Music and writing

When I was writing my review of 2012, I recalled the poetry workshops I went to last year with Jane Commane and Matt Nunn of Nine Arches’ Press. I loved these and got a lot out of them. I would like to try writing more poetry, but I think the close attention poets pay to rhythm, language and imagery has significance for prose writers as well. The rhythms of the language – whether it is the word, the line or stanza in poetry, the word, the sentence or paragraph in prose – play a big part in the effectiveness of a piece of writing.

One of the workshops I found particularly fascinating involved using music to stimulate writing. The idea was to ‘tune your ear to the sound of your words and focus on language’s rich rhythms and sounds’.


One of the tasks was to listen to a piece of music and write for five minutes without stopping, responding to the music, its pace, mood, and moments of change. Then, to take the ideas you’d jotted down and shape them into something. I posted the result of my effort last year, but I’m so amazed at what the mind can – unexpectedly – produce that I’m going to post it again. I’m not saying it’s great poetry, but given that these ideas were not in my head until I focused on the music, I’m surprised and pleased with what emerged.

The music that I wrote this in response to was by British Sea Power – an indie rock band:

As the nuns chant: ‘Our Father. Our Father’,
Their breath blooms on the night’s branches.
As the nuns chant: ‘Trespass. Trespass’,
Their rosaries tremble in the candles’ glow.

As the nuns chant: ‘Sin. Sin’,
The pulpit frowns and shakes its head.
As the nuns chant: ‘Mercy. Mercy’,
The altar draws its curtains shut.

The wages of sin are death.
Death that doesn’t slip across the rimed hedgerow,
Slither secretly through the heavy oak door,
But crashes it back on its hinges:
‘I’m here!’ it announces.
‘You sinned.

The old nun shivers as she slips to the floor,
The night’s branches blacker without her bloom,
And winter’s frost shrouds the church.

Five minutes listening to a piece of music, fifteen minutes writing! A great exercise. Let me know what you think.

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  1. Hooray for poetry. I think this is very evocative and I love the last 3 lines in partcular. It’s like an old ballad. Write more for sure! What you say about poetry and its basis in rhythm, image and the power of individual words is certainly apposite for prose writers. I couldn’t possibly have written my novel without my (continuous) apprenticeship in poetry. Cheers Becky

  2. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Becky. Means a lot to have a poet such as you approve! I do read a lot of poetry, and one of my goals for this year is to try to write some more. Scary though.

  3. Polly says:

    I really like the repetition in your poem, Lindsay, you use it most effectively. The personification of church furniture is interesting and I like your use of alliteration. The final stanza is stunning.

    Did you really write it within 20 minutes? Extraordinary.

  4. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Polly. So pleased you like it. As I commented to Becky, it means a lot when poets approve!
    It is amazing, isn’t it, what can be produced under pressure and with the right stimulus. If I had sat down with the intention of writing that, I’m not sure I could have done it. The mind is truly fascinating.

  5. This sounds like such a great idea, Lindsay. Does it have to be poetry? Loved your piece – could you link to the music so we can hear that too? 🙂

  6. Lindsay says:

    Glad you like it, Jo. It’s fascinating what emerges and, no, it doesn’t have to be poetry – I’m sure you can do the same with prose.
    Because I did the course that stimulated the piece last year, I can’t exactly remember which one it was. British Sea Power are on YouTube, and I listened before I posted, but couldn’t identify the one. I’ll try to find out – I’d love to know myself.

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