Bright Girl

You can take the girl out of the reactor...
...but you can't take the reactor out of the girl.

This is the lyrics for the song "Bright Girl" that Hallam London and I wrote, and which he performed in the first round of Emergenza.  Luckily for you I won't try to sing it, I'm just reading.

See my previous post for things I have learned about writing lyrics.

What I am reading here is v2 of this lyric.

The general process goes:
  1. I write, erase, rearrange, scrap, edit. swear, laugh, cry etcetera until I get a first draught of something that is both coherent and rhythmical, this is v1.  I give it to Hallam.
  2. Hallam has a list of my v1 lyrics.  He looks them over until he gets inspired with a musical idea.  He records a small piece with a rough approach (his idea of rough is already impressive) and shares it with me.
  3. We discuss what's working and what's not.  This generally leads to a rearrangement of the lyric: stronger chorus, simpler break, one less verse etc etc.  This is v2.
  4. In the meanwhile Hallam has been recording longer segments and usually fits v2 to the music as soon as we have it.
  5. Then we discuss some more, and now we change smaller things like single phrases that don't work.  Another common adjustment at this stage is inserting more repeats of word phrases at points where the musical phrases require them.  This leads to v3.
So the main difference in this case is that v3 contains more repetition repetition.  That works beautifully for the music, but for just reading aloud the less lyricky and more poemy (technical terms) v2 is best.

So that's what you get.

Below the video I have pasted the lyrics expressed in RLDL (Rock Lyric Description Language).  I suspect I'm far from unique in this, but it goes: verses on the left, choruses in the middle, break on the right.

Bright Girl

Cherenkov reactor light shines blue
and pure and bright and deadly--seems she's home
behind the shutters in her attic room.
How might she spend her evening?  You don't know:
maybe splitting atoms with a finger nail,
or biting spiders into superheroes?

You suspect she is atomic,
they must have hushed her up.
She dazzles through your sunshades
and if this close isn't safe, it isn't close enough.

Leave other girls tattoos and piercings,
their slightly freaky needs;
this one has reactor shielding,
a double fail-safe coolant feed,
and if her heart is wrapped in graphite bricks
perhaps they're cracking now?

You believe she is atomic,
she outshines the very day
a blast-wave ripping through your life
that blows your burning heart away.

You've just got to appreciate
the way that girl can radiate.
She's really glowing!

Does she really need that shielding?
Do you really need your hazmat suit?
If you dare to knock upon her steel-wedge door
and stammer somehow that she's cute,
drink a glass of something blue and glowing.
You need to make your move, she is on fire...

...because you know she is atomic,
the armed guard shows that you were right
her lips melt through your visor
and you feel you are alight.

You know she is atomic,
she outshines the very day
a blast-wave through your bedroom
that blows the ashes of your heart away.


Waxing lyrical

Another essay.  Later in the week I'm going to post the lyrics I wrote for one of Hallam London's songs and this moved me to think about what I have learned in the process.

Learning to write lyrics has been interesting, it is a slightly different activity from poetry without music, but the difference is a little hard to describe.

What may seem most obvious, but which took a couple of songs for me to get my head around, is that rhythm plays a different role.  In poetry the rhythm is flexible and variable and you use it to carry the words.  There's all sorts of techniques for how the rhythm can enhance the words: long lines, short lines, sections that run faster or slower, smoother or more-brokenly, changes in rhythm etcetera etcetera...

In a song the music does all that, and what the rhythm of the words has to do is repeat consistently so that each verse or chorus can be fitted to a similar musical phrase.  Then, when the music and words are together, you can consider tweaks to the words so that they and the music do even more together.

Another difference is a matter of targeting and this is where it gets hard to explain.  In a poem you have to set your sights high.  You have to convey emotion and you have to illustrate it rather than explain it.  You have to trust the reader to understand the things you aren't saying, and so not hammer them home with a mallet—you have to be subtle.  You have to deal with concrete things (doors, spoons, sunsets) and use them to illustrate abstract things (love, memory, political unrest).  You have to consider characters—even poems without explicit characters have a narrator, and even if the narrator is the poet, they are still a character (for example an idealised version of the real person).  And so on, and so on...

For a song, all this remains true, but the emphasis is very different.  You may have fewer words (exception: really short forms, like haiku :-)).  Even when a song is long it often repeats more than a poem would.

However, you've also got much more limited time.  This really isn't obvious, because a page of words doesn't look like a period of time, but it is; and it is different for poems and songs.

For example: reading a poem the first time often proceeds something like (i) start reading, (ii) get a bit lost, (iii) look forwards and back, (iv) realise some things, (v) begin again, (vi) find bit you like, (vii) read it twice—and so on...  Even when you do proceed straight to the end, only a minute has elapsed and you often then go back to review parts.

The slight time-travel required for that is possible because the words sit stationary on the page and the eyes can scan them in any order they wish.  With a song no time-travel is permitted.  The music runs forwards at a constant rate and carries the words with it.  More than that, the listener's attention is carried forward by the music, and more still, their emotions are also carried along; making it even harder, and less desirable, for them to break out of the moment and work out an interpretation of what they just heard.

