If It’s A Sonnet, It Must Be Love:
Jen Frankel Reads Random S#it ep 1.2
original airdate: Jan 13, 2017
When I write poetry, chances are good the inspiration comes out of some immediate thought or experience. But if it’s a sonnet, there’s an even better chance that I’m in love…
Transcript follows: some differences between actual recorded content and script is not just possible but likely!
JFFRS Ep 1.2
“For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.“
Hello and welcome to the second episode of the JFRRS podcast, or, if you’re in a Not Safe For Work be damned environment, Jen Frankel Reads Random Shit. I am Jen Frankel, the writer of said random shit, but at the beginning of this episode, you heard me read the final couplet from a sonnet Shakespeare, that begins My love is as a fever. I hope to share with you some words of wisdom on life and writing in particular over the course of this podcast, from some of my favourite authors and thinkers on the subject.
Today, I decided to introduce some of my poetry, and what greater subject is there for poetry than love? For me, discovering that I’m writing sonnets is a pretty sure sign that I’ve fallen, possibly pretty darned hard.
If you’ve forgotten your high school English classes, or somehow managed to escape the unit on metered poetry, a sonnet is fourteen lines of rhyming wonder. In the first three stanzas of four lines each, the first and third lines rhyme, and the second and fourth. The final two lines are a couplet, like the Shakespearean one I read off the top.
Dryden wrote that having restrictions placed on HOW you write a poem actually allows you more freedom in terms of WHAT you say, kind of like how a glass gives liquid a shape. Restrictions, knowing the rules, also gives you power to bend or break them, or use them to intensify the effect you intend. Listen in the reading for examples of places where for example there are rhymes within a line as well as at the ends, where the thought doesn’t end where the rhyme happens but continues into the next, or where all four lines in a stanza rhyme to up the feeling of being obsessed or in a romantic haze.
For me, having a place to start probably gives me a way to get into writing a piece of verse, especially if my senses are otherwise all flustered from a surfeit of romantic emotion.
However, something you’ll no doubt learn about me over the course of this podcast, I am never content to approach a subject in the most obvious or straight-forward way, and it’s the same way with my love sonnets. I’m going to read a selection of eight poems written over the course of… Well, let’s just say several love affairs. Some were requited, some not, some disastrous, and some just never really became anything. But each provided a perspective, even a lesson, that inspired a piece of verse. I hope you enjoy them, and find your own lost or lingering loves in their lines. Oh, also look for alliteration!
I’ve been yours since the night you rescued me:
‘Til then I was the ruler of my heart.
To break my firmest oath, how could it be
Passion fights will to play the traitor’s part.
I had made an enemy of my gaze,
Forsworn those it looked with favour upon
As those that rule the night must shun the days
And waking, find the summer silently gone.
All I’ve ever fought for, all I’ve won
Seem like worthless boasts best left to the past.
And, lacking you, I find what I have done
Is built a summer-house, not meant to last.
Take care when through your fingers fall the sands
It will always be my heart in your hands.
I faltered when I stepped first into light
But you held my hand and I felt assured.
So I sang to find favour in your sight:
You smiled and said, She has a voice like a bird.
My needs were simpler then; I could believe
Myself complete, and you nothing to teach.
I was entranced; I took too long to leave —
I had meant to fly out of your reach
The cage is beautiful, but still a cage
And sleeping here has made me too soon old.
You, why have you never yet seemed to age?
At least my cage still has its bars of gold.
See, little bird, your keeper is the cat —
How could I be loved by a man like that?
Little boy, where are you going tonight?
You are so fair! with your smooth white skin.
Come, while the sun on your back is still bright.
I’ll walk by your side so you don’t fall in.
Where are you going? with your hair like dusk,
Your eyes like sun on green grass; I long to
Use you until I leave just an empty husk.
Come in, boy, how could the shadows hurt you?
Do you understand I can run my hands through
Your dark hair or your eyes with equal ease?
Your beauty’s not your fault; I had it, too.
Pretty boy, I know you can’t help but tease.
I would devour you if I thought I should.
Run home, little boy, you’ll die in this wood.
jenny speaks: sonnet iv
Whatever times we had, I’m glad they’re gone:
The presents you bought me, those baubles to wear.
How eagerly those young girls around you fawn!
You fooled me once, but now I couldn’t care.
I was in love with something you are not;
Your rich gifts made it simple to pretend
Affection could so easily be bought.
All my jealousies! Nothing yet could mend
That love is never happy so begun,
‘Though pretty was the fantasy we played.
I let you stand too long in the sun:
Watched your bright colours quickly blanch and fade.
I keep in mind your wit when we first met,
For beauty is too easy to forget.
I wish I could tell you what my real thoughts are.
I know what to say but can’t; that’s my lot
To sit admiring meekly from afar
And to always want what I haven’t got.
Your smile makes brighter the sunniest day
And mine is frozen in inconstant fear.
