Prose to Poetry

The purpose of this blog is to get me off my butt and get me to work, so once again it has come through. After talking about this song in the last post I couldn't wait to work on it, so I did. I thought I'd share the experience.

One of the challenges of this project is converting the prose in Kevin's book into song lyrics. In prose you have the freedom to be verbose, whereas song lyrics must be economical. The book excerpt
that I converted runs like this:

Matt and I saw a spaceship skipping through the sky. We reacted at the same time, surprised we both saw it. We stayed up late that night, sleeping outside on our side porch in our sleeping bags. We talked about UFOs and Bigfoot. We planned a Bigfoot hunt near Walla Walla when we got older.
After falling asleep, exhausted from speculation, I awoke some time in the middle of the night...

So you see the challenge?
It would be a pretty jumpy melody that could accommodate all of those words. The rhythm is sporadic and doesn't fit the melody that I came up with. So, the first step in converting this prose into poetry is to abridge it, retaining all of the essential ideas, and pruning some of the less important details. My first line is:

Matt and I saw a spaceship

That's pretty much word for word from the story, right? But the second line is different:

Skipping through the gloomy sky

Well, I don't like the word "gloomy" because it's a heavy handed, lazy way to set the mood. The words in a song should just describe a scene, or present a picture, the music should describe the mood: an eerie melody set against dark, minor key harmonies would go a lot further to establish a "gloomy" mood than a qualifying adjective.
Besides, people have different definitions of what "gloomy" is, so it's vague on top of being loaded. I always try to write songs in nouns and verbs. So I changed "gloomy" to "moonless" because that word creates a picture and leaves the music free to describe the mood. Do you see the difference? The word "moonless" is descriptive, but it's less loaded, less qualified than "gloomy". It describes the situation by showing it to us, not by telling us how to feel about it, which is the music's job. A moonless night could be quite beautiful and peaceful if it was in a love song, for example. But in this song the music makes the moonless night rather spooky. The music, not the words, sets the mood. It's that way in films, too. Take a film clip about an alligator slowly emerging from a pond. By itself it's just an image. If you sync it to scary music, the alligator looks quite menacing. But suppose you synced it to some goofy cartoon music; now the alligator looks kind of funny lumbering out of the lake on his clumsy, stumpy legs.

Moving on,
if I want the song to rhyme, which I do, these first two lines have set up a rhyme scheme. I have to fit the next couple of lines into that rhyme pattern. I came up with:

Through the weak porch light we traced the faint blip
Safe in our sleeping bags outside.

Rhyming this particular passage was problematic. I played with the internal rhyme between the words "I" and "light" in lines one and three. (Both fall on long notes and strong beats) For the outside rhymes I ended up with near rhymes. I tried to rhyme "spaceship" with "faint blip", for example, which is kind of comical. And then "sky" and "outside" are also near rhymes. Not perfect, but of all the combinations I tried, this one was the best.

Now the next four lines:

We talked of UFOs and Bigfoot
Until we closed our eyes.

My fitful dreams were interrupted
I awoke in the middle of the night.

This is hard to describe, but the melody changes at those first two lines about UFOs and Bigfoot, so I set them apart from the rest. To further set them apart, I broke them out of the rhyme scheme. The melody of last two lines are the same as the top two, so, except for the word "interrupted", they sort of rhyme with the original two lines. The rhyme pattern, if your curious, is A,B,A,B,C,B,D,B. Well, again, they're near rhymes, but the vowel sounds match, and that's the best I can hope for. Speaking of rhymes, I tightened up the inner rhymes between the second and fourth lines. Now, instead of skipping through the moonless sky, the spaceship creeps across the moonlit sky. I changed it not only because I wanted to create an inner rhyme between "creep" and "sleep", but also because I felt that the pronoun "across" was more accurate than "through". Since from the viewer's vantage point the sky is flat, through the sky means the spaceship's trajectory is poking perpendicular through the black canopy of sky toward the viewer, but across the sky means the spaceship's trajectory is moving parallel to the canopy of sky, flat along its curved plane. You may call me anal retentive, but it's part of a songwriter's craft to paint with such a fine brush. Here's the entire passage:

Matt and I saw a spaceship,
We watched it creep across the moonless sky.
Through the weak porch light we traced its faint blip
Safe in our sleeping bags outside.

We talked of UFOs and Bigfoot
Until we closed our eyes.

My fitful dreams were interrupted
And I awoke in the middle of the night.

As you can see, my poetic version of the passage above is abridged, but it contains all of the most essential elements. Its all nouns and verbs. It's just a picture of two kids in their sleeping bags, under the porch, tracing the path of the spaceship (or the plane, satellite, or whatever) across the sky. I cut the part about the Bigfoot hunt because it seemed like an aside, and didn't fit into the moment I was trying to paint. Like I said, in prose you can put in those little digressions. In poetry you have to paint a picture and move on. Finally, I want to mention that I added the word "safe" in the line safe in our sleeping bags to draw attention to, or to foreshadow, the sense of danger coming up, when one boy awakes and sees a silhouette of a man watching him and his friend sleep. The spooky music happening underneath the word "safe" underscores how unsafe the boy actually is. Interesting how you can do that with music.

Anyway, that's the first part of the song. More later, if you can stand it.