Tag Archives: songwriting

Poetry and the End of the World

EXITENTIAL 1

Poetry and the End of the World

If you knew the world were to end tomorrow I don’t know how important any of us would find those unfinished and ‘as soon as I’ projects. That is  unless all muse-fused, snarky, poet/songwriters were mandated to stay behind and explain, in inspired verse, what happened – besides I like the idea of second chances, and just think of all the poems and songs that would come from the residue of such an event. God has a universe-sized sense of humor – how else can you explain we humans and our world-wrecking mechanizations.

It’s said God made every woman and man

Some believe that it wasn’t a good thing

Though flawed I think we are more than worthy

Is the recall for flawed manufacturing?

I know there is poetry and songwriting in Heaven, the rub is only good poetry and songwriting is allowed. (I guess I better get to improvin’ my writing efforts) Getting better at our craft is what I’ll write about in this article. Now, nothing I ever write is written in stone, but is an exploration of ideas that I believe are worth consideration. I am about all of us bettering our poetry skills. You can take my rambling in any way you find useful.

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The World Continues

I sit down after a day of rest from writing, I note that I am still here. The world did not end and the election process is about to bore us into oblivion. And it seems most everyone I know is still here – and some are not – sadly. There were no abandoned and wrecked cars on the road, and the sun came up as it has always done. The only quaking I felt was mine own, stemming from the uncomfortable interaction between our President and Netanyahu, our country’s predilection for joining in on every fist fight on the planet, how every bill in my wallet is worth less every day, whether, soon, I’ll have to decide between a ten dollar gallon of gas or paying my rent, and my concern for all those other nuclear reactors built on fault-lines, if the ultra-rich will just take all the money, if any banker will go to jail or even be arrested, or if I have the strength to weather it all. So, our responsibilities are still here, with the plethora of problems and worries we all face as well. Yep, all the dramatic materials that make up the natural resources for mining poetic gold.

We didn’t believe but we secretly hoped

That the world would change for us

With our now overdue bills and dire concerns

We were all distracted by the media fuss

Let’s have a look at using some of that poetic gold in a way that transforms it into an even finer thing.

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The World and the Mundane

I have written about this before, and I think it worth a further examination. When you sit down at your computer, or writing pad, how do the poetic thoughts come to you? Have you seen something of beauty, or ruin that makes your brain percolate like a coffee pot? (a reference perhaps lost in the under forty crowd.) Has a beautiful someone walked across your hormone infused vision, instigating an obsession? Has an evil, cheating, despicable, lying, ogre broken your heart and thwarted your fairy tale expectations? Have you decided that you are the only one who sees the world’s problems clearly and are compelled to write down your lofty thoughts and inspired insights in verse to share with we less enlightened?

Before you decide that I am rude, insensitive, arrogant, or full of s**t and stop reading – it would be better, for the purpose of this article, to acknowledge the glaring truth. If we are serious poets we have all sat down and thought about and/or written in one of these ways. It is the grist of a poet’s personality, the process every poet goes through. It is not a criticism, we all can cite excellent pieces based firmly in each of the areas that I mentioned. Are those poets more or less than us? We even write a few good ones ourselves. But here is the thing, the rub, have you noticed that Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s love poetry (Sonnets from the Portuguese) is just a bit better than our own work? Or that the dark musings of Edgar Allen Poe’s work is darker than ours? Kerouac, Ginsburg, Ferlinghetti, all take existential reveling and observational poetry to a different place than we seem to be able to access. The mastery of Keats, Wilde, Mary Oliver, and Thomas, Bronte, Tennyson, Kipling, Cummings, both inspire and leave us humbled.

So what do we do? We write, and write, and keep writing!

…but here be the thing. We have to realize that our early pre-writing musing, nudged by the muse, may not be the thing that goes down on paper, or on your computer screen. In fact most lofty and worthy thoughts once filtered through our TV and computer addled mind will most probably come out mundane and banal.