Alone, I phrase the words I want to say
But my mind empties when you come near.
I’m flustered like a frightened five-year-old.
Everywhere, I feel your hand on my throat,
Touching my face. I try to be bold,
But instead, I blather nothings learned from rote.
Nothing binds you here; soon you’ll slip away
When I can’t begin to ask you to stay.
Even if it’s something for nothing
You want, just say so. I’ll give you all
I can. I only ask one little thing.
Please — never treat me like a china doll.
This skin — is as pliant as anyone’s
And these wounds, just as tender. I burn
For you with the strength of a thousand suns.
Please — will you ever know how much I yearn
To give you anything you could demand?
If I didn’t know it would make you think
Less of me, I’d put myself in you hands,
Say please — keep me afloat, or let me sink.
I always thought I wanted to be free
Please — do what you want, but don’t let me be.
Really, I come here only to see him —
Each night sitting at my table alone,
Feeling again the light on my face dim.
I sit still as a woman made of stone.
I can pretend to myself that I’m here
For the music, alcohol, the neon light,
Or even familiar atmosphere —
As his fair head winks in and out of sight.
I love the warmth of the night in his face,
The shape of his body changed with each pace
As he moves through the shadows of this place
Here, then gone, leaving me an empty space.
But raise a glass, leave the picture intact,
Passions in silence, the mirror uncracked.
A Sonnet to Defeat Evanescence: Sonnet XI
For aught that I was fond in my schooling
And opened books as eager as a Dean
O’er my head I find my heart is ruling
And else but love takes on a paler sheen
For head o’er heart is only vain fooling
The truth is folly over sense will win
And like a lion turned to kitten mewling
Will find folly to desire closest kin
As kingdoms kings in chaos unruling
As rivers are in springtime all in flood
As time and tide leave sands only cooling
So thoughts of you will never cool my blood
Oh be thou not evanescent but stay
Beside me here forever and a day
From longing to loss, heartbreak to heaven, love is one of the most ineffable of human emotions. Some days I don’t believe in it at all, some days I denigrate it as nothing more than a selfish instinct more akin to madness than revelation, but whenever I’m in love, I write sonnets.
Next time, I’m going to try a piece of fiction, possibly about a woman who starts to feel like her life doesn’t fit her, or vice versa, and is treated to a rather concrete demonstration of just what it means to grow out of the world.
If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard today, please follow me on Soundcloud, and leave me a comment there or on my website at Jen Frankel dot com. You can follow me on Twitter at jen frankel, or on instagram at jen frankel author. I also write books, and you can find them, appropriately enough, at jenfrankel.com slash books. Thank you for listening, and see you next time on Jen Frankel Reads Random S#it.
The Pealing of a Bell on a Silent Night:
Jen Frankel Reads Random S#it ep 1.1
original airdate: Jan 6, 2017
For anyone who loves cinema, sound is just as important as the visual image to storytelling. In the debut episode of the JFRRS! Podcast, Jen reads an essay on the use of music and sound effects in Akira Kurosawa’s classic films including Rashomon (left) and Seven Samurai.
Transcript follows: some differences between actual recorded content and script is not just possible but likely!
JFFRS Ep 1.1
“Serenity is the privilege of hearing a sound evoked by the gentle jump of a sparrow accompanied by the sound of a falling leaf.”
Hello and welcome to the first episode of the JFRRS podcast, or, if you’re in a Not Safe For Work be damned environment, Jen Frankel Reads Random Shit. I am Jen Frankel, a writer of said random shit, but at the beginning of this episode, you heard me read a quote from Jaroslav Havelka. I hope to share with you some words of wisdom on life and writing in particular over the course of this podcast, from some of my favourite authors and thinkers on the subject.
You’ve probably heard it said that writing is a lonely profession. There’s something to that, but it’s also true that writers often stand just outside of the world, either on purpose or because they just can’t help it. I was once at an exhibition of new pointillist paintings – you know, the ones made up of tiny dots of colour – and the gallery was in a house so tiny that you literally could not stand far enough back for the pictures to make sense. Being a writer is like that, you need to step back to see the whole picture sometimes.
And taking THAT lesson from my experience also makes me focus less on the way I put my foot right in my mouth by saying, “You just can’t get far enough away from these paintings.” Just when the artist was standing right next to me.
Context. Perspective. Yes, they can make you take a few steps back to get a sense of the entirety of the thing you’re considering. Or you can move in close and see details that were invisible before, a single hair, or a tiny bug, an amoeba, an atom, a quark.
On this episode, I’m going to read you an essay about the Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa which delves a little into how both the grandiose and the minute can amaze in the hands of a master. If art is about communication, Kurosawa spoke in a way that made me excited to listen. This is The Pealing of a Bell on a Silent Night.
