Saturday, August 30, 2014

Prompt #198 – Poeming the Blues




While recently listening to B. B. King, it occurred to me that blues lyrics are akin to poetry in many ways and have, in fact, lead to a type of poetry known as “blues poems.” Such poems embrace subjects that include resilience, strength in the face of hardship, oppression, and human sorrows.

















According to Poets.org,

“One of the most popular forms of American poetry, the blues poem stems from the African American oral tradition and the musical tradition of the blues. A blues poem typically takes on themes such as struggle, despair, and sex. It often (but not necessarily) follows a form, in which a statement is made in the first line, a variation is given in the second line, and an ironic alternative is declared in the third line.”

One of the first poets to think in terms of blues poems was Langston Hughes, who first heard the blues played by a blind orchestra in Kansas City; he was eleven years old at the time. When he moved to the East in 1921, he heard the blues again and later wrote of it in his autobiography (The Big Sea), “I tried to write poems like the songs they sang on 7th street.” According to Hughes, those songs “had the pulse beat of a people who kept on going.”

This week, let’s give blues poems a try.

Guidelines:

1. Listen to a few good blues tunes (YouTube is a good online source), and get a sense of what typical blues lyrics are.

2. Blues lyrics are typically twelve bars, and focus on pain, suffering, subjugation, sadness, or loss. A typical blues poem stanza contains three lines. For this poem, you may have as many three-line stanzas as you wish.

3. While blues poems originally highlighted African-American troubles, the blues sensibility can be applied to tragedies and wrongs of many kinds.

4. Begin by making a list of blues-worthy subjects in your own life or in the general world today.

5. Choose an item from your list and compose your poem.

6. Keep in mind that blues poems often have a kind of heartbeat rhythm, ta, dum, ta dum, ta dum, ta dum—like the iamb in formal poetry.

Tips:

1. Anything “bluesy” carries with it both lyrical and rhythmical suggestions. Work on incorporating a blues-type rhythm in your poem. See # 6 above.

2. Considering the Poets.org definition, begin with a structure that starts with a first-line declarative sentence, repeat that sentence or give a variation of it in the second line, and use that sentence to begin a third line that expands on the first two. The intention is to express an emotion. For example:

I couldn’t believe he/she was gone.
I couldn’t believe he/she was gone.
I couldn’t believe he/she was gone, and I was left with nothing.

and this from Lead Belly's “Good Morning Blues”:

Good morning blues. How do you do?
Good morning blues. How do you do?
I’m doing all right. Good morning. How are you?

3. Don’t be afraid of repetition. Just be sure to expand in the third line of each stanza. 

4. Continue to build your poem using this structure (understanding that changes may be made when you begin to edit and tweak). In each new stanza, the problem may become larger and your explanation more detailed.

5. Include some metaphors or other figures of speech.

Examples:




8 comments:

  1. Adele, this is really wonderful! I just had a good listen to B.B. King and read the example poems. Honestly, your prompts are always so filled with a spirit of poetry and sharing. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks so much for your generous words, Jamie!

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  2. Love the blues! Thanks!

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  3. This is a most interesting prompt. I like the way it conjures up a sense of rhythm and music and forces the writer to think in terms of such things. It is nice to have the "format" and to know that one may move away from the basic format to create their own Blues Poem. I am writing from India and very much enjoy this blog.

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    1. Amita, I'm delighted to know that you found this prompt interesting and that you're enjoying the blog in India. Thanks so much for your comment and for your kind words. I hope to hear from you again!

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  4. my toe
    oh my toe
    oh oh oh

    what me done
    to be hurtin so?

    toe
    oh my toe
    oh oh oh

    now it is my stomach
    hungry me hungry
    hungry in America

    oh

    oh

    oh

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    1. Risa, I like the whimsical quality and sense of fun. Thanks so much for sharing with us!

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