music-ing with Ntozake Shange

In a workshop a few years ago, I had the honor of getting to hear distinguished poet Carmen Tafolla talk about voice and its role in poetry. She said that we should consider human voice a chemical component of the poem, that through it, heat and energy were summoned to bring language to life.

This week’s poem, “i live in music” by Ntozake Shange, is a good example of the many ways voice can raise metaphor and imagery into human energy. The lines

falls round me like rain on other folks 
saxophones wet my face 
cold as winter in st. louis 

bring together sound and metaphor in a compelling way. The use of “sound” and “round,” for example, create a lyric momentum through internal rhyme. This momentum is furthered by the echo of sounds in the rest of the line: “sound” and “round” make use of distinct “s” and “r” sounds which are brought up again in “rain” and “folks.” The effect is phrasing that is engaging and evocative. A similar move occurs in the following two lines, “saxophones,” “wet,” and “face” echoed in “winter” and “st. louis.” One can hear music and rain in these lines.

musicWhat moves the poem into human resonance for me is the way this sound-play is put in the service of the speaker’s voice and their turns of statement and questioning. The lines “i live in music / is this where you live?” start the poem with a narrative step forward followed by a pause. This use of line break and pacing affects the reader in a visceral way; the lines evoke a human voice talking to and asking after the reader. This presence, along with the soundscape of the whole poem, lead to the poem’s ending “hold yrself / hold yrself in a music” in a way that emphasizes the urgency of these lines while living them out.

i live in music – Ntozake Shange

i live in music
is this where you live?
i live here in music
i live on c# street
my friend lives on b-flat avenue
do you live here in music
falls round me like rain on other folks
saxophones wet my face
cold as winter in st. louis
hot like peppers i rub on my lips
thinkin they waz lilies
i got 15 trumpets where other women got hips
& a upright bass for both sides of my heart
i walk round in a piano like somebody
else be walkin on the earth
i live in music
live in it
wash in it
i cd even smell it
wear sound on my fingers
sound falls so fulla music
ya cd make a river where yr arm is &
hold yrself
hold yrself in a music


to learn more about Ntozake Shange, check out her site

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