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poetry in chaos

The World Is Too Loud

You the reader may be thinking, “Now he’s telling me to become a freakin’ Luddite! Maybe he’ll say I have to move to the some Palin loving wilderness so I can write authentically about global warming – try to turn me into a Walden Pond loving Thoreau, writing about water skippers dragon flies, uncomfortable sweating, and my-blood hungry mosquitoes – eating leaves, dirt laden mushrooms, and stuff – when I really want to write about how that no good %$#@# broke my heart, how ‘The Man’ is out there pulling us down, or about those fools who cut other people off on the freeway. I’ m hungry – maybe I’ll go make a sandwich and read this article later.”

So what’s a poet to do? First tell your mind to behave itself – at least until our conversation is over. However, a sandwich does sound good. (Pause – imagine in your mind a muzak-ed Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven’.)

I’m back. I had a nice roast beef and swiss on a kaiser – mayo and a little dab of horse radish.

Okay …now…

What makes great poets is the manner in which words are used. Instead of looking at the words as a casual conversation between you and your mind – have your mind look for another way, a deeper way to say what you saw – what you experienced, and not the mundane first explanation that your mind wants to give you. Our minds are lazy and unwieldy. The mind hates looking at things anew. It is designed for our survival and memorizes repeated events and environs, it memorizes what we see, hear, and feel and stores it for use in determining ‘Similars’ as a way to keep us safe from harm.

Ever notice that when you look in your journal the same words show up when your writing about your new Love – as when you wrote about your old Love (when you were briefly happy) –’ tis your mind reviewing the words attached to the feeling of new love. Your frustrations about that man or woman’ are your thoughts related to every time you have been thwarted, or frustrated, mixed in with things you have read, heard, or seen to validate those same thoughts – Does that mean you’re wrong? No, it means when you write you write through that mundane filter. I had written that I was moved by the beauty of Sadona – every time I sit down to write all that I see in my mind is every other breathtaking mountain and heart stopping vista I have seen in my life, nothing new, and nothing approaching the feelings I had at the time. I wrote one poem, from that trip, about a sad and odd little living ghost town we had passed through on the way, because I was affected, and new and fresh words were deep in me about that experience. Words deeper in me, for seeing something new, than the mundane observations my mind quickly offered.

Ken Lehnig(c)2016 all rights reserved

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The World Anew

Yes, the rose is red and it has thorns, but what else does it convey – what words come to that higher/deeper mind. Does the rose look as if it were colored by blood – do you sense a connection between the rose and your heart? Does the blood red rose remind you of the loss of a loved one? Do the thorns remind you of the pain and uncertainty of relationships? Can you see that there is more to be written than:

You left me with a broken heart

as if you think I wasn’t worth a thing

I sat up all night and cried and cried

I can’t believe the sadness you bring

Really? I know your friends think it’s brilliant – it’s not. Look deeper at what you feel, find something new in the experience, and then elevate the language.

Maybe:

thwarted expectations

and now a broken heart

misused and discarded

did I give permission

are my tears penance

for believing

for hoping

blind and gullible

a love starved

weeping clown

Okay – give me a break I’m a dude. We guys have to dig a little deeper. But I think it makes the point. Don’t settle on the first idea that comes in your head. That first effort is mind-conversation and suited to a journal entry – not a poem. Use the experience, dig down, and wait for the words – they will come. Let’s try again.

thwarted expectations

revealing a broken heart

an act in my life’s circus

painted tears and a frown

where I gave permission

I spin with believing

I flip with love’s hope

I fall with gullibility

a loved starved clown

playing the same scene

over and over again

Better? I used imagery that may be peripheral to the main thought. For me the Circus is imagery I associate with busy mysterious coming and goings – perhaps the way I hold ‘love’ – my lovely wife of 38 years has now made that abstract – but is a solid image for me.

I have often written about finding you poetic ‘voice’, this is how that comes about. When you flex the muscle of your mind, by dismissing what the mind flaccidly first offers, and look for another unique way to write, you go beyond a conversation and create a non-verbal, a non-conversational expression. To but it more simply – a good poem is not a conversation with your mind it is a tangible and unique expression of a new or profound experience. That experience being from memory/past looked at anew, an event/present looked at uniquely, or speculation/ future/ abstract in a unique exploration.

