Posted in Glit Lit

On Language, Love, and Tiny Musicians

Carving of the poet Aliagha Vahid (1895-1965) | Baku, Azerbaijan


You don’t need any brains to listen to music.

–Luciano Pavarotti

Almost everyone I know finds something to like about being alive, and right up there on my list is wordplay—capital W, capital P.

For word-struck folks like me that means: First, the way words sound, both solo and strung together, as in good old rhyme and cadence, all that fill-your-mouth assonance and consonance, even the beauty of a certain everyday word—mischief, amuse, lure—whether anyone else thinks it’s beautiful or not—it’s such a personal thing, musicality. I love the word pantaloons, for instance, it moves sweetly over my tongue, but say the word panties and I want to slap someone.

De qué color es el olor
del llanto azul de las violetas?

I love the word: Neruda.

When someone loves words for the words themselves they can listen to any language that has ever existed and get off on it, even when the poet speaks in tongues.

And when language is about music, not meaning, or at least both music and meaning, or better yet, when it’s about mystery, not trying to nail meaning down, it’s universally accessible (and lovable). Even when it’s made up, it can put us in a kind of Babel Nirvana.

They taught all the girls to say hell merry fuller grays, dolores wit chew, blast duh art dower mung wimmin, blast dis fruit uh duh loom, cheez whiz. (Harryette Mullen)

Even wordplaying within dishonorable traditions (colonizing, religious, etc.) can make for great satire and great music—the playing itself deadly (fun):

with a speech spliced and spiced
into a variety of life and lies
sowbread host in we own old mass of
doubly imagined
dubbed dumb
can’t-get-the-focus-right reality
of mulatto dougla niggerancoolie
that escaped the so-called truth of the shutter—
confirms contradictions of church


doubt &

(M. Nourbese Philip)

Word fools often respond to language they love with some version of the top of their heads blowing off (Emily D.). For me, as I said, first there’s the music, the way language hits and enters the ear and fills my mouth with flowers, and then, close behind sound, there’s the play of juxtaposition, words and/or images beside one another haphazardly (seeming) that startle me so bad they can actually make my heart pop, an “oh!” of pleasure. Little sales ladies little sales ladies little saddles of mutton. (Gertrude Stein)

Surprise! And sometimes a completely unexpected, dumbstriking word-combination can knock me over. Think surreal, absurd, all that unconsciously bubbled-up, free-associative, streaming stuff. Ginsberg: Hydrogen jukebox. The sounds of words and/or the ways they work beside each other have been known to knock me on my ass.

Yawn in a semiswoon lay awailing and (hooh!) what helpings of honeyful swoothead (phew!), which earpiercing dulcitude! As were you suppose to go and push with your bluntblank pin in hand upinto his fleshasplush cushionettes of some chubby boybold love of an angel. Hwoah! (James Joyce)

It’s as if there are tiny musicians right outside my ear with a direct line to that place in my brain made to be delighted. Enter the poet, the spoken word artist, the rapper, and in go the words with the music, the words as music, in they go, and I’m in love.

The poet in the photo, Aliagha Vahid, (see first image above) was a famous performer of meykhana, a rap improvisational style that started in the medieval days in Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea. Basically, what I know about the man with the musicians on his head is that he loved words. Unlike me, he could make them up on the spot—open his mouth, and there they were, rolling out into the ears of his friends.

My partner (Brooklyn born and raised) has a nephew, a son, and a couple of brothers who can do that. She’s pretty good at it too. Next life for me, I hope. In the meantime, although I’m sure this piece was written down before the camera aimed and shot, I know it was originally improvised, both sound and meaning flowing from heart to mouth to ear.


Bone, Thugs-N-Harmony, “The Crossroads,” E. 1999 Eternal
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake
Harryette Mullen, “She Swam on from Sea to Shine,” Sleeping with the Dictionary
Pablo Neruda, “XXII,” The Book of Questions
M. Nourbese Philip, “Eucharistic Contradictions,” She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks
Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons
You Tube, Wikimedia Commons

Thanks and love to Chuck and Lori.

–Maureen Seaton, 11/28/10

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