Why I Write Poetry But Love Music

Poetry may be my favorite medium for creation, but music is my favorite type of art to consume. “Consume” isn’t the right word really except in the sense that I listen to so much of it that I absorb it like a sponge. I definitely don’t mean “consume” in an accumulation-for-accumulation’s-sake (i.e., capitalist) sense.

While I think poetry is uniquely capable of putting into words the situations and feelings that people generally think words fail to convey, music is uniquely capable of evoking that same sense with sound. It’s why I have trouble articulating what it is about music that makes it so vital. Given my tendency to self-isolate, however, being able to listen to a song and identify very closely with it is invaluable in making me feel less alone.

I do actively listen to music, but even when I passively listen, I am always caught off guard by a song’s ability to immediately evoke an emotion or stir a memory. When my symptoms render me completely incapable of reading, writing, or moving, I can always listen to a song. My passion truly lies in poetry – the satisfaction and relief of putting the intangible into words is incomparable to anything else – but music is less daunting. Because I don’t make music, I never listen to it as a means of honing my craft or as a point of comparison.

Poetry can become taxing in that way. If I feel like I’m not progressing or measuring up, it can turn my passion into momentary frustration. Writing isn’t always fun, folks. The compulsory aspect of it is real. All of this worsens my mental state. Sure, I wish I could write music, but I don’t have the passion to learn. I didn’t wake up one day with the ability to write poetry. I had to learn, but the difference was that I had the drive to learn.

I do play the piano – well enough to be considered “good,” but not well enough to be taken seriously in the classical music world. I treasure it, but reinterpreting what someone else already created is much less satisfying than creating something from scratch. Piano allows me to express myself within a certain set of boundaries. Poetry has no such confines for me. I do think, however, I have a greater interest in music – all types, even atonal Schoenberg and polyphonic synth jazz – than most people. For reasons beyond my understanding, I was simply drawn to poetry as a means of self-expression more than musical composition.

Because of all this, music is a low-pressure way to relate to people and to the world at large. It offers an artistic escape from the pressure poetry sometimes puts on me. It doesn’t threaten to give me unrealistic expectations for my art or obscure my artistic voice when I’m drowning in a sea of influences, styles, and approaches. In fact, it can even free me of those things and help me write the poems that want to be written by me. (Yeah, poetry writes itself. Like, I accumulate the tools, and then my subconscious has them at its disposal and just takes over.)

But that still doesn’t explain what it is about music that almost opens up my entire body. My ears open wider, and the sound feels like it’s swelling inside me and pushing my consciousness outside of my skin. On the rare occasions that I read poetry with no expectations, the same thing happens. And it’s so appealing, especially given my mental illness, to let my mind have a moment outside of my flesh prison. At the same time, while I’m escaping my skin, I’m somehow more present. I’m not necessarily more present in a moment. It’s like I’m more present with myself (not just my mind). Music – and art in general – has the ability to make me realize things about myself. With poetry, I create the thing that brings me to that realization. With music, I am given that realization by someone who I momentarily feel understands me more than anyone else. It is a moment of better understanding myself through someone else, which is what I think we all seek in our real-life relationships.

Given social norms, self-consciousness, and whatever else creates barriers between humans, however, it can be impossible to find that kind of connection in real-life relationships. I always say that if people I’ve just met read my poetry, they immediately know me better than people who have known me my whole life. Music is the same way. It lays bare what we aren’t always at liberty – whether because of internal or external circumstances – to express. No requisite small talk needed.

Because of this, I automatically feel a connection to people who like the same music as me. It’s like a subtle nod to the nuances of experiences, emotions, and states of mind that led us to certain songs. Even if we don’t interpret a song exactly the same way, there’s still an organic, easy, and mutual understanding of each other.

Then there are songs that offer pure escapism – songs that I can dance to at the bar. Even then, if a song makes me want to dance, I’m still getting in touch with a side of myself that I suppress 98% of the time.

Music offers escape, not from the self, but from the constraints imposed on the self by life and all its requirements and insecurities. That is invaluable to everyone, but especially to those of us whose minds tend to get buried by their mentally ill alter egos. A moment of “thank god other people feel this way too” is a good way to remind me that I’m human and not completely unable to relate or have genuine relationships with other humans because of my mental illnesses. I really don’t know what I’d do without that.

My mind digs poetry out of my entire being. Music digs my being out of my mind.

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