The craft of poetry is just this – say it in a better way until you, as the poet, are satisfied it’s the best you can do.

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Ken Lehnig’s Audio Tutorial On Song Structure.

Sorry for the inconvenience. I’m still working on the new site.

  Ken Lehnig’s tutorial on Song Structure

There have been many workshops on songwriting. On this tutorial I talk about songwriting in general and then in my usual style get eventually to a real study on songwriting specifically on song structure. I use recordings of my own songs to illustrate the points I’m sharing. I trust this will be informative or at least entertaining. I would be pleased if it’s both.

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The Relationship Between Songwriting and Poetry

 

   I am a writer, poet , and songwriter and having practiced these arts most of my life I have gotten a few insights as to what works in each. It is my hope that if the reader is a songwriter what i have written will be of help – if you are not perhaps you may gain a finer appreciation of songwriting and what is good in a song.

This piece was first published in Lit.org 'Majestic'.

  I have had several conversations this week with poets and songwriters about the relationship between poetry and lyric writing. Poets expounded that the art of poetry has a deeper and more defining aspect, while lyric writing is common and shallow. Lyric writers say that the abstract and esoteric nature of poetry is inaccessible, while lyric writing accesses a universal meaning and need, whether it is an aria, or a version of Louie Louie. After listening to, and speaking many well considered, and erudite notions, I put aside my too often eristic tendencies and retired to my chair, in front of my computer, to ponder all that has been offered with such earnestness and passion. I even went so far as to Google the issue, an act leaving me more confused, past my own time worn and well considered opinions – as well as any nonsensical notions I have picked up along the way.

There is no doubt, to me, that music, or the human appreciation for music, is in some way hardwired in us, at the least it is an appreciation developed early in human history. But then so is ‘language’, and the use of language, as a means to tell a story, or convey an abstract concept, the latter, in human prehistory, often the purlieu of the early religious and well suited in those ethereal explorations. The combining of word, and music, is an ancient endeavor, and a natural one. The powerful feeling and sensations that can be invoked with the marrying of music and lyric is, in the truest sense, magical. One can wonder why there is contention at all between the two art forms.

As I have addressed in previous articles, we know that Greek recitations often included music, or rhythmic accompaniment. Music evolved into a very sophisticated form when more and more instruments were invented – out of necessity, so that a common written form would allow for combined performance. That notation system, we enjoy today, gives our voices acknowledgment as the first, and primary, instrument.

Is it in us, as humans, to be creative, hard-wired as I stated? If it is, any number of creative barkings, and thump-drummings, can and will occur. And they most certainly have. Every creative act of humans has the potential for developing into finer and finer manifestations. The barkings of early humans is now speech – a thing that can be refined as gold in ore, or as rough and rude as with primordial attempts. Music can be the hitting of a stick on a hollow tree stump, or the bowed brilliance of a Stradivarius by a Masters hand.

What am I getting at? You may ask.

I am getting at the fact that all art is progression, an a cumulative expression of the human psyche. So when we sit down to write, whether poetry or lyrics, do we do it with no knowledge of what came before? Do we defend our ‘Art’ with venomous rage, and refuse any critique?  Or do we learn a little of what has already been done, from others, and in our own exploration, and see how our work fits into the human artistic tapestry? New things do come into the world and are worthy of attention; usually those things own a kinship with what has come before, and stand on the shoulders of other artistic craftsman. Am I saying that any ‘unique’ interpreter should throw out what they have done?  No I am not – but take the time to see if, and how, that work fits in the artistic matrix. That ‘matrix’ is what is built into us all. We look at new things through that filter, and make the decision to ‘like’ or’ not like’ based upon those preset conceptions. The true Artist is one that knows, whether through study and trial, or by some directed self-awareness, the ‘matrix’ – and knows how to create something different, and new, that will find a place within the existing fabric. This is the reason art created with feces is just something made from feces – Journal writing is, and will remain, Journal writing, no matter the passionate and honest intentions of the creator.