So for a lyric the words have to be more direct, more immediate.  They have to work right there in the moment they are performed in.  They may be in one sense a little simpler, but they have to remain equally expressive with it.  Depth is possible, I am sure, but anything the listener only gets on the third play can't be anything that spoils the first two times with its absence.  (However if you are listened to three times that is *SUCCESS* !)

I'm only about 5 or 6 months into this journey.  Learning poetry took getting on for 20 years, so I'm sure if I was being taught by a mystical monk he'd still be telling me I have much to learn.  I'll keep you posted.



The dream lover of Edward Zuminga (writing as Theodora Sitné Jones)

Tropical romance, late yesterday evening
Here is another pseudonymous poem from our false personas (OK personae) competition at Christmas.

Here I was adopting a more carefully realised character than Mr Three Eighths in that Theodora is known to be the eldest daughter of an ex-patriot English painter, raised on a smallish (unnamed) Pacific island, educated (badly) in Southern California, and finally settled back in the UK where she can experience properly grim weather...

This poem, however, dates from her earlier, more tropical, period.

Adopting a false persona can be strangely liberating.  The first instinct is, of course, to change gender.  No idea why.  Possibly we all believe (wrongly) that this conceals our identities.  Maybe we think (again wrongly) that it changes our writing more than any other factor.  Whatever the reason it is a fact the imaginary personalities in our competition showed the reverse ratio of sexes compared to the real personalities.

After that you try to change style, form and subject matter.  Not much I could have done about the middle one, as I use all sorts of forms.  Also I suspect I failed a bit at the first as reading this again it does sound rather like me (although I think almost nobody spotted me, so maybe I'm wrong...)

As for subject matter, well it's a guy with a strangely-described, imaginary lover.  I'd never write about that :-)

The dream lover of Edward Zuminga

is carved from butter and lives, besieged
by dishes, knives, napkin rings
and all that mundane paraphernalia
from a roadside eating-house that also isn't here.

She limps slightly and speaks
of it only when plied with quantities
of drink, over-priced from the only bar
open after the flies are all asleep.

She has never told the truth.
She wears deep cotton
colours, to contradict her skin.
She believes in coincidence,

that her sister's name is the same as hers
by chance, or possibly bribery.
Edward cannot love her
in the manner she deserves.

For all that she exists
only inside his noontime slumbered eye,
she visits infrequently
is cool about gifts
has never spent the night.


Loose change (with video)

A Collection of Old Indian Coins I've made the effort to resurrect and revamp this old one of mine.

This is my single poem that attracts the most attention, and this is because I originally created it as an animated GIF and placed it in posts on poetry forums.  As people on those forums were unused to a poem that suddenly edited itself while they were reading, I managed to catch quite a lot of people by surprise.

You can see the original, e.g. here on Poet's Graves or you can just play the video below, where I've reworked it with narration.  The original plan for to release it as a niche art-house film fell through when my backers realised the niche was less than an atom's width across.

Go go gadget poetry magazine!

Antiphon, Issue 14

The War of the Words

No one would have believed in the early years of the twenty-first century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various compositions they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a degree in literary criticism might scrutinise the transient creatures that declaim and versify in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over rhyme and meter...

...Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded our poetry with envious eyes, and periodically and excitingly published their on-line magazine.


Shameless plug

European electrical contour plug (not earthed)
A plug, earlier today, and on the other side of the Atlantic

A while ago, Rosemary (my wife), Nash (internet-based friend) and I edited together a poetry collection from work contributed by members of the Poet's Graves Poetry Forum.  Ben (another internet-based friend) acted as publisher...

Skip forward three years or so and three of the above mentioned individuals meet up, quite by chance (and nearly a year's careful planning by Suzanne; another internet-based friend) with another seven or so members of the same forum, in the upstairs room of a central London pub.

Here we planned our inevitable takeover of Planet Earth.  Much eating, drinking, and poetry reading ensued.  And I also volunteered to plug the book.

Making Contact (Amazon)
There are great poems from twenty-five fascinating poets in there, including four from myself.  Just to prove the quality, peruse the following sample.

Bottom Dead Centre


Ice-path uncles, sliding, come
to top-up stockings, sip sherry,
be knocked unconscious by the Queen.
The old year has been dripping
through the cracks in December,
now only one festival remains.


Fewer and smaller,
the uncles left for us to visit
dribbling in their rest-homes.
What troupe remains to get festive?
To turn up, unexpected? To decorate the tree
and give you socks?


I give you socks
to wear outside your boots
wending from the crematorium
with the path caked in icing, decoration
a drain-pipe dribbled through its crack.
We spontaneously scatter Uncle Clive.


All the uncles scattered once,
when you aced and raced the new sled
of younger years. Now the pagan tree
is baubed with tears, as you tear the ribbon-paper.
Another pair of socks—useful. At our age
the ritual differs. The engine hesitates,
one year unsafely dead, and drawing-in
one drawn-out breath we wait
to long-live the new.