screen is a slightly more mysterious, lonelier, rougher, and grittier process for me.

When I was a younger man, and the need for creative out letting was a near mental disorder in me, I would go to seminars and read all the books on how to write poetry, lyrics, and prose. It was all, so very, helpful, as far as the nuts and bolts were concerned, but every exercise failed me in the end.

Let me give you some examples of techniques I have tried over the years:

!. Have a journal by your bed and when you think of something, as you tip over into dreamland, wake up, get up, and write down that brilliant thing. When I read them in the morning I thought most of it was incomprehensible and I didn’t write the context for the thoughts. Even attempting to be more descriptive made it even worse. This technique was terminated. My scratchings started to take on the tone of a true schizophrenic and sleep deprivation made social interaction almost impossible.

2. Keep a pad in your car and jot down those snippets that come as you drive. I once noted a toothpaste billboard and the light bulb went on. The brilliant song hook was ‘I only see her smile’ – it never became a song, because I rear-ended a late model primer gray Volvo, just as I finished the unintelligible word ‘smile’.

3. Warning: This next technique should never be used – unless you are Edger Allen Poe, Hemmingway, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, or Hunter S Thompson. I have to admit that in my earlier years I may have used this technique, on rare occasion, to no real benefit. It was the worst stuff I have ever penned. I keep it still, to remind me of my foolish ways. The use of any mind altering substance (Yes, that was what I was alluding to.) is said to assist in the creative process – but in truth what sounded good last night, when you wrote it -, probably was not all that impressive in the morning. A wise friend of mine once told me ‘The problem with any mind altering drug induced insight is that you can’t be responsible for that insight in the morning.’ Since this does not apply to any of my readers, or any of the folks I know, I wonder why I even bothered to list it. (Warning:  If you are drinking Absinthe, thinking you will somehow be Oscar Wilde  – stop it, you won’t write any better, the green fairy will just have you feeling like crap in the morning.)

4. Try riffing. A technique where you just let your mind go and see what comes out. Actually this isn’t a bad thing, but what comes is usually garbage and it can go terribly wrong. I had a gig at Tehachapi Prison years ago. My brother and I were supposed to do three songs. Then the producer said that we had a half hour to fill up, because the other act hadn’t shown up. In those days I did suffer stage fright and I retreated pretty far into my head. My brother whispered for me to calm down and to just make up a blues song. I didn’t have any other material ready, so that was all there was to do. The song was a big hit – ‘melted some faces’ as the saying is today. I even ended the song with an impromptu comic monologue.  We were the hit of the evening, just after the first Stripper to be allowed to perform in a state prison. (She was, indeed, more memorable than me.) Okay, so what was the disaster? When I got down off the stage I couldn’t remember a single word I had sang – or said. (Either did the inmates; the Stripper was simply more ‘poetic’.) If you use this technique please record it, something may be useable.

5. Flip through a dictionary or a thesaurus. This never worked, for me, but my vocabulary improved for when, and if, I did actually write any poems, stories, or lyrics.

6. Use Creative Subliminal tapes. These NEVER worked for me, but I did use them right after the failed ‘Journal by the bed’ technique – the tape put me, immediately, into a deep sleep and I would awaken refreshed and ready to arrange flowers and pick out fabrics. (A warning: Since you can’t hear any words on these tape/CDs make absolutely sure that you know what’s on them. To this day my color-palette  sense is just sensational.)

 

And finally ‘The Rambling Vagabond Poets Seminar’: Be prepared to write – be a writer. Tell yourself a hundred times before you go to sleep that you are a successful writer. Put signs all over your house that read, ‘I am a great writer.’ Prepare a place in your house that is perfect for a writer. Buy the perfect computer for you. Buy the best Dictionary (‘Reader’s Digest Complete Wordfinder’ is mine.), Have yellow pads and pens available – sometimes it’s important to be tactile. The words sometimes feel different when you write them down. Purchase a separate recording device and read aloud and record what you write – play it back and be critical. Print out your good work and put it in a notebook. Having your work in print, on a page, is much different than having it on a screen, and a lot more real. Post your work on writing forums (Lit.org is a good one.) and let others read it, and trust in yourself to comment on other writers work – they are right where you are, and a little nod of encouragement and helpful tips will go a long way. Read other writers, but don’t emulate their style (Unless its just for fun.) Find your own voice and style. Always believe that with every word you write you are getting better and better. And for me and all of you: Pin your rejection slips on the wall in front of you, with pride, and know it as a sign that you are getting closer and closer to being that terrific writer that you have always imagined you would be. (I’m on number 14 on my first novel. The 14 rejection form letters are pinned to a vintage LOONEY TUNES © poster, on the wall in front of my desk. (Bugs reminds me to relax, smile, and breathe.) And, to let you know that I am not, in any way, deterred. My second novel is just a few hundred words from being complete.