There you have it, the rantings of a near lunatic, sitting at Tea (coffee), on ‘Art’. I will of course offer an example of how this bit of scribbling has practical merit. Poetry has forms, and one should learn those forms. Songwriting has forms , and one should learn the forms.

Why? The brand new stream of consciousness Spoken Word poet asks. Because, my fearless friend, it will make your work better.  More people will respond favorably to your performances, and when you write it down it will be read as you, as the writer, intends.

Why? The brand new songwriters ask, as they pluck happily on a guitar, or tickle the ivories, over the song that, to them, sounds exactly like a Lady GaGa song, and will surly make them rich, as soon as they share it with the first music pro they meet. Because, if you know song structure, and form, you will have an arsenal of tools to be able to write quality lyrics to the next hundred songs, where one might turn out be that hit.

I have spent a great deal of time on poetry as of late – so – let’s spend some time with the songwriters.

I have talked about the ‘verse/verse/chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus’ song structure. This is kinda the norm, these days, for contemporary songs, but it isn’t the only way. I’m going to go around the barn, once again, and suggest some songwriting methods that you probably won’t find anywhere else. Lyric writing ‘is’ poetry! In the sense that it stands on it’s own until music is added. So let’s look at some Poetic Forms that are relevant to lyric writing. Here are four familiar poetic forms that work well for songwriting structure and if creatively tweaked a bit can produce some interesting results.

1. Ballads: These were often written as Broadsheets, were most always ‘tales’ and often written by poets and  sung to existing melodies throughout England and Ireland. Northern and west European ballads were most often written in quatrains (four-line stanzas) of alternating lines of  iambic, tetrameter, and iambic trimeter. Usually, only the second and fourth line of a quatrain are rhymed.

Here is an example of  one ‘o me own:

The black steed rode ahead the storm
His rider clothed in dread
He carried dire thoughts in his mind
Behind, the angry dead

Can you hear the storm there wailing?
It calls out every name
The black rider is there leading
He is delivering the blame

2. Couplet–  usually consists of two lines that rhyme and have the same meter.

Here is one ‘o my blues song that uses this form aa bb cc. the meter is skewed in the last couplet to accommodate the refrain:

I ain’t had no luck
Drive a pick up truck

My mood ain’t sunny
I ain’t got no money

I’ll do any thing in this big wide world Sue
To get me up close to you

3. Sonnets: This form usually is written in a 14 lines with an ababcdcdefefgg rhyme with 10 syllables per line in iambic pentameter. For this song we can break them into 4 stanzas aabb ccdd eeff and a chorus of two lines gg. I have bent the rules making this 13 syllables per line –  so that it sings well.

(He was)
Early disappointing but a hero in his mind
Traveled in dark places staying with the thieving kind
Wild storms broke the sun deadly shadows across the moon
Holds up the well of heal then sleeps off the drink till noon

It was sadly wrought the gentry two were badly met
They held their purses hard – John Penny’s gun did the rest
Grim bell resonates  – John Penny for the gibbet soon
Gold and copper counts, John Penny in a dreary room

A crossed mate played the Judas- gave up his hide and seek
Jon Penny slipped the noose and preyed further on the weak
Like a rider on the wind with hell hounds on his heels
Fiercely snapping crying vengeance no judge to make a deal

Highwaymen are lonely and most then are surely doomed
Jon Penny riding like a shadow across the moon

4. Free Verse: This form uses both rhyme and cadence/meter where the poet has the freedom to create a feeling or mood. This is the foundation and legitimacy for Spoken Word, although that legitimacy comes from past poets, who knew and understood other poetic form, before venturing into free verse.

Anyway, whether poetry, or songwriting take the time to learn the forms – It don’t hurt to know!

Here is a song lyric that uses free verse in its structure.

