An Interview on Writing Lyrics and Verse with Richard W. Bray Conducted by Richard W. Bray

February 7, 2016

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Question: When you write in the first person, are you writing about yourself?

Answer: Not necessarily. The decision to use first or third person is often made for phonetic and/or syntactical reasons. For example, I chose first person for “It’s Better to Burst than Ripple Away” largely because it sounds better in first person. For example,

compare this

I’m a rough and tumble cowboy
In a civilized time
My boots are gonna ramble
Till the end of the line

with this

He’s a rough and tumble cowboy
In a civilized time
His boots are gonna ramble
Till the end of the line

The first person just sounds better. And going the from the bilabial m in my to the bilabial b in boots is a smoother transition.

Question: Is this what you meant when you wrote that poetry is a journey across syllables?

Answer: Yes. I can see you’ve done your homework. That’s important for an interviewer. You wouldn’t want to embarrass yourself like the time Charlie Rose asked a guy who had stabbed his wife: “What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your life?”

Question: You have referenced Robert Pinsky’s elegant little book called The Sounds of Poetry.

Answer: So you’ve read that book too. What’s your question?

Question: You need to stop being such a spazz and wait for the question. You’ve written that there’s always tension sound and meaning.

Answer: Yeah. It’s a constant tug-of-war between what you want to say and how you want to sound.

Question: Are you a rough and tumble cowboy in a civilized time?

Answer: Not really. I’m more of a “Can’t we all get along?” sort of a guy.

Question: Do you ever wish you were more of a rough and tumble cowboy?

Answer: Sure. And I’m very sympathetic to guys like that. And I probably wish I were less cautious and more mavericky.

Question:
So your writing is a variety of wish fulfillment?

Answer: Sometimes. But more often I write about the types of people and behaviors which annoy me. “Fastidious Fred”, for example. The genesis of that poem was a news feature I watched about an extremely uptight famous performer who was ironing his own shirt before going onstage.

Question: Who?

Answer: I’d rather not say.

Question:
Why not?

Answer: Because it wouldn’t be nice.

Question: But isn’t the pursuit of Truth and the creation of art more important than being nice to people?

Answer: No. It’s not even close.

Question: But there must be at least a little bit of Fred inside you.

Answer:
Not much. I hate ironing and I’m lousy at it. But like Fred I’ve certainly been guilty of idiotic stubbornness. In a more general sense, however, if you’ll pardon my circular reasoning, Fred comes out of me so he must be inside my. Adrienne Rich wonders about herself (and this applies to all writers): What kind of beast would turn its life into words? And writers turn their lives into words as spiders turn their lives into silk.

Question: You wrote “sometimes I think I have a long way to go when the poem suddenly informs me that I’m finished.” Can you give me an example of when that happened?

Answer:
Sure. It happened with the last thing I wrote, “Put the World in its Place” which I expected to be much longer. But after I inverted the order of the two stanzas I had written, the poem said, “You’ve made your point. There’s nothing to add. Now shut up and take a shower; it’s time to go to work.”

Question: You also wrote “Sometimes I begin writing a poem knowing exactly what I want to say and it turns out just like I planned. Sometimes. Other times I set out to write something, but I end up writing something else.” Can you give me an example of when that happened?

Answer: Sure. Originally “Unspeakable Things” was going to be an Emperor’s New Clothes narrative where someone, probably a kid or a newcomer to the town of Lidane, was going to ask why nobody ever talks about the giant box in the center of town or perhaps he was going to ask why they don’t just tear the stupid thing down. But after writing three descriptive stanzas, it was a little late to begin my narrative and the poem said, “Wrap it up, dude. You made your point.”

Question:
I notice Lidane is an anagram for denial.

Answer: You probably think you’re pretty clever for figuring that out.

Question: You write a lot about denial.

Answer: No I don’t.

Question: How do you decide if what you write is a song or a poem?

Answer: Usually I know from the beginning based on its structure. For example, if it’s iambic it’s probably a poem and if the stresses are more spaced out it’s a song. But sometimes I argue with myself right up until the moment I post it.

Question: Do you primarily consider yourself a songwriter or a poet?

Answer: Neither. I think it was Robert Frost who said you can’t declare yourself a poet; someone else has to do it for you. And no one that I know of has ever accused me of being a poet. And I can’t be a songwriter because I don’t know anything about music. Besides, I’ve only ever read one book about songwriting, and no one has ever set any of my words to music. So I’m just a frustrated would-be lyricist waiting for someone to email me saying, “I just have to make a song out of something you’ve written. Time to quit the day job.”

Question: I noticed that you write a lot about alcoholism and substance abuse.

Answer: I noticed that too.

by Richard W. Bray (and Richard W. Bray)

Put the World in its Place

February 5, 2016

yyyyyyyyyyyyyyman woman

Time was away and somewhere else

Louis MacNeice, Meeting Point

Together in a room
With no one else around
We dance to a tune
That doesn’t make a sound

Where dreamers rhapsodize
Inside a cozy space
With my eyes locked in your eyes
We put the world in its place

by Richard W. Bray

What Was I Thinking?