Keep writing!

Let me know of any other crazy things you all have done to nudge the muse and I’ll mention them in future articles.

Ken Lehnig(c)2011 2012

A Conversation On Writing Lyrics

Ken LehnigYou have decided that you want to write your own songs. Your mood is positive, you have set up a quiet place to write, guitar or piano is at the ready, a chord progression  program is loaded on your computer, a dictionary, a rhyming dictionary, and thesaurus is at the ready. You are done fixin’ to get ready – you are ready. You pick a chord progression you like, and get comfortable playing it – now it’s time for lyrics. You have read all the books that have been recommended to you and you write:

“You hurt me so much
I am so confused and pissed
You are going to get yours
Don’t come looking for the CDs you missed.

When you moved out
While I was at work
Which was really crappy…”

You may have felt you started out pretty good. You got in touch with your emotions and where you intended to write a moneymaking evergreen,  it changed into a singer/songwriter, indie song. Well sort of…if you tell the truth it isn’t very good. And if you are functionally, self-realized person, with no tendency toward self-delusion, you would stop right there.

The problem with we human types is that we don’t – and that is a good thing. We immediately take what we have written and try to make it better. So we go to the book on ‘Hooks’ written by some guy who says he wrote a hit record once thirty years ago. Don’t take this as snarky, he probably is a pretty good songwriter, a better writer, and a fabulous teacher, and a dynamite salesman. You read the book again and come to the chapter where it reads that good hooks can come from ad slogans, idioms, regional slang, poets, and metaphors. Now here’s some news – every good songwriter already knows that, and every good book on songwriting will have a chapter on the subject of hooks. You want to be a songwriter so you start thinking of ‘Hooks’. You start to write down the first one that comes to mind.

‘You can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”

Okay. I’ll start being helpful and positive. This is not the only way to start, but it is a way. Here is what works – it is an idiom that everyone knows. It has a natural cadence and can lend to any melody.

Let’s look at a good songwriting process.

It is an idiom that everybody knows. It’s not pronoun specific, it could easily relate to your lost girlfriend/boyfriend’s stubborn streak. The horse reference could make it an Americana, or a Country tune. You Google it and find a couple of not so good songs that use the phrase – so it’s not a bad start. Here is where you need to trust yourself.

All of a sudden you have a mind flash, apparently so different from the ‘horse and water’ thing,  a phrase that seems to ‘be’ your fading relationship. Most would be writers would get distracted and quit, rather than looking at the opportunity. What popped into your mind maybe a gold nugget, even if isn't where you started.

“It was a long road to where we were going…”

Then more

It wasn’t written in the stars
We did our best without our knowing
That book was written on Mars.

Mars clearly doesn’t work. Now I could look up all that rhymes with ‘stars’. Hopefully words with meanings relevant to my story/relationship; scars, disbars, are, bizarre, cars. Your first instinct is to use one.

“Our love was so bizarre
“You drove away in your car
“I know it’s just who we are

Here is the first songwriting secret:

1. You don’t always have to rhyme.

Keep true to the song’s story. You can use words that have a similar sound.

“It was a long road to where we we’re going…
It wasn’t written in the stars
We did our best without our knowing
That we were better off apart

Here is another secret:

2. Writing lyric must never be far from music.

This is the difference between Poetry and Lyric writing. Poetry is about cadence and word sounds. Lyric is about cadence and word sounds as sung. Sing your words in any melody you like, and listen to the way your word choices sound when sung. You will discover a lot of words you have never used, and you will begin to compile words that will never work. (Although, I did find a use for 'pirouette' in a song.)

What we’ve written so far isn’t bad and it's not  a bad chorus. The first line is memorable, and the second is also a recognized idiom. But you still like the horse and water idiom. How does it fit with what you have written?

