Sondheim on writing

January 30, 2015

I’ve been reading Stephen Sondheim writing about art, creating, and writing, and picked out these choice bits.  From Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981).

p. xvii. “Music straitjackets a poem and prevents it from breathing on its own, whereas it liberates a lyric.  Poetry doesn’t need music; lyrics do.”

(This is one of those places where I went, “Duh, of course, why did I never think of it that way before?  And then I think, well, what do we do about some Renaissance poetry that was originally meant to be sung, but these days we mostly look at it without the music — and maybe we ought to go back to listening to it instead of reading it…and so on.)

p. xviii.  “Mis-stressing is a cardinal sin, and as an occasional sinner myself, it drives me crazy.”

(I recently taught a sonnet-writing class, and my example of the great crime of mis-stressing was from the Fleetwood Mac song “Dreams:”  “When the rain wash-ES you clean you know…”  Jolts me every damn time I hear it.)

p. xxvi.  “There is something about the conscious use of form in any art that says to the customer, “This is worth saying.”  …. The more random and imprecise, the more writing becomes blather….”

(This, a million times this…)


2 Responses to “Sondheim on writing”

  1. If you mis-stress the word mis-stressing, you get ‘mistress’, a word some people also consider to be related to sin.

    …I’ll show myself out.

  2. Linda T Says:

    Have you ever listened to the Medieval Baebes? They put several poems to music, some of my favorites on their Illumination album. It’s a perfect example of how some of the things we read now are much more interesting set to music.

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