My Year of Discovering How Weird the Mind Gets, Pt. XI [Chanting]

Some people swear by the mind-altering properties [and other benefits] of chanting mantras. I’ve been reading a review copy of Kulreet Chaudhary’s “Sound Medicine,” a book whose play-on-words title says it all. It’s about the way sound is either shown or speculated to have health effects. (Full-disclosure: Some of the speculation gets a bit out there.)  Chaudhary is both a medical doctor and an Ayurvedic practitioner, and has an outlook akin to that of Deepak Chopra.

Chanting has never been my thing. I’ve learned about it and done some in yoga training, but I can’t say it ever resonated [no pun intended] with me. However, in the spirit of investigation, this month I did a few one hour and half-hour sessions of chanting. I kept it very basic, chanting AUM as I was taught with equal parts of A – U – and – M.

While I can’t say that I’m sold that chanting is the ultimate practice that achieves outcomes unachievable through other means, I will say that after these sessions I do feel a sense of calm and clarity. I can certainly see why mantra chanting has appeal for so many people, even though I also believe that, sadly, it’s sometimes oversold as something supernatural and the discussions about it are needlessly complicated.

POEM: Ubiquitous Jangle

faintly jingling anklet bells
jarred by lightly padding feet

accompanied by the jangle
of arms bejeweled in bangles

can’t silence be trusted?
each movement must be accounted for?

bells are put on cats to track their mischief
bells are strapped to livestock
so shepherds can track rogues & runaways down the valley

but why bedeck oneself in bells?

is silence more dread than sound?

silence is stillness is potential energy winding tighter
perhaps lost potential is a sacred tragedy,

begging one question:
while squirrel away nuts never to be consumed?

POEM: Sounds Like End-Product

blacksmith forges bands for a cooper
tap-tap-CLANG, tap-tap-CLANG!

staves for the barrel planed from oak
stip-stip-SHHISSH, stip-stip-SHHISSH

whiskey from the cooper’s barrel
glug-glug-GLUG, glug-glug-GLUG

souse staggers from the bar at night
ker-PLUNK!

BOOK REVIEW: The Sounds of Poetry by Robert Pinsky

The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief GuideThe Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide by Robert Pinsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

As the title suggests, this is a book about sound as a component of poetry. Besides the characteristics of noises made in reading poetry, the book details the various characteristics that shape the overall sound of a poem–such as the duration of a syllable and whether it’s stressed or unstressed. Having said that, a major theme of Pinsky’s work is that one shouldn’t be absolutist or rigid about these characteristics (e.g. stress versus unstressed) and should instead look at the relative traits (i.e. more or less stressed.) By adopting a more flexible view of the concepts like accent (stress), rhyme, similarity of sound, one opens up limitless options for poetry.

The book consists of five chapters. The front matter includes an introduction and a brief commentary on theory. The latter points out that there are no hard rules, but by paying attention to these concepts one can produce richer and more interesting sounding poems. Pinsky reviews the most common poetic terms (e.g. iamb, trochee, spondee, etc.) but also looks at how these are varied for effect in a way that is enjoyable to all but prosody hardliners.

The chapters are: 1.) Accent and duration; 2.) Syntax and line; 3.) Technical terms and vocal realities; 4.) Like and unlike sounds; 5) Blank verse and Free verse. (fyi: Blank verse is unrhymed verse that has a regular meter (most commonly iambic pentameter. Free verse is unrhymed verse with irregular meter.)

There are relatively few poems used as examples in this book. Some readers may find this a bit tedious and would prefer being exposed to more (and more varied) examples. However, other readers will enjoy drilling down into a few poems along several dimensions. That’s a matter of personal preference, but the reader should be aware of it.

The book is less than 150 pages even with the back matter, which includes recommended readings and glossary of names and terms. It’s a quick read.

I enjoyed this book. It’s not too technical, and can be followed by a reader whether they’ve had an extensive education into poetry or not. It’s not doctrinaire about prosody, which appeals to my personal preferences. It provoked some intriguing insights, such as the flexible approach to accent as well as poetry as an art that uses the body of reader as its medium—their respiratory systems, vocal chords, and related musculature how these sounds are produced.

I’d recommend the book for poets and readers of poetry who are serious about the endeavor.

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