3. There are a thousand ways to say/write a thing. Trust yourself that you can always make it better.

What does that ‘horse to water’ idiom bring to mind? You realize that you think you had a perfect love and she apparently didn’t think so and ran off with a masseuse who you both met at a Club Med Vacation.  That is why that idiom came to mind.

So instead this comes to mind:

My heart was like the blazing (or morning/evening/ noonday) sun
(The masseuse was tanned)
Every day seemed a perfect day
(It was a good vacation)
But your pain was a shadow from your past
(Her last boy friend was a personal trainer)
And your fear pushed you away
(Monogamy scares her

(or/and – as a tag)

And my love chased you away

Now I am using a bit of humor here, but I am making a point. Even though I added in parentheses what created the words – the words themselves work.

My heart was like the blazing sun
Every day seemed a perfect day
But your pain was a shadow from your past
And your fear pushed you away
And my love chased you away

No one knows what tickled the muse but you.  A songwriter's ‘life’ is the resource  for songs. Here's what we have so far.

“It was a long road to where we we’re going…
It wasn’t written in the stars
We did our best without our knowing
That we were better off apart

My heart was like the blazing sun
Every day seemed a perfect day
But your pain was a shadow from your past
And your fear pushed you away
And my love chased you away

Not a bad start.

Here is the fourth and last secret for this article.

4. Write what you know.

What works about this song we are writing here is that it is created from a personal, yet universal event. How you describe the event, the words you use, the sounds of those words, the way they are sung, is what will make a good lyric/song or a bad lyric/song.
(Looking at chord progressions, melody, instrument arrangement, tempo, and sound production is for another article.)

You’ll find a story and lyrics here:
1. Something you have learned.
2. Something you have heard.
3. Something you are interested in.
4. Something you have read.
5. Something in your personal experience.
6. Something you dreamed
7. Something that moved you emotionally.

Let’s wrap it up.
1. You don’t always have to rhyme.
2. Writing lyric must never be far from music.
3. There are a thousand ways to say/write a thing. Trust yourself that you can always make it better.
and
4. Write what you know.

Keep Writing.

Ken Lehnig(c)2011
Songwrtersmarketplace.com (c)2011 All Rights Reserved

 

the Work Of Poetry

Halloween is over, Thanksgiving is upon us, and I hope your spectral entanglements were manageable. And if not then I am sure the line and verse forthcoming will be dark and brilliant. So now just weeks way from Christmas and the New Year we are at that place where we either sigh and sulk in further ennui, or look forward with expectant hearts to the possibilities brewing in the New Year. Sadly one can also expect more of the same. And if the talking heads and the mad hatter cultural mechanics have their way that is what we will get. And once again that worry, and concern, be the makings of this article.

Are your ready for a connective leap from the opening paragraph to my subject that will seem like a quantum entanglement?  I am going to write about the power of words. No, I am not pointing to the failed grammar and spelling tests you had in Grammar School. Was it the stout and artificially happy Mrs. Theona Wentwhistle, or the bespectacled and stern Miss Agnus Dumwaters, or in my case the steely-eyed, garrison belt wearing and black robed task master Sister Mary Elizabeth (Who believed I would learn my lessons better being locked in my locker out in the hall, that discipline required for my transforming pages of poetry into spitballs) that told you that words are very powerful things and it would behoove you to be diligent in your studies? You know that grand Lady you pretty much ignored while humming ‘Teacher Teacher leave those kids alone!’  They were right you know, but I am not writing about your mastery of the language, I can assume if you are a poet you have attained some prowess there, even if sprinkled with unimaginative execration and cluelessly mundane inditements, both I would have you re-examine for a brick in the wall you shouldn’t have torn down. We are going to explore the power of word choice at a number of levels, to create the ability, for a poet, to make word choices that perhaps reach the listener at a deeper and more profound level.

PhotobucketNot:

Mother F**ker, back off
see he’s with me,

I’ll hand you misery,
‘cause I can see
like the stars at sea,
don’t mess with me,
‘cause I’m your mother f**king tragedy,
I got me a modus operandi,
for you being a foolhardy,
higgledy on your piggledy,
lowdown, raggedy ass
man heisting fool.

