Somewhere along the line I learned that random finds can prove to be inspirational. As a young songwriter, I had a breakthrough with the word “Topeka”. It was written on the back of an old family photo. Though I had visited my Kansan relatives in that city a few times, the mystery of the word hadn’t taken hold of me until that moment. I wasn’t looking for it. It reached out to me and I realized I had stumbled upon a portal that needed to be explored. I started researching the lives of my great grandparents and uncovered all kinds of stories about Topeka in the ’20s and ’30s. My Mexican great grandmother ran a grocery store and eventually, a pool hall. My Scotch-Irish great grandmother had been adopted by two sisters, one of whom was a prominent dentist in town. I eventually wrote several songs inspired by my ruminations on Topeka.
Taking this kind of exercise a bit further, I frequently play the game of opening up a random book, plopping my finger down on the page and then attempt to create a song or drawing or poem based on the designated find. I find encyclopedias work very well for this exercise. Having just now reached for my copy of the Golden Book Encyclopedia, my finger landed on “comet”. So many possibilities!
One of the aspects of city life that’s now slightly more difficult to access is the plethora of words we would see every day as we moved about the city. My subway ride to work provided me with advertisements filled with copy. I started playing a game where I would write poems using only the words contained in a single ad. Then there were the covers of other passengers’ books or their newspapers. Is the city speaking to us as we move through it? Showing us little treasures if we take the time to look?
6 thoughts on “The Power of the Word”
Being no stranger to word play myself, i am also coming around to think that there is value to fewer words, and more rhetorical observation.
Maybe make Topeka your post-isolation Ithaca?
Enjoy the “holiday”
Thank you, Karen. Yes…fewer words is always a challenge but often rewarding. It’s funny that you mentioned Ithaca. I’ve just started re-reading Ulysses for the first time in twenty-five years or so. All of the stories about going back home!
As a resident of Los Angeles, I’ve always envied the surroundings of NYC, which seem to offer endless inspirations. It’s heartening to see that you’re finding inspirations even in a time like now. It must have been thrilling to find your root in Kansas, a home state of William S. Burroughs whose cut-up technique is very similar to your song writing process.
Thank you again for reminding me of the importance of Borroughs. I need to look into his work!
Your post can’t help but remind me of Erik’s last post under bibliomancy. I think you would enjoy his book title rearrangement method. It could be very fun and generative for you!
I have done this a few time with my books and have found the results very exciting. Here’s one fresh off the shelf:
time of useful consciousness
a history of liars
Hello, Rebecca. Yes. I loved his post. I was thinking as I wrote this one that there’s definitely similarities. I’m so enjoying the opportunity to write in this space. I’m trying to frame everything with some kind of connection to the city. I had never heard of bibliomancy (though it makes lots of intuitive sense). There are so many possible avenues…It’s really exciting!