A Tale of Two Poems: The Unanticipated Possibility of Google Docs

Posted on April 7, 2012


I was in the middle of writing a poem, when I had an useful conversation.

When I write a poem, there are usually two distinct phases. First, there is the initial feverish dump of words and ideas. Then, there is some period of refinement.

I was in the final stages of refinement for “Who Gives A Fuck About Mozart?”, when I was — over beer, of course — introduced to the concept that the best poems and poets privilege nouns.

The claim is something like this: a noun identifies a thing, adjectives modify the thing that is identified, and a thing has a unique association for each reader. A noun is rich on its own. An adjective is necessarily derivative and can work against preexisting and rich associations.

To which I responded, yes, we want to know what a thing is before all else because so much else follows from that identification.

[I protect the identity of my interlocutor because I could be totally misrepresenting what he said, which I am told is ultimately attributable to Robert Graves. Apologies to both, if I got it wrong.]

I interpreted my interlocutor’s point from a vaguely “evolutionary” perspective. We want to know if a thing is animate or inanimate, human or animal,  man or woman before we know if it is old, because the relevance of “old” will depend entirely on what the thing is. Similarly, it is more important to know what a thing is before we know that it is moving. The relevance of movement depends on that which is moving.

I also recalled, but forgot to mention to my interlocutor, how earlier in that week my brain had personified an inanimate object caught out of the corner of my eye. Because I thought the thing was alive, it got my attention immediately.

With this conversation in mind, I returned to “Mozart”. I wasn’t unsatisfied with what I had, but I wasn’t particularly entranced with it either. I thought, I might as well put this theory to work and to test.

So, I rewrote “Mozart”, privileging the nouns. In this case, I understood “privilege the nouns” as “give structural priority” to the nouns.

By the end of the process, I had a very different poem, in terms of structure, but I wasn’t entirely sure I had improved it or made it worse.

Then, it occurred to me. I wrote the poem in Google docs and Google docs — just like boring old paper — records just about every edit made. I copied and pasted the new version of the poem into a different document and then I used the Google docs equivalent of “rewind” to find the almost finished first version.

I will admit there is more than a bit navel gazing involved in this next observation: I was fascinated at seeing my edits in stop time motion.

I tweeted:

If you’re a navel gazing or second guessing writer, do NOT, do NOT, discover the track revisions function in Google docs.

At any rate, I finished the first version of the poem, respecting its original structure. And now, I present both  versions for your assessment and judgement.

Of the two poems, which do you prefer? Feel free to comment and / or vote.

Who Gives A Fuck About Mozart? V. 1

Listen to it here.

A friend once wondered
aloud to me
what kind of music might Mozart have made
if he had access to all of our technology.

And I replied
because I’m an asshole

you must always remember
no matter how nice I am
or seem
to be
given the chance
I will always be an asshole

he would have made the exact same music
because he was Mozart
and that was the best music he knew how to make
and an orchestra or quartet or whatever
is just a big synthesizer
made out of humans and wood and catgut
instead of circuit boards
and plastic.

but maybe I was wrong
even if we set aside all the nature nurture culture bullshit
and imagine Mozart transplanted in time
and plopped in front of Garage Band
or an 808
he might make techno
or noise rock
or maybe he’d make symphonies of synth
mid-80 strings and all.

my point
who gives a fuck about Mozart
and the music he’d make
his music is made
what music are you going to make?

Who Gives A Fuck About Mozart? V.2

Listen to it here.

A friend one day wondered:

“the music Mozart might have made,
if he had the technology we have,
imagine it.”

asshole that I am,
I replied,

“he’d make the same damn music.
Mozart made the best music he knew how to make.
an orchestra, a quartet, or whatever
is a synthesizer
made of humans, brass, and catgut,
instead of circuit boards
and plastic.”

but assholes are often wrong.
ridicule too easily trumps reason.

nature nurture culture bullshit,
ignore it.

mozart transplanted in time,
plopped in front of Garage Band
or an 808,
imagine it.

techno, noise rock, or symphonies of synth
— mid-80 strings and all –
Mozart might have made it.

my point,
to be clear:
Mozart, who gives a fuck
about the music he’d make?
his music is made.
what music are you going to make?

Posted in: Poetry