Leonard Bernstein

This is a poetry challenge.

Think back to that great song in West Side Story when the women argue about whether it’s better to live in American or Puerto Rico.  Sing this in your head:

I like to be in America!
O.K. by me in America!
Ev’rything free in America
For a small fee in America!

Rhythmically, this is a fascinating lyric.  It combines  3/3 time (waltz time for those of you who didn’t get piano lessons) and 2/2 time on the word “America.”  Let me count it out for you.

I like to   be in A    mer    i       ca.

1-2-3        1-2-3        1-2    1-2    1-2

Notice that all the ones are the heavy beats while the twos and threes are the weak beats.  All the numbers get equal time.  You can beat this out on your desk with your left hand doing the ones and your right hand doing the twos and threes.

Most poetry settles for a fairly settled rhythmic pattern like iambic pentameter.  You’ll find it in Shakespeare sonnets and in a line from Keats below:

2     1        2      1          2         1         2    1    2      1

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a few variations to make the words fit the rhythm, that’s the way it is through the whole poem or sonnet:  sets of 2-1s (iambic), repeated five times (pentameter).

Now, along comes composer Bernstein, and he wants to mess around with the rhythm and time.  He’s not the first, but he does it so well here that this becomes a song (actually the chorus) we all like without quite knowing why.

So your challenge, should you choose to accept, is to either use Bernstein’s rhythm or come up with a crazy—but compelling—rhythm of your own where it is not consistent within the line but is consistent across the different lines.

Your content is your own choice, whether funny, serious, or musical.  I know you can do it!

10 responses to “Leonard Bernstein

  1. Sorry the spacing is a bit off, but I think you get the idea. If not, ask me.

  2. Started working. This should be fun.

  3. We didn’t go to the Y today.
    It is so cold; takes your breath away.
    Swimming can wait for another day.
    I’d rather hibernate anyway!

  4. Shift the breeze in the forest leaves to the mountains
    Hide the stars and the moonlit sky with gorillas
    Play through summer and sleep through winter forever
    Find some children to keep the planet behind us

    • I spent some time considering the phrase “to keep the planet behind us.” It made me think of having the best possible back-up.

  5. Haven’t written in a while,
    I’ve gone a few feet – even miles.
    The muse really isn’t much use,
    A fragile thing easily beaten and bruised.
    Waiting on it to inspire
    To write words you’d admire,
    But instead this is all I’ve gotten,
    A missive, easily forgotten.

    Still I hold out all hope,
    That I don’t sound like I’m smokin’ dope.
    Waiting on the words to come together,
    Wound together like on a tether.
    Instead all I get is tripe,
    But really, who am I to gripe?
    At least I’ve gotten a tickle,
    From that muse, so temperamental, so fickle.

  6. HI Walk. Nice rhymes! (tether/together! inspire/admire! tripe/gripe!) At least you got a tickle; my muse is hiding under the bed.

  7. Gospel Blues

    V1
    Sold my soul to-the devil baby.
    — Jesus-bought-it back again for
    Me. — — —
    When I
    Think-about-the time I wasted I just
    — Pray-about-it on my bended
    Knees. — — I

    V2
    Sold my soul to-the devil brother.
    — He-ain’t-coming back here for me.
    — — — —
    — — — When I
    Think of how I wasted good time;
    — I am glad I was set
    Free. — — —

    (Break)
    Think of time I wasted —
    Sorry things I tasted; I can
    Hope to be remade —
    –To how I would have been. —
    Think of time I wasted —
    Sorry things I tasted; I can
    Hope to be remade —
    As if I didn’t flee. —

    V3
    Now I got myself to Jesus
    When his hand came down to reach me.
    And I feel — —
    That I’m healed. — —
    I sold my soul to the devil baby.
    — Jesus-bought-it back again for
    me. _ _ _

    [Four beats per line, double dashes are one silent beat, single dashes link words which are sung on a single beat; i.e.- two eighth or four sixteenth notes together.]

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