Not:
my heart is broken
how could you have left me
threw my heart out the window
like it was garbage
after I gave you everything
and you just disregard me
as unimportant
as nothing
just dust in the wind
I’m broken you win
your so vain
I bet you think this poem
is about you

Am I saying the above doesn’t have value? It most certainly does – as entertainment and as a journal entry. And there is an audience. If we are to be poets, should we not make the disPhotobucketdistinction that we have a responsibility to create ‘high’ work, work with an honest effort to lift, enlighten, reveal, to open a door to another possibility, or reality, to say it in a new and fresh way. It would seem that I am snarky and mean spirited, that I’m setting a high bar, and I may even seem arrogant. I am not passing myself as some master of the language, some grammatical alchemist, or a lingual magician; I am none of those things, but I am a student and a hard working practitioner of all those arts. We will explore together and if I, as the tour guide, fall short…oh well. It was still worth the effort. Language is fluid and fixed at the same time. It changes over time for good or ill. Modern language is the language you use at the time that form of the language is being used. Seems obvious…Right?

Here is a quote from Wikipedia, “Language change is the phenomenon whereby phonetic, morphological, semantic, syntactic, and other features of language vary over time. The effect on language over time is known as diachronic change. Two linguistic disciplines in particular concern themselves with studying language change: historical linguistics and sociolinguistics. Here is another tidbit: The principle of least effort: Speakers especially use economy in their articulation, which tends to result in phonetic reduction of speech forms. See vowel reduction, cluster reduction, lenition, and elision. After some time a change may become widely accepted (it becomes a regular sound change) and may end up treated as a standard.

For instance: going to gonna. As a poet we communicate with words. The choice of words and word chains are the color and texture of what we write. If the poet is limited to the words in the common lexicon then the work has the danger of being mundane. That being said it doesn’t mean that mundane work will not get some degree of popular approval. In fact many folks make a good living delivering consistently mundane product to a hungry fan base, and more power to them. I myself , without any shame at all, have produced such work for a buck or two. But that isn’t the point I am making, it is about seeing differences between types of work, creating the ability to make distinctions in your own work. If we can’t see it we can’t fix, or change, it. If you would, it is learning to write in levels and recognizing what makes each level as distinct from another.

The common lexicon is a tool of the poet, but not the only tool! There are different ways to use the language. Lewis Carroll wrote ‘Jabberwocky’ as a poem within a work ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

I tried the same exercise:

Priddle and passel
Perning on a peer
Saddle up a seaner
Brigged and get
Tattle in a tangle
Teater and tear
Better a bounder
Than a booring bet

If there is meaning it is only with the writer. The brain ‘matrix-es’, which means it, seeks meaning in all input from the senses. You get a sense that the poems mean something, but it is just outside the grasp. Combining uncommon words in unusual groupings has the same effect. Another valuable tool is metaphor.

Here is an excerpt from Dylan Thomas’ ‘Holy Spring’

Out of a bed of love
When that immortal hospital made one more moove to soothe
The curless counted body,
And ruin and his causes
Over the barbed and shooting sea assumed an army
And swept into our wounds and houses,
I climb to greet the war in which I have no heart but only
That one dark I owe my light,
Call for confessor and wiser mirror but there is none
To glow after the god stoning night
And I am struck as lonely as a holy marker by the sun.

Types of metaphor:
1. Personification
2.Anthropomorphism
3.Hyperbole
4.Parable
5.Fable

Simile is also a tool to enrich prose and verse.

Here is one of mine own. From “I Need More Than This’

I saw you like liquid in the sunlight dancing
A dancer from a world where answers come before the asking
I’m asking to hold you not like a bitter pill
Swallowed with a lithe hand promised of a sweeter sweeter night
Lies like poetry moved and held me bound
Your body held me till my breath was still
Hey baby I need more than this

Friends are shadows just marionettes and empty talking
They are an empty well you drink from shines on you
Your beauty is empty and time keeps stealing
Without worry the choir and the cadence rolls on and on
But baby I need more than this

Word choices can also be powerful. I’ll use an excerpt from one of my poems for the example.
From ‘A Living Ghost Town’
Hot white work to do
no sunlight
dusty ghosts toil
lamp lit underground
holes collocated

troll’s kin
world tossed sanctorum
Golconda
digging gritty earth

The last tool for this article, and we return to the top of the page, is to go back in history and look at the common language then. I have noted in new Western movies the dialogue is in the vernacular of that time. The lexicon of two hundred years ago is quite different and a rich mine of poetic gold.
strong>Here are pieces from the 1800s
From ‘The Figure Head’ by Herman Melville

But iron-rust and alum-spray
And chafing gear, and sun and dew
Vexed this lad and lassie gay,
Tears in their eyes, salt tears nor few;
And the hug relaxed with the failing glue.