January 31, 2016

wwwwwwwwwwtip

And I wonder sometimes, what is it in me that hates me?

Richard Wilbur, Complaint

What was I thinking?
Am I insane?
I wonder what happens
Inside my brain

Boss took me out
To announce my promotion
I puked on his shoes
And got a demotion

Whenever life hands me
The perfect shot
It ties up my tongue
In a perfect knot

She asked for my number
I was ready to score
Why did I tell her
She looks like a whore?

Whenever I’m offered
A True Romance
I flub all my lines
And ruin my chance

My mind is an iceberg
I just see the tip
I cannot control
What comes across my lips

by Richard W. Bray

Sick Sad Love

January 24, 2016

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The way you treat your woman
Makes me wanna cry
You disgrace our gender
You’re a fraction of a guy
A million times you told her
She can’t do nothing right
You’re a tyrant and a terror
You’re so angry and uptight
Nothing she could try and do
Will ever be ok
Why you wanna be with
Someone you treat that way?

The way you treat your feller
Makes my gonads ache
Like he should live to serve you
For goodness gracious sake
Everything you say is
A complaint or a command
I could live a thousand years
And never understand
Why it makes you happy
To treat anyone that way
I’m just glad I won’t be ‘round
To watch your love decay

by Richard W. Bray

Hope and Change or Just More of the Same?

January 16, 2016

Like Bill and George
He wants them speaking fees
So it’s the One Percent
That he’s gotta please

They steal our homes
They poison our kids
And our politicians
Seek the highest bid

His words are so pretty
But his words ain’t free
He don’t fight for the people
He fights for TPP

It’s incredibly sad
But it ain’t strange
Hope and Change
Just means more of the same

by Richard W. Bray

really, really, really, really cute

December 31, 2015

You mesmerized me
Strumming your lute
Cuz you’re really, really, really, really cute

I got an ache so
Stunning and acute
Cuz you’re really, really, really, really cute

I’d give everything I got
To taste your fruit
Cuz you’re really, really, really, really cute

I spend every minute
Planning my pursuit
Cuz you’re really, really, really, really cute

Down in Beaumont, up in Boston
Out in Butte
There ain’t another woman
Half as cute

I’m dying here
But you don’t give a hoot
You already know you’re really, really cute

by Richard W. Bray

Chores

December 28, 2015

social loafing


I’ve got a long list of real good reasons
For all the things I’ve done

Willie Nelson

Chores

I didn’t do the dishes
Cuz the water’s awful mucky
And it wrinkles up my digits
And it’s really rather yucky

I did not rake the yard
Cuz I didn’t wanna blister
If you need a beast of burden
You should get my little sister

I did not clean my room
Cuz I’ll just mess it up again
It’s simply Sisyphean
Why can’t you comprehend?

Your nagging and your pleading
Make you sound like such a bore
Now fetch me up some vittles
And then finish all my chores

by Richard W. Bray

Sixty-Three Percent Insane

December 17, 2015

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacrazy

She slides across
My lonely view
And there ain’t nothing
I can do
I pine and fret
My silent plea
For a love
That cannot be

I’m sixty-three
percent insane
Cuz she keeps poppin
In my brain
My mind’s a mess
Of hurt and sad
Love’s an ache
I got so bad

A friendly word
A wayward smile
Lights my soul up
For a while
Till I remember
Who I am
A peon and
A hired hand

I’m sixty-three
percent insane
Cuz she keeps poppin
In my brain
My mind’s a mess
Of hurt and sad
Love’s an ache
I got so bad

by Richard W. Bray

Never Wanna Be Away From You

November 12, 2015

Never wanna be away from you
You won’t be lonely any more
Never wanna be away from you
You’re the one I waited for

Never wanna be away from you
Without you I have no life
Never wanna be away from you
I quit my job and left my wife

Never wanna be away from you
I’m sick and dizzy when you’re gone
Never wanna be away from you
Pitched my tent on your front lawn

Never wanna be away from you
POE-lease say I gotta go
Never wanna be away from you
The truest love I’ll ever know

by Richard W. Bray

The House of Arts and Letters

October 22, 2015

At the House of Arts and Letters
Girls like to play with their brains
Where unconstrained by fetters
They pursue artistic gains

Penny perfects petunias
Tiffany tinkers with time
Stephanie celebrates sonnets
While Marian meters out rhyme
Gertrude grows geraniums
Constance combats crime
Anastasia anticipates aliens
While Lucy levitates limes
Dora deciphers documents
And Molly mimics a mime
Hortense handles the holograms
While Sally solidifies slime

If you should stop by for a visit
Leave toys and dollies behind
Their favorite game—what is it?
The wonderful world of the mind

by Richard W. Bray


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