She the kind of girl who’s true and formed
Free versed and cursed
With a quirky grace

She the kind of girl with much inside
Weird dark and light
On an angels face

She’s a temptress
And a circus clown
Back flips and lips
Not afraid to fall

Lost gypsy’s dream
I’ve lost my will
Dreams come true

T.S. Eliot wrote, “No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job.”

Every poetic form gives the songwriter a platform a foundation to write upon. I hope that I have shown that by knowing poetic form you can tweak it and make your songwriting stronger and maybe just a little easier.

Ken Lehnig(c)2012 version All Rights Reserved

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On Songwriting ‘Red Bone’

This is one of those songs that was seeded by just hearing something that made the Muse ring. I was half-watching a movie and in the film one of the characters had a Blue Tick Hound named Red Bone. The idea that percolated in my head that night while I slept was of a bad man with the surname Redbone – with a dog Redbone tracking him down. I loved that irony. That's it. I wanted an old time feel and a repetitive hook. A friend first hearing the song said 'Don't tell me the name of the song is Redbone.'  Maybe too repetitive, but that's the hook.. The first verse was just to set the scene – poetically descriptive with the fifth line tag telegraphing the outcome.

Redbone

My Red Bone riding on the warm wind
Red Bone howling at the moon beams

Red Bone sniffin' out the bad man
Sam Red Bone soon hanging from an old oak tree

The second verse I wanted to tell the reason for chasing him down. The trick was to do it with solid imagery, but being as clear as I could as to how bad the men was.

A nightmare came out the darkness
The willows weeping cause the witness
That deed surely evil with the madness
Leave behind a life full of sadness

The next was to soften the song a bit by painting with words the feeling of the hound running and baying in the moonlight. I was really happy with the feel of this verse. The fifth line  tag bringing back what it was all about.

My Red Bone running on the warm night
Red Bone howling in the moonlight
My Red Bone nosing out that bad man
Sam Red Bone soon hanging from an old oak tree

The third verse threw me a bit. I suppose I am making a statement here about the affect of murder and whether a person should be allowed to live after tearing an innocent from life and loved ones. The damage is horrendous and unforgivable to me. I do present here that he almost gets away and I imply that he could murders others in trying to get away.

The story hidden in the blood stains
Lost dreams they never gonna gain again
Sam Red Bone climbed on a freight train
The track laid for a man gone insane

I wanted this verse to resolve the story.

But my Red Bone is one with the warm wind
Red Bone howling up at the moon beams
Red Bone done chased down that bad man
Sam Red Bone got his neck stretched, yeah

in an old oak tree

I wanted to put a twist in the story – what if you were involved in such a way that you knew the victims, perhaps saw what the monster had done. Redbone does corner him and you have him in your grasp – it's dark  – it's out in a lonely wood. Would you deliver justice for fear that some Judge may let him go because you didn't give him his rights properly?  I suppose the question I wanted the listener to wrestle with is that it is easy to be an observer and be lenient  when this evil is removed from you. Justice to often isn't served – and some times justice is misguided and just gets it wrong by convicted an innocent person. But here Redbone's nose can't lie.

Justice here done in the darkness
Sam judged swinging from a oak tree
No more bad deeds in the midnight
Red Bone We chased him down in the midnight
Red Bone We chased him down and made it all right

Simple Americana Lyrics, a clear story, a field call arrangement made this song work for me as a songwriter. The rest is up to the listener.

'Redbone' by Ken Lehnig © 2003 Desert Windsong Pub. BMI

Copyright Ken Lehnig © 2011  previously published SongwritersMarketplace.com  All rights reserved

On Being An Artist

On being an Artist

Photobucket It would seem that I am about to veer off road and careen wildly across strange landscapes; far away from the terrain I usually travel.  Not so, dear reader, I am going to go deeper into the artistic soul, and heart, that is the underpinning of writers and poets. I travel that same road we are all on; no matter the level of our competence we share this journey. To this point I have offered my thoughts, on writing poetry, and lyrics, not as an expert – but as a working artist and an observer, perhaps casting a light into shadowy places in our understanding of what it is to be a Poet or Songwriter. I am going to connect some dots – I will do this with no more authority than the fact that I am an Artist – I sculpt, I draw and paint, and I write poetry, prose and songs, all these disciplines come from the same wellhead.  I do hope you are entertained, maybe enlightened, and do forgive the fact that I lack the ability to be mundanely linear and coherent. (If I do – it is a lucky accident, and the connective activity of rouge neurons attempting to conservatize my thinking.)

