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[SUBMISSIONS NOW CLOSED] Call for Submissions Magma 53 – Music: The Universal Language

“All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.”Walter Pater

“If a composer could say what he had to say in words, he would not bother trying to say it in music.”
Gustav Mahler

The editors for Magma 53 are both poets who’ve also been practising musicians: Rob played in an indie pop band for years, while Kona dipped into not one but two Music Degrees (in composition and violin respectively), and continues to write and perform music. How have our varying musical backgrounds affected our writing? What is it that makes us choose to listen to music instead of picking up a poetry book, or vice versa? Questions like these have led us to our Magma 53 theme of Music: The Universal Language.

Does language have its own music? Of course it does; “word-music” is what permits an English speaker to distinguish spoken Chinese from spoken Gaelic without understanding the meaning of either. The poet’s skilful application of word-music is one of the things that distinguishes poetry from workaday prose – and, arguably, makes poetry so much more difficult to translate.

Music may be “the universal language of mankind,” as Longfellow said, but it takes time to learn a complex language; Handel, John Coltrane, The Clash and Steve Reich have something in common, but not all ears will find it easy to detect. Music in poetry comes in equally diverse guises. Compare the full-on effects of As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow strung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

with this deceptively casual diction from Dean Young’s Blue Limbo (from Primitive Mentor, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008):

I couldn’t tell the snowflake that foretells
my death from the other lunkhead flakes
that couldn’t scare a chicken, dandruffy
weak blips in the big what huh…

For Magma 53, we’d like to see poems which are about music or inspired by music. We’d also be glad of poems that deploy word-music with brio, or which aspire in some other way to the condition of music. Can poetry do something that music cannot? If so, show us how!

Rob A. Mackenzie and Kona Macphee, Editors, Magma 53

The deadline is 29 February 2012. Off-theme poems will also be considered. Please see the Contributions page for details of how to submit your poems.

This Post Has 9 Comments
  1. A very interesting and wide ranging topic, well played (a free music pun to boot).
    I’m a musician and music is the river I drown in, it is a mystical beast and nothing can come close to the connection the individual can have with a song, album or band.
    Poetry is the art of conveying these phantasmagorical & often indefinable feelings through imagery put forth in words often pulled from the same ether that music comes from.
    I look forward to writing something, hopefully it’ll be good.

  2. Odd that I just finished a message about presenting a program about
    musician/poet collaboration.
    And there you are quoting a poet about music, and a composer about words.
    I hope to join in the fun of wrestling with this theme. sp

  3. Music was originally imitative of natural sounds, which we hear without and within.
    Poetry places another layer of artifice than does even sophisticated music, it’s more self-referential. To my mind a good modern crossover in the West is Tom Waits’ material. Words limits music in a way that music doesn’t limit words. But sometimes the limitation is what’s needed: the greater nailing-down. Words just nudging music is the best of both: Blake’s Songs; some of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks; some Delta Blues.Words as music, still good: e.g. Evidently Chicken Town by John Cooper Clarke, which goes back to the premise of music being sounds within and without: in this case the sound of spleen mixed with the sounds of the city.

    I’ll have a bash at some of my own splenetic song-verse for the competition.

  4. I agree Alan, Tom Waits is a perfect example of a modern musical poetic crossover. I love his music, the new album ‘Big As Me’ is great. I think my favourite has to be ‘Mule Variations’. He has the voice of a modern day Howlin’ Wolf and seems to revel in exploring the boundaries.
    Blake is also a good example of the blurring divisions between poetry and music, a division which is very hazy when heard (seen) in its best form.
    We’re all just fitting in with the melody.

  5. This chimes some bells in me; in the beginning I wrote sung poems that were neither song lyrics nor stand alone poems, but something between, they became part of my performance art, I was told by a librettist that, often my poems look like lyrics ( short internal rhyme etc) And I often write when full of music especially rhythm.
    This is a fascinating area of exploration, I look forward to calling forth some musical poems, and…….. I just saw John CC do Chicken Town as an encore, his new stuff is great as well.
    Rock on

  6. Music and poetry have an association going back through all our ancestors to the birth of both. As I understand it all poetry was originally intended to go to music – one thinks of Homer playing his lyre while reciting the Iliad.
    It will be interesting to see how many of your contributors dip into this ancientness and how many stick with purely modern interpretations.

  7. The line dividing music and poetry is either too thin or virtually non-existent.For me music is poetry and poetry is music.

  8. As a blushing poet many years ago i was asked to expose my prose to an audience by a close friend and musician seeking to form another band. Recenly rekindling my affair with the written word without music, I am resisting to tickle the rhyming couplet, fondly, and instead compose compete works. As a lyricist I supose music is a portal into how writers see the world. Like the website, guys j

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