I recently had a particularly interesting gig as a poet for hire. One of my clients asked me for a song.
Now, songwriting is a whole different skill, and the ability to write music is not among my gifts. I love music, I love singing, but when it comes to writing melody, I couldn’t write my way out of a paper bag and I’ll admit it quite cheerfully.
What I offered to do instead was a variant of parody. I said that if my client sent me a song, I’d rewrite the lyrics. (I was careful to tell my client that the song was for private use only.) The reason I say “variant of parody” is that parody is automatically assumed to be funny, or possibly sarcastic. The definition of parody, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Canadian English, is humourous mimicry, or an imitation with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect. What my client wanted, and what I wrote, was not comic. (I’m a tad chagrined that I don’t know the word for this kind of rewrite off the top of my head!)
Fortunately, the song was one I knew well enough to sing along with. The melody and rhythm were familiar to me, which made alternate lyrics a lot easier to think of. I listened to the original a few times, got a copy of the lyrics and began to jot down alternate lines as they occurred to me. Currently there are notes in my car (I pulled over to make them, okay?), in my office and on scraps of paper in the strata of ephemera that covers my dining room table.
As I wrote a line, I’d sing it to myself, playing with the words until they fit the rhythm properly. I found myself humming my new creation at odd moments while my subconscious worked on it. Because I had several weeks to do this it was a very relaxed process, and I got the chorus, bridge and one verse in this casual fashion. Then I sat down to write the three verses needed to complete the song, which took about half an hour. I believe one of the reasons they came so quickly is because I had time to mull the song over with all the parts of my brain. By the time I sat down to write, most of the words had lined themselves up somewhere in my subconscious and were just waiting for a chance to get out. My client was pleased with the final result, and so was I.
There’s a particular sense of accomplishment in being able to write a custom poem in an hour and a half, as I’ve done more than once. I think I like it better, however, when I have more time to think about things – or not think about them, at least not on the surface – and then let them bubble up a little more slowly. I also feel that I’ve now added a new skill to my repertoire in addition to parody.
Now I just have to find the word for it.