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self- conscious, and everything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”

Ray Bradbury

This article is going to be about the starting point on our journey as poetic writers – the off-road of being a Poet, an Artist. This is for those that feel they have the tools, but not the spark to write well – this will be for those that think the Muse ignores them – this will be for the frustrated and self-critical – this will be for those aching to get  on paper, or a computer screen the language of their souls – those words that never seem to shine, or have the richness that they feel is there – those joyous fountains, sorrowful wails, brilliant illuminations, deep emotive wellings, and lucid clarities, not translated and, alas, stay un-delivered to the world.

My normal process for coming up with this column is, usually, spurred on by some poetry I have read or the lyrics, to a song, I have heard. How that comes about is what may be interesting – it isn’t always the poem or song’s content, but often how I perceive the piece to have come into being.  The mechanics are important to me and I trust that I have, in my vagabond and odd way, delivered some cogent points in that regard. I will address that more later in the article.

I want to explore the very starting point, even before there is a twinkle in the Artist’s eye. I want to write about the seed of artistry, the genesis of that good effort and human outlay we call Art.  The definition of the word ‘Art’ I leave to you to look up. I will not debate Art’s value – I believe that is mote and refuse any attempt at diminishing the need for all Artistic expression in a balanced and healthy society. A person that sees Poetry, and indeed any form of writing, as important as any artistic endeavor, writes this article.

Recognition of self as Artist

I don’t remember when I declared myself an artist. It happened in the midst of doing art. In other words, I was compelled to create and in the process found the artist. There is no right way to become an Artist. I suggest the Artist existed before the recognition, that same recognition being unimportant. A poet begins to write and in the process the Poet emerges. Trust the process. ‘Tis Like taking your first baby steps the, poetic muscles become stronger and more defined.

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.”

George Bernard Shaw

From darkness to light

This is esoteric – I believe it is in the human soul/mind/body matrix that we are designed as creators. That inherent ability can manifest itself in a myriad of ways. Every thing we, as humans, create is a form of artistic expression. Politics, mathematics, architecture, finance, business, military arts, sciences, all have a creative core – we as humans have created distinctions that aren’t real. and may well hurt us as a society. What we perceive as Art now has become separate and of less intrinsic value – music, painting, crafts, dance, sculpture, and all, have become lumped into ‘Entertainment’. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t an industry to promote and exploit these arts. It is that the worth of the Artist is not comparable to the worth of a Banker. (Well, I may have to rethink that comparison!) The darkness is the void in us and from that void will emerge a person’s human expression. This is separate from and distinct from the evil of trying to quantify a person’s aptitude and intelligence. I wrote the provocative word evil, because it is in the individual to be responsible for their own life, to find that expression. If such quantification helps the person solidify what they already know – fine. But I believe it not to be so, in most cases, being told by an authority, or the score of a one size fits all test, that you have no aptitude for something is irresponsible, damaging, and a recipe for misery. That system was, and is, designed to put people into the existing work force and down plays those abilities that are not considered valuable to society – as arbitrary and transitory as the latest story in the Media.

(The e-mails will now come pouring in. Don’t e-mail me, I am intransigent on this point – my experience will out.) Work is good – art is good! Art can be work and work can be art!  They are not mutually exclusive. Trust yourself. You know if the yearning is there – don’t be afraid to acknowledge that internal artistic urging.

