Music

I cannot hold a note in my hand, Though the singer does in her throat. I cannot hold a grace note On lined paper and hear it, Though the singer waves Her sheet music like a flag.

But I can hold the makers Of music, the singer by the palm, The silver of flute or piccolo, Buff nickle keys of a clarinet. If I breathe on them, I can

See my own image in the maker. '

It's true. I can stroke The pipework of sax and trombone, Tip a chalice of trumpet, sort The pots of horn, cornet to tuba. I find myself stacking Cymbals like Waterford

And grasping harems of mandolins, Bellies aburst, necks ringed With abalone, mother of pearl. My violins and violas drip With purfling so tiger-striped, I keep them in velvet.

Unlike music, these can be mine.

Watch how this poem is transformed into a character study by focusing on the essence of a person who might feel this way about music and by filtering voice and viewpoint through that person: THE MUSIC MISER

The silver I shine comes in two denominations: Flute and piccolo. Otherwise give me nickle, The buff keys of a clarinet that fog so splendidly

And then glitter back the karats of my grin. Give me brass, the pipework of sax and trombone, Chalice of trumpet, and assorted pots of horn,

Cornet to tuba. Give me a china closetful Of cymbals stacked like Waterford. Utensils? Tuning forks. A connoisseur of woodwind and wood,

I'm the Picasso of varnish: violins that drip With purfling, violas and cellos so tiger-striped They're caged in velvet. I keep a harem

Of mandolins, their bellies aburst, elegant Necks ringed with abalone, mother-of-pearl. Then, the ebony and white — spinet to baby grand —

With ivory like contraband tusk. I can't play A lick, tone-deaf. If you enter my villa, Keep quiet. I have one rule: don't touch.

The lyric is clearly distinguishable from the character study, even though the latter employs many of the same devices: the topic, the intensity, the lack of time-passage, the first person, and shared images and metaphors. But the title of the second work —"The Music Miser" —grounds the piece in the dramatic mode by informing the reader about the voice on the page and by setting the stage for the topic to follow. Again, voice and viewpoint are aligned with the fictive entity of the miser.

Now that the character study has been distinguished from the lyric mode, here's how you can compose one:

1. Approach the character study as you would a lyric poem about a moment, object, living thing, concept or experience. Instead of writing about any of those basic topics, however, generate a dramatic work by contemplating a person who would be intensely interested in any of those topics. The person, of course, is not you but some invented, historical or composite entity. For example, William Blake (a historical entity) composed lyrics about a myriad of subjects. A little research also shows that he occasionally heard voices, foresaw the impact of the machine on people living during the Industrial Era, and could be ornery. A character sketch about him would focus on personality traits that might have caused Blake to investigate the world so vigorously.

2. Once you have the character in mind, make a sketch (in prose) of that person, describing aspects of his or her personality. Later this will help you create an appropriate voice. For example:

Blake, of course, heard voices dictating his poems and had weird visions. He hated the machine. He'd walk the streets in an artist's cap and played devil's advocate with anyone who questioned him.

3. Now imagine such a person witnessing or re-creating a moment, an object, a living thing, a concept or an experience. To illustrate, let's take the person of William Blake and imagine him hearing a tiger roar (moment), seeing a tiger rug (object), contemplating the tiger (living thing), pondering the extinction of tigers (concept) and touring the zoo (experience). Decide which topic best suits your character and then research that topic as you would before composing a lyric work.

4. Create an appropriate title to introduce your character and to forebode what the character will be discussing in your poem. Consider these examples:

• William Blake Hears a Tiger Roar

• William Blake Steps on a Tiger Rug

• William Blake Sees His First Tiger

• William Blake Envisions the Extinction of Tigers

• William Blake Tours the Cat's Den at the Denver Zoo

5. Once you have sketched your character, researched your topic and composed your title, imagine how your character might treat the content of your poem. Keep in mind that, unlike a lyric in which the poet is charged with discovering the true essence of a topic, the character's viewpoint in a dramatic work should be limited so that a sense of irony ensues. Write a paragraph about how you might see the topic and how your character might. For example:

In my world, the extinction of the tiger is a concept that I can understand but not accept. Even in my lifetime I thought that the buffalo, eagle and whale might be extinct one day. But I cannot imagine William Blake thinking like this. His tiger, of course, is a symbol of the Creator's awesome power. His view of man destroying such a creature would be limited, at best, and might result in irony about our own destructive tendencies.

6. Now imagine the tones of voice that your character might employ when discussing, investigating or re-creating your chosen topic. Consult your character sketch and write a few adjectives to indicate the tone. Now write a few lines in the voice you would use to discuss your topic and the voice your character would use, distinguishing both voices. (Later this will serve as a check to make sure you are filtering tones through your entity.) For example:

(My voice)

The tiger is dead. It began with the destruction of habitat in Africa and ended, like most extinctions, in zoos.

(Blake's voice)

Africa awake! arise! The tiger, caged? The hand that made the tiger is caged. Dead? The mind that made the tiger is dead.

7. Evaluate all your sketches and journal entries about personality, content, topic, research, tones of voice, etc. Note any irony, truth or common thread running through them. (For instance, you should be able to connect personality traits with viewpoint and voice quite easily.) Then, scan your material to see what information might appeal naturally to your entity. Write about this in your journal. For example:

My research shows that the Bali and Caspian tigers are extinct. The Java, Sumatran, Siberian and Indian subspecies are endangered. Tigers haunt the ruins of courts and temples. Given Blake's acumen about ancient places and use of symbols, I should be able to focus on lands of endangered tigers and to use the ruined temples as a symbol for the fate of mankind.

8. Envision the poem and compose.

To help you envision dramatic episodes and character studies, I've included some of my favorites in the mini anthology:

• In "The Homunculus," a character study that opens Fred Chappell's Castle Tzingal (Louisiana State University, 1984), you can see all the elements at work: an invented character speaking through an obviously fictive voice about a concept (espionage). The poem's best feature is a sense of irony and doom.

Chappell —a poet, writer and critic —has this advice about voice, especially as it applies to a longer dramatic work: "Sometimes I've found it useful, when two or more speakers talk in a dramatic poem, to identify their voices with musical instruments, flutes, cellos, trumpets and so forth. This technique reminds me of the necessity of variety in tonal values and offers a way to characterize."

• In "Sister Mary Appassionata Lectures the Eighth Grade Boys and Girls: Every Day Another Snake," David Citino blends elements of the episode (a lecture) with a character study of a nun. He forebodes all that in his clever dramatic title.

• In "Larry Corners the Psychiatrist," the dramatic piece that opens the sequence "The Psychiarist at the Cocktail Party" found in Frederick Feirstein's City Life (Story Line, 1991), Feirstein employs contemporary language in rhymed and metered stanzas, creating additional tension. Feirstein says that long dramatic works usually use meter because the poem "requires a repetitive base to play off and create variations in the speaking voice." He adds, "Because the long dramatic poem is meant for the stage or the stage inside the reader's head, its diction should be colloquial."

• In "Miss Intensity Thinks About Her Name," a perfect work to illustrate the difference between lyric, narrative and dramatic work, Katherine Murphy, whose verse we encountered in the chapter on extranatural poetry, bases her episode on an experience she had losing her wallet "and realizing I had no way, on my own, to identify or name myself." Murphy says that she employs a dramatic persona because "somehow this allows me to write even more autobiographically, using images that seem less poetic. In my poem here," she observes, "pregnancy tests, car repair, and the calluses on my heels aren't usual material for lyric/narrative poems."

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