'Spoken word notation'

Discussion of any bush poetry topic.
ONLY Registered Forum Members have access to this Forum.
User avatar
Stephen Whiteside
Posts: 3783
Joined: Sat Nov 27, 2010 1:07 pm
Contact:

'Spoken word notation'

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Fri Dec 10, 2010 6:12 pm

When I was a child, I was fortunate enough to be taught how to read music. The beauty of musical notation is that the composer can communicate so much information about the music to the performer - so much more than just the notes. He can also instruct the performer how many beats to hold each note for, whether there are any pauses, etc. He can even tell the performer to play three notes in the time it would normally take to play two notes - or even one - if he wants to. Can poets convey similar information to the performers of our work? No, we can't, because a language of 'spoken word notation' (unlike musical notation) has not been developed.

Let me give you a simple example.

CJ Dennis wrote a poem called 'Wheat'.

The first line of the chorus reads as follows:
"Wheat, Wheat, Wheat! Oh, the sound of it is sweet!"

It is clear to me that he meant it to be recited as follows, with the emphasis on the syllables with the capital letters:

WHEAT, WHEAT, WHEAT! OH, the SOUND of IT is SWEET!

Clearly to make this work, there has to be a short gap between each of the 'wheats' - otherwise there just aren't enough syllables to make it even. I have heard it read exactly the way it is written - without any pauses between the 'wheats' - and it sounds terrible.

So Dennis had to rely on the reader working it out for himself. There was no clear way for him to write down the way he meant it to sound. We have no language for this.

This leaves us poets with a dilemma. Either we trust the performer to work it out for himself, or else we work to make everything foolproof by counting out all the syllables. While this is safer, we run the risk of writing poetry that then sounds monotonous.

People sometimes say to me that they find my work difficult to perform. For years I couldn't work this out, but I realise now that I know where all my little pauses are, but I have no way of communicating them in written form - and the truth is, I like my little pauses. I think they can add dramatic effect. I don't want to write them all out, so I leave it to the reader, and hope he (or she) will find a way to work it out for themselves.

I think it can also be fun to throw in an extra syllable every now and then. Again, I have no way of communicating 'here are three syllables that you need to read in the time it normally takes to read two'.

It seems a shame that musicians have such freedom in this regard, but we are so limited. I wonder why such a language was never developed. Clearly, there was never felt the need. Perhaps it isn't too late. Perhaps we poets can develop a 'spoken word notation' which will allow us to write more rhythmically complex and interesting poems, confident in the knowledge that whoever reads our poems will know exactly how we want them to be recited!
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer
http://www.stephenwhiteside.com.au

User avatar
Zondrae
Moderator
Posts: 2290
Joined: Sun Oct 31, 2010 9:04 am
Location: Illawarra

Re: 'Spoken word notation'

Post by Zondrae » Fri Dec 10, 2010 7:34 pm

uuum Stephen,

I thought that was the function of the comma. Wheat, Wheat, Wheat, etc.
Zondrae King
a woman of words

User avatar
Stephen Whiteside
Posts: 3783
Joined: Sat Nov 27, 2010 1:07 pm
Contact:

Re: 'Spoken word notation'

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Fri Dec 10, 2010 8:25 pm

You're right, Zondrae, of course - but only up to a point. Full stops, commas, semi-colons, hyphens, exclamation and question marks all do help us, but they are a very crude bunch of tools compared to musical notation - and to what spoken word notation could be also, if we put our minds to it.
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer
http://www.stephenwhiteside.com.au

User avatar
Zondrae
Moderator
Posts: 2290
Joined: Sun Oct 31, 2010 9:04 am
Location: Illawarra

Re: 'Spoken word notation'

Post by Zondrae » Sat Dec 11, 2010 6:43 am

Ah, (again) Stephen,

But is this not the magic of the written word! We can make of it what we will, rather than rely on direction from someone else. With this in mind - I have listened to the same piece of music played, accurately by two different pianists. One, while technically correct, had no soul at all, the other was so uplifting that most of the listeners had tears in their eyes and, as one, rose to a standing ovation. Now both had played exactly the same notation but - there was a difference.