Imitation

Once a person recognizes the artistic yearning the practical brain kicks in. There is no criticism in that statement, it is the way we are made, and what it is to be human. Someone created flint knapping and that skill was taught to others that had that ‘aptitude.’ They in turn created new ways to do the job and that led to other skills, or arts. The first steps in any Artist’s journey is to find an expression and then to imitate the work of other Artists that resonates in them, to me, a joyous time of self-discovery. In learning the rules the mind and body can incorporate those skills and, from there, jump ahead, as new innovations are realized, from that which has come before. Innovations that would not be possible, unless it was on the shoulders of other, previous, innovations – on the shoulders of previous innovation – and so on. Learn the craft!

Mechanics

This is the root of all Art, whether the ‘How To’ was stumbled upon or learned.

In the 80s I sculpted doll parts out of a product used for jewelry. The process started with me thinking I could create a new art form on the shoulders of an existing one, then thinking that the jewelry clay would work. I had to, by trail and error, find ways to make the clay do what it wasn’t designed to do.  Other artists and those I taught created other innovations and a new artistic community was created. I learned doll making before I attempted to create a new Art Doll expression. All art is created this way.

Poetry too has tried and true forms and modern innovations that stand on the shoulders of the poets who came before. I learned those rules early on and as a Poet they serve me well as the context of all of my work. I will consciously pick a form that best allows me to express what I wish to express.

Learn the craft, the rules, first before you creatively break the rules – you can’t create new ground till you know the old, in that relevancy is created.

Discernment

Improvement by choice – the coolest (A technical term) thing that happens to an artist is when the piece reaches out to you and says, ‘This isn’t right! Improve this! Fix this!’ That can only happen if the artist is engaged in doing the work. Trust your own intuition – you will see it in your work and you will see it when others point it out. Criticism is valuable, but it is up to you whether the piece is changed. Every bit of criticism I get I file it all away. It may not apply, to me, to the poem or story at hand, but well may be appropriate to another piece I have yet to write.

You will always stumble when attempting something new, because you look to another and how they do it – but with time and effort, an assured-ness comes into play, and you no longer look to another, but trust in the skills you have acquired.

The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.”

Oscar Wilde

The Fallacy of Failure

Every trip has a first step. There is no failure in Art. Things don’t work and do require fixing, but that is true of every life process. It was said during the Renaissance that nothing was to be made perfectly, for only God can make a perfect thing. The truth is we as humans are unable to make something perfectly – there is no compelling Heavenly ideal, or if there is, not one we should aspire – the work is to make it as good as you are able, up to your personal ideal – at the time. As an artist learns their chops, a voice will emerge. That voice being a clear resound, on what is in the nature and soul of the artist. The poetic voice I have often written about is just that – the self-discovery of a way in which the work of a poet manifests in the form, word choices, and imagery. Will there be periods of unproductive gloom, self-doubt, and self-depreciation –  I am sorry but yes! I do find the times when I’m non-productive very upsetting, but that is because I have an expectation that is being thwarted. In fact I do know that it is a time when my unconscious mind is going over its assets, and the font will again produce fruitful poetic waters.

Lord Byron’s take on those dark moments and the Muse’s neglect:

‘This bosom, responsive to rapture no more,
Shall hush thy wild notes, nor implore thee to sing;
The feelings of childhood, which taught thee to soar,
Are wafted far distant on Apathy’s wing.’

‘Farewell to the Muse’ George Gordon

But if you do find the will to work then remember this:

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep,”

Scott Adams (American Cartoonist)

Approaching mastery by intention Avoiding mastery.

The above is a strange statement, but sadly ‘tis true. The problem with mastery is that you go right back to the beginning of the process. Once you have mastered an art form you begin to imitate yourself – sad bit of business that is.  It is better to continue to learn, risk, and keep creating within your chosen discipline. If you are a Poet, write in as many forms as you can, or stay in one if your heart tells you that is right for you, but always work and strive to find that personal ideal that is imprinted on your soul. You may never be satisfied, but I believe that is indeed a joyful place to be – creation/opportunity comes from uncertainty.

Here is the best quote on being an artist I have ever read:

“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.”

Mary Lou Cook

Ken Lehnig(c)2010 repost from an article by Ken Lehnig in the March 2010 isuue of Majestic

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
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