From ‘One Day’ by Rupert Brooke

Today I have been happy.
All the day I held the memory of you, and wove
Its laughter with the dancing light o’ the spray,
And sowed the sky with tiny clouds of love,
And sent you following the white waves of sea,
And crowned your head with fancies, nothing worth,
Stray buds from that old dust of misery,
Being glad with a new foolish quiet mirth.

And the last excerpt – one you know but have not of late visited. ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ by John Keats

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

There is always something to be gained by studying what has come before, street poet or learned grad. The Internet has brought about the possibility of a golden age of poetry just by the fact that we have so much that is now accessible to everyone.

Best to you!

Ken Lehnig

Originally posted On ‘Majestic’ the newsletter for http://lit.org

The Rambling Vagabond Poet/Ken Lehnig(c)2011

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On Smashwords

I just finished three days of arduous work . I published a book on Smashwords.com. I have been seeing a lot of e-book publishers popping up and I wondered on what program was being used to upload the manuscript. I found the site and began the journey. The first thing I noticed is that they wanted a perfectly edited manuscript. ‘What!’ What writer ever has a perfect manuscript. We are artists. We allow the mind to roam free, to find the little treasures we write. I was deflated and almost gave up. But I decided to move ahead. I edited my book three times – sadly finding errors every time. I now appreciate the skill, the stamina, the dedication, and the tenacity it takes to be an editor. Once I had finished I sent it out to be properly edited.

The next step was to read the horribly long and eye twisting ‘help and guidelines’. Dear God I thought I had already done all this. I finished reading the guidelines and collapsed head down on my desk, from the sheer horror of undertaking the next step. But I rose from the pit and went to work. Now I know that there are a lot of writers out there that use ‘Word’ and I would imagine, like me, feel pretty damn smug and boast proficiency on that insidious program. Well, there is more to learn. It was mindboggeling to me at all the functions available to the editor on ‘Word’, which I must now master Okay, you already knew, it was only me stuck back in the 20th century who didn’t. I do now, and I am sure I am a better man for it.

I did it. Everything was perfect, in fact, probably the only thing I have ever written that was technically that well done. Dear Lord, what have I put people through ,when I say “Could you edit my book?’  For the record – ‘I am truly Sorry!’

I uploaded my now near perfect book (I am sure there are still typos in there, please forgive them for the blood and sweat I have given.) and it worked across a number of formats. (Kindle and other devices) But not for APPLE, oh no, there was a standard out there for e-books. I sat and stared in dismay. I read up on the requirments and realized that it was ‘good’. Apple had set a standard at the same level as printed work. I was pleased, if a little daunted. I slogged forward and submitted my manuscript into a site that checked for compliance. I got back the page of errors and set about trying my best to even understand the techno script I was reading.

I stayed with it, line for line. Research and fix, research and fix. Finally it came down to a Giff. image that I had never put in my book. nevertheless the code was in there somewhere. Two hours later, starving for lack of sleep, nourishment,and coffee, I threw my hands in the air and deleted every image,  re-inserted jpegs, and resubmitted. The manuscript passed.

The good folks at Smashwords don’t pull any punches. They tell you that it will be an arduous and terrible process. They call the program ‘Meatgrinder’ for good reason.

I would actually suggest all you writers out there to not do this yourself, some of us are computer savey enough and have a masochistic streak that compels us to jump off cliffs and walk on fire. (But never drink bad coffee) Nearly twenty five hours went into learning the program and the process. I feel as if I have graduated from some invisible school. My advice is write your creative heart out then find a good e-book publisher, or pay me,  or others like me, that have decided to give up a substantial chunk of their life to learn the process, to help you through the process. In any event keep writing!

Ken

OH Yeah! Buy my book!

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/95619#longdescr

On Being Creative