“Hearkening to the pealing of a bell on a silent night, one may be awakened from a dream of dreams. Gazing at the reflection of the moon on a transparent pool, one may visualize a spiritual body in one’s physical body.” A Chinese Garden of Serenity by Hung Tzu-Ch’eng
The films of Akira Kurosawa are visually stunning. The scope and depth to capture the imaginations of Western, as well as Eastern, audiences. Every moment in a Kurosawa film provides the viewer with breathtaking precision of choreography. Still, every character and motive rings true, as in a well-executed play. Kurosawa understands every device of modern cinema. He utilizes every method of storytelling to a level of excellence rarely seen in any other productions.
Especially outstanding is Kurosawa’s use of sound, both to set mood and underscore action. It is only fitting in a movie of the epic grandeur of The Seven Samurai that the music and sound effects should take the story above conventional adventure, to turn it into legend.
One of Kurosawa’s talents is to use music vividly enough to almost preclude the need for the images themselves. The Seven Samurai opens with heavy, ponderous drumbeats, changing to the overwhelming percussion of hoofbeats, the ominous approach of the bandits. Even without visuals, this scene could be accurately described by someone listening to the soundtrack.
Music in The Seven Samurai never resembles the pervasive background hum of modern Hollywood soundtrack. It is used more as an effect, in the same manner as other sound is added. It is obvious Kurosawa gave as much thought to the inclusion of music as to the images. For example, when the farmers arrive in town to look for their samurai, the music is light, almost comical. It’s setting an easy tone to the first days’ search, and almost giving the audience permission to see the humor in the farmers’ misfortunes.
Later, despair settles on them as they realize they can no longer afford to eat if they expect to pay samurai, if samurai they can even find. A sitar plucks single notes, lending a mood of loneliness and depression.
Another method used by Kurosawa to use sound to its fullest is the idea of personal, or symbolic, themes. Several characters have music or sounds that alert us to their presence. Indeed, the whole well-being of the farmers’ village seems hinged on the sounds of a single bird chirping. As long as the bird chirps, everything is safe. When the bird is silent, there is a reason.
The old grandfather has a very specific theme always associated with him that becomes vital in the latter portion of the film; that of the rhythmic thump of the waterwheel. Whenever the farmers, or later, the samurai, visit the grandfather, Kurosawa has laid over a very heavy track of thumps, of the millwheel in operation. Near the end of the film, when the bandits close in on the village. It is obvious some number of houses will need to be sacrificed because they cannot be adequately defended. It is the repeated thump as the camera focuses on the mill from the distance that reminds us that the grandfather is in danger.
Another way Kurosawa uses sound to manipulate and intensify the involvement of the audience is probably the most obvious, as it is the most striking. This is the simple use of foley and ambience sound that is basic to filmmaking. Kurosawa, however, is not content to lay sound to match every sound that might have been present at the time each scene was shot. One sound is usually picked out as having more importance than the others. It is only this sound that the audience hears.
One example of this is the use of the noise of the falling rain. Repeatedly, this becomes a symbol of despair, especially when no other sound is audible. It is hard to forget the scene in which the farmers realize their crop has ripened. The drumming rain counterpoints the earlier hoofbeats of the bandits’ horses.
In Rashomon, another very powerful example exists. During the scene in which the woman conjures the spirit of her dead husband, the visual suggests a strong wind, whipping her hair and garments. But the soundtrack contains only drumbeats and the spirit’s voice, upsetting the reality of the scene. It allows that mystical things may happen, even in a film otherwise based outside the metaphysical.
Kurosawa has a mastery of the film language that creates the magic of his movies. A storytelling ability that is the culmination of his control of sound, plot, and image. All the planning however does not make a film like the Seven Samurai look contrived, just very well made. The attention paid to sound and music is certainly one of the most valuable lessons to be taken by any student of his work.
I actually did write that essay for a class when I attended art school. In coming weeks, I’ll be sharing with you some purpose-written work like pieces of reporting or other journalistic explorations. Some short fiction, poetry, excerpts from longer work, and lyrics. On subjects from time travel to the Titanic and in a multitude of genres. I am, as you might see, as much a random writer as a reader of random things.
I used to say that the reason I write is that short of becoming a game show contestant. There’s really no other profession that allows me to use all the useful and useless random knowledge that I accumulate. I’m a fact sponge. I love learning things, and when I do, those things rattle around with other things and sometimes make new things.
I’ve also been known to say that, for a creative person, it’s when the voices in your head STOP that you know you’re sick.
As I continue this podcast, I hope to share some insights into the writerly mind. Some extreme close-ups as well as some vistas. Because seeing a person is as difficult as seeing a pointillist painting. You get different impressions depending on how far away you are and how closely you look. I’d like to let you get to know me through my words. And I’d like to get to know you too through yours.
That’s all for this first episode of Jen Frankel Reads Random Shit. I hope you’ll explore the films of Akira Kurosawa, like The Seven Samurai and Rashamon, and maybe look up Jaroslav Havelka as well.
See you next time, when yes, I shall have more random shit for your listening pleasure.