I must add that, as a child, we had no TV and listened to plays on the radio. I could 'see' the rooms in which the scenes ere played out. I guess I have always had an active imagination.
Zondrae King
a woman of words

Neville Briggs
Posts: 6867
Joined: Sun Oct 31, 2010 12:08 pm
Location: Here

Re: 'Spoken word notation'

Post by Neville Briggs » Sat Dec 11, 2010 9:33 am

I agree Stephen. Perhaps music has a complexity a bit different but also related to poetry.

In music, the pauses, the pace of the music, and the volume are in the hands of the performer or conductor, but the colours of the music, that is the different sounds of different instruments ( instrumentation) are set by the composer, and should only be changed on the highest authority.
I suggest that the pauses and pace and volume of poetry are flexible according to the understanding that the presenter has of the writer's intention. The words however, are vital, they are the colours and images of the poem and should be carefully and exactly retained. If one is writing, I think that the guidance given by punctuation is important, but the choice of words is paramount.

Neville
Neville
Singleton Bush Poets.

warooa

Re: 'Spoken word notation'

Post by warooa » Sun Dec 12, 2010 7:03 am

There's a wait, between the wheats, or it's tweet tweet tweet
so please wait, count the beats, sort the chaff from the wheat

wheat, wait, wheat, then repeat
sing song tweet, musical beat
tweet tweet twitter, twitchers trait
wheat wheat wheat - and The Weight

I'll shut-up now I've contributed to this serious thread ;)

User avatar
keats
Posts: 1044
Joined: Thu Nov 11, 2010 11:43 pm

Re: 'Spoken word notation'

Post by keats » Sun Dec 12, 2010 9:52 am

I'm with Marty. Boy is this scientific approach to performing properly freaking me out! And to think that for the last 15 odd years (very odd sometimes) I have not been commerizing or full-stopping my delivery at the appropriate times. Maybe this is why people buy the CDs, to take home and study my verbal lack of a scientific approach for future generations sake. I will arm myself with this new found information and see how it works on the crowds at Tamworth!! lol

ps that Wheat Wheat Wheat poem, what's it about???

User avatar
Stephen Whiteside
Posts: 3783
Joined: Sat Nov 27, 2010 1:07 pm
Contact:

Re: 'Spoken word notation'

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Sun Dec 12, 2010 10:38 am

Oh, I don't want to freak anybody out, keats. I'm just thinking out aloud, really. It's good for me (though possibly not for anybody else!) to put my ideas 'out there' rather than have them spin endlessly round inside my head. Most of them end up in the rubbish bin, which is probably a good thing, but every now and then I seem to stumble onto something of potential value.

'Wheat' is a pretty long poem, and I don't have time to type it out, but you can find it here: http://www.middlemiss.org/lit/authors/d ... wheat.html
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer
http://www.stephenwhiteside.com.au

User avatar
Stephen Whiteside
Posts: 3783
Joined: Sat Nov 27, 2010 1:07 pm
Contact:

Re: 'Spoken word notation'

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Sun Dec 12, 2010 10:45 am

(Maybe this explains the gut feeling I have always had that I should avoid Tamworth...)
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer
http://www.stephenwhiteside.com.au

Leonie

Re: 'Spoken word notation'

Post by Leonie » Sun Dec 12, 2010 1:51 pm

This topic has put me in mind of something I heard years ago. Kris Kristofferson was talking about his performance of Me and Bobby McGee at some concert or other and the fact that some audience member heckled him about performing it as a country song when everyone knew it was supposed to be a rock song, a la Janis Joplin. He countered with a comment that was along the lines of it was supposed to be a country song, and he should know because he wrote it, but he wasn't about to refuse the royalties that were coming from the Joplin version. :lol:

Tamworth hey, well I guess they would prefer the country version, me ... I think I prefer Janis. So maybe I should avoid Tamworth too. ;) Horses for courses.

Edited .. because I snuck in to change the brain dead moment, then snuck out again hoping no one noticed.
Last edited by Leonie on Sun Dec 12, 2010 4:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Post Reply