GUEST BLOG: Thoughts on Poetry and Music with B.J. Lee

IMG_2466Today I am delighted to have talented children’s writer and poet B.J. Lee as my guest blogger.  I met B.J. through the Poets’ Garage and we share a love for poetry. I also recently learned that, not surprisingly, she has a passion for music as well.  Take it away, B.J.!

I grew up with many interests, but my main interests were music and the English language. And even though I eventually chose literature (and writing poetry) over music, music took me far. Because of 14 years of piano lessons, I was able to teach piano to help pay my way through college. After graduate school, where I studied Library and Information Science, I was able to land a job as Music Librarian at The Boston Conservatory.

It was at the Conservatory where I became friends with a composer. When I listened to him talk about composing, he could have been talking about writing poetry, or any kind of writing for that matter. Composers use musical notation while poets use words and meter to notate their music and poetry, respectively.

Since writing music, then, is similar to writing poetry, I wondered what else music and poetry might have in common. Here is what I discovered:

Meter

Musicians use time signatures to divide their music into measures consisting of beats and rests.

Poets use poetic ‘feet’ to measure out their poetry.

Forms

Such forms as the ballade and the rondeau were first musical forms which later became poetic forms.

Blues is a form used by both musicians and poets with essentially the same parameters. Blues poems (and music) are often about struggle, but also filled with determination to overcome difficulty.

Here’s an example of a blues poem by Langston Hughes. This poem could just as easily be the lyrics for a blues song.   

Gregorian Chant is another very good example of the music/poetry connection. In Gregorian Chant, melody and rhythm actually imitate the length and inflections of the words themselves.

I’ll always be appreciative for my upbringing, rich in music and English literature for it has made me the poet I am today. And if I lean a little heavily toward metrics as one of my favorite aspects of poetry, I understand why.

ImageB.J. lives in Florida with her husband, poet Malcolm Deeley, and toy poodles, JoJo and Clementine. She primarily writes poetry, although she also has a YA manuscript work-in-progress. She has over 50 poems and stories published in anthologies such as CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: THINK POSITIVE FOR KIDS, and magazines such as Highlights for Children. B.J. has a M.S. in Library and Information Science from Simmons College.  For more on BJ and her poetry check out her blog and website.  She also recently had a poem published in HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN which is up on their website.

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41 thoughts on “GUEST BLOG: Thoughts on Poetry and Music with B.J. Lee

  1. How fun to learn more about you, BJ! I’ve seen you at 12×12. I totally agree w/your comparisons with music composing and poetry. For my master’s thesis I wrote about the benefits of music upon reading! Congrats on having your poem on Highlights web site, too! Thanks, Laura, for the post!

  2. Laura,
    Thanks for having B.J. as your guest today.

    B.J.,
    Loved the Langston Hughes poem. I didn’t know there about the Blues form in poetry. I know if we hung out together, you would teach me all sorts of things. In fact, just hanging out with you the little we do as Garage mates has taught me lots! You’re one talented lady!

  3. Great post, BJ and so nice to learn more about you! I love your comparisons of music and poetry – I’d never really thought about it that way – pretty funny since I live in a family of writers, musicians and songwriters 🙂

    • Hi Susanna and thank you! It’s nice to learn more about you too – I didn’t know that many members of your family are writers, musicians, and songwriters. That’s a wonderful kind of family to have. I can see where you’re story telling comes from!

  4. Thanks for the good interview, Laura, and wonderful to hear more about your past, B.J. I love thinking of lyrics as poetry, & seem to collect them as much as I collect poetry too. And love hearing you connect the other musical parts with poetry too. My brother is a musician, so no wonder we love so many of the same things. Congratulations on the poem up at Highlights!

    • Hi Renee! Yes, I have to admit, meter was established in me at a very young age! That’s interesting about using musical terms to ‘score’ a poem for performance! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. So many great thoughts and discussion here. Thanks, to all, for taking the time to reflect on BJ’s lovely post. And thanks, of course, to BJ for capturing the essence of poetry and music so well.

  6. So nice to learn more about you, BJ! I love the connection between music and poetry. When I’m writing and trying to get the meter right, I’ll put a tune to the words and it helps me see if they fit and flow. And isn’t it sad that so many schools have cut out music? I know it helps with math, too.

  7. B.J., I’ve been collaborating with a composer on some of my poetry for adults lately, and it’s nice to know you share my enthusiasm for the way these two creative endeavors are interlinked. Thanks for posting, and thanks, Laura, for inviting B.J. to do so.

  8. Julie – how very interesting! My husband, poet Malcolm Deeley, had one of his poems set to music by an Swiss composer. I’d be very keen on seeing/hearing your work when it is finished! Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Do you still play piano, BJ? My husband played for about the same number of years that you did, and he remembers how, although he doesn’t play that often. I’ll send your post to my poet-daughter who is in music school 🙂

  10. Thanks Tabatha! Yes, I still play although not as well as if I practice every day, which I don’t, but I’m really more into singing these days then playing piano. I’m glad to heat your poet-daughter is in music school!:) Which school?

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