I first discovered Jonel Abellanosa while Bruce and I were coediting the Poetry issues of Pedestal Magazine some years ago. We were so pleased, we put his work in our final choices list immediately! You’re in for a treat—this is one outstanding column speaking to music in poetry.
Jonel resides in Cebu City, the Philippines. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals, his speculative poetry in Pedestal Magazine, Star*Line, Eye to the Telescope, Inkscrawl, Liquid Imagination, and Blood Moon Rising Magazine. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Dwarf Stars award. His poetry collections include, Songs from My Mind’s Tree and Multiverse (Clare Songbirds Publishing House, New York), 50 Acrostic Poems (Cyberwit, India), In the Donald’s Time (Poetic Justice Books and Art, Florida). His first speculative poetry collection, Pan’s Saxophone, is forthcoming from Weasel Press.
Music’s Place in My Most Recent Poetics
Listening to a musical piece again and again competes with walking, staring, talking to myself and plants and trees, talking to myself and mentally to my dogs and homeless dogs and cats I feed, closing my eyes to enter dimensions, and other secret ways of “systematized derangement of all the senses”—for the biggest temporal chunk of my writing processes (the presumption is, we share the same neural pathways towards enhanced imagination, so it’s safe to say, trust me, alcohol doesn’t work).
Since poetry is my tool of expression, it seems reasonable to presume that internalizing music makes prosody a bit easier. It’s no longer true that emotions make us human. Animals have emotions, as do plants. What makes us human are the ways we pattern emotions towards the “beautiful”—a word that should naturally invite suspicion these days. If art were supposed to mimic and mirror the ethos and zeitgeist of an age in which it participates and defines, our generation seems long past confining beauty in cages of pleasing aesthetics. Cacophony and dissonance can find few eras like ours in arguing for and situating in the aesthetics of, for instance, hate and anger, which by virtue of inevitability aspire for theoretical conditions. But it bears reminding ourselves we’ve heard many times that the best paintings aspire towards music, that architecture is “frozen music,” and that the perception of the musical in other fields of inquiry and expression like astronomy is nothing new and goes at least as far back as the ancient Pythagorean schools and their “music of the spheres.” More than ever it’s our generation’s responsibility—especially we who express through art—to uphold love, care, kindness, generosity, gratefulness, and other positive platonic values as civilization’s sine qua non.
Music is the essential artifice to which emotions find natural affinities for expression. For my poem “The Soloist” (Liquid Imagination, issue 20 February 2014), I listened for two days to Itzhak Perlman’s rendition of John Williams’s theme to SCHINDLER’S LIST. I’ve never played the violin, but my responsibility to verisimilitude makes me internalize Perlman’s language, capture his rhythmic and emotional quirks, and mirror and echo it:
The wailing voice he freed from his Stradivarius
Slicing their composure like stem, the bow
Seesawing on strings fiddling roots of longing.
The way he snapped and scattered sonata’s twigs,
The rosined sound, like sword of a samurai
Swaying to the mind’s winds. Grace of hip
Swivels as eyes in the dark coveted the lover
Behind the trills. They swore the bartender
Appeared in the painting behind him when
He squeezed unripe notes. The nun heard her
Unborn child cry. Asked which part fluttered
The candles’ pulped scents, old folks recalled.
Doubting the warbler’s marble stare,
The widow’s face soured, as if she tasted
Midnight’s rind. The actors sat till cockcrow,
Stunned like the goldfish that stopped breathing
For a minute after the slowing arpeggios.
The poet was found hanging upstairs,
By a thread the unfinished poem cursing
God for not making his body a violin.
Remembering the way to the shoal, they
Spent all week resetting their timepieces.
And the orchard keeps cracking, yesterday’s
Piths pushing up, zests of an end’s parting
Lingering in the air—orphaned by his
Heart beating for someone elsewhere.
I’ve since published several poems born from listening to a musical piece/song again and again: “The War” (Eye to the Telescope, issue 33, July 2019) inspired by “The World that Came After” by Lords of Black; “The Illusion” (Blood Moon Rising Magazine, #77 anniversary issue, July 2019) inspired by Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” cover by Stryper; “The Car” (Alien Buddha Magazine Anthology on Music, 2019, which includes two other poems of mine inspired by “Yanni Live at the Acropolis” instrumentals); and more. Song lyrics participate in my processes, adhering to Dylan Thomas’ “gaps and holes for things that are not the poem to creep, crawl and thunder in,” which is among the guiding principles informing the collection that includes these recent poems, with four quatrains as basic structural form. I presume readers will notice thoughts deliberately shortened, incomplete or disrupted phrases, interrupted cadences, and more. It’s my strategy for creating visual and sonar echoes for reader participation in the poem’s creation and its final version in the reader’s mind.
For the majority of these poems I had an idea about what poem to write, before trying to find the music/song to listen to again and again to internalize the rhythms I wanted for the idea. It’s different with my poem “the god.” I was wondering what to write, wandering on YouTube, watching heavy metal videos, until I encountered Disturbed’s cover for “Sound of Silence.” When I heard the words “bowed and prayed to the neon god they made,” I knew I had my poem. Those words stirred me so much I made it the title of the manuscript I’m working on.
I listened to the Simon and Garfunkel original and several covers, but I stuck with Disturbed’s version. I was going to write about our obsessions as humans. The tonal evolution and progression David Draiman so skillfully brought to fruition mirror my momentary idea of what obsession is: something that starts peacefully with our need for answers, which gets reinforced by constant speculations edging our propensities to invent—a visceral progression that keeps evolving its vibratory fields in our minds (and in the poem), until our stance and viewpoint become solid as granite or thin ice, with the reinforcement or collapse of our suppositions always impending. I was tempted to write a sestina, but I wanted to challenge myself to pull it off with four quatrains and lines that seldom go past ten syllables. I wanted to echo the growing anxiety, the emotional bottleneck:
After “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel cover by Disturbed
we silenced a billion howls for your coat,
a billion trees cut for your teeth. praising
your neon blight, we stripped the light.
in the millennia of your becoming, your
ageless fall into prayer. we put words in
your mouth so comfort us. we gave you
power so save us, our birdlessness your
footstool. the blind shall prophesy, the
deaf read minds. lions shall lie down
with lambs, children speak in tongues.
sacrilege the disturbing, of silence.
of where we go from your sacrifice.
oh thirst, oh our dwelling’s bole and
burst, you are both deity and offering
in darkness we chant your holy flame,
raising your tar and tin, your name.
Aware of the resultant poem’s elements of horror, reinforced by darker moments in the lyrics of “Sound of Silence,” I submitted it to Blood Moon Rising Magazine, which has published it (#77 anniversary issue, July 2019) with four other poems of dark aesthetics, including two poems inspired by listening to a musical piece/song again and again.
Concerning “the god” in its published version on Blood Moon Rising Magazine, I ask myself, what bears possibilities of horror more than our daily, ordinary obsessions? Of all the Stephen King novels I’ve read, Dolores Claiborne, to me, is the most horrifying. No vampire or werewolf can match the vicissitudes of daily, ordinary lives and living that have moved closer to the edges of collapse, not so much by virtue of our loved ones’ actions or inactions, as because of how our obsessions also bear equally the weights of what can turn out to be horribly wrong. Also, as one of my favorite Filipino authors has written in one of his columns, “We are all just one health disaster away.” That is the ultimate horror, which is only one reason why our vampires and werewolves and aliens and predators are more ravenous than ever. In other words, more fun.