A short list of things I'm listening to while I'm writing.

Some writers I know swear they can't write without music. I've been at writing retreats and coffee shops with folks who spend twenty minutes figuring out what should be in their headphones while they bang away at a novel or an essay or a screenplay. One poet friend of mine puts together soundtracks for her manuscript-making time.

And honestly, I'm a little jealous of all of them. When I'm writing my ability to listen to things is limited. It's pretty much just the following noises that pass muster:

  • Silence
  • My dogs snoring
  • Background noises in my generally quiet neighborhood
  • Other people typing
  • Indistinct conversations

When I'm reading other people's poetry I can get away with listening to instrumental music, generally jazz (and specifically hard bop or post-bop stuff), or some of the ambient works of Eno or Aphex Twin. Reading prose of any sort I can listen to just about anything. There's fMRI-based research that suggests the areas of the brain active during the reading and (I would imagine) writing of poetry include the parts active during the act of listening to and (again, I would imagine) composing music. The activity in the music-related area brain is absent while reading prose. This jibes with my experience.

There's no official term for it that I'm aware of, but I often practice a sort of musical ekphrasis and take inspiration from songs for my work. Here's a recent song that's been on my mind. And I've been quite taken with Hannah Larrabee's chapbook Sufjan, named for Sufjan Stevens, in which she takes lines from his songs and builds off of them to create gorgeous, vivid poems that are very much their own thing. You can get a copy for yourself here, which I highly recommend: http://www.hannahlarrabee.com/poetry.html