As many of my friends live about a 15-20 minute drive away from me, I spend a lot of time driving, listening to the radio or mix CD, occasionally start a poem in my head. I was driving when the first line of “Simone’s Refrain as Apocalyptic Ballad” dropped in: “girl challenged the boy’s mouth.”
All school year, I’d asked myself the question of what happens to the girl who doesn’t want rescue. All year I’d been singing Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” I’m a singer, too shy to sing on stage anymore, but I can belt a tune while driving. Let me rephrase that: I’m a singer, too shy to sing on stage anymore, but if poems are songs like I believe them to be, I want to perform the poem the best way I can. Sometimes, a poem just has to have literal song thrown into it so it can be reiterated as another form of song. Poets were once believed to be oracles, the closest beings to channel souls; if that is still the case (again, my belief that lines can be “dropped” into us), then why not invoke the high priestess of soul?
Poems and songs, of course, have many things in common: speakers (singers), melodies, tone. Poems do not have the liberty of instruments—not outside the human tongue that works itself through language. So the poem must set up the backbeats, symbol crash, guitar reverb. That music carries on the line; the crash happens when the poem leads to a surprise. But the main thing to note, for both song and poem, is their transient nature, the transportation to another world or fantasy.
I love when a poem distracts me and I end up somewhere else. I love that moment of transportation, the odd sense of being able to smell a field and embrace its freedom and—perhaps—even its loneliness. Or fear. I want to think that “Simone’s Refrain” embraces the wild freedom of sensuality—and the ever-present fear that hovers over that freedom. I want to think that when the speaker calls herself out, she embraces her desire to challenge the boy, the listener, whoever may still linger as she, like Simone in “Feeling Good,” takes ownership of her desires within the poem.