Sound, Silence, Listening
In this week's Drop-In Writing Workshop at The Cabin, we focused on listening and sound -- dissecting that sense throughout our 90 minutes together. We started by reading "The Sound of One Fork" by Minnie Bruce Pratt.
The Sound of One Fork
BY MINNIE BRUCE PRATT
Through the window screen I can see an angle of grey roof
and the silence that spreads in the branches of the pecan tree
as the sun goes down. I am waiting for a lover. I am alone
in a solitude that vibrates like the cicada in hot midmorning,
that waits like the lobed sassafras leaf just before
its dark green turns into red, that waits
like the honeybee in the mouth of the purple lobelia.
While I wait, I can hear the random clink of one fork
against a plate. The woman next door is eating supper
alone. She is sixty, perhaps, and for many years
has eaten by herself the tomatoes, the corn
and okra that she grows in her backyard garden.
Her small metallic sound persists, as quiet almost
as the windless silence, persists like the steady
random click of a redbird cracking a few
more seeds before the sun gets too low.
She does not hurry, she does not linger.
Her younger neighbors think that she is lonely.
But I know what sufficiency she may possess.
I know what can be gathered from year to year,
gathered from what is near to hand, as I do
elderberries that bend in damp thickets by the road,
gathered and preserved, jars and jars shining
in rows of claret red, made at times with help,
a friend or a lover, but consumed long after,
long after they are gone and I sit
alone at the kitchen table.
And when I sit in the last heat of Sunday, afternoons
on the porch steps in the acid breath of the boxwoods,
I also know desolation. The week is over, the coming night
will not lift. I am exhausted from making each day.
My family, my children live in other states,
the women I love in other towns. I would rather be here
than with them in the old ways, but when all that’s left
of the sunset is the red reflection underneath the clouds,
when I get up and come in to fix supper,
in the darkened kitchen I am often lonely for them.
In the morning and the evening we are by ourselves,
the woman next door and I. Still, we persist.
I open the drawer to get out the silverware.
She goes to her garden to pull weeds and pick
the crookneck squash that turn yellow with late summer.
I walk down to the pond in the morning to watch
and wait for the blue heron who comes at first light
to feed on minnows that swim through her shadow in the water.
She stays until the day grows so bright
that she cannot endure it and leaves with her hunger unsatisfied.
She bows her wings and slowly lifts into flight,
grey and slate blue against a paler sky.
I know she will come back. I see the light create
a russet curve of land on the farther bank,
where the wild rice bends heavy and ripe
under the first blackbirds. I know
she will come back. I see the light curve
in the fall and rise of her wing.
Read the poem once. What do you hear?
Read again. What else do you hear? What else do you notice?
What else does this poem say to you?
John Cage talked about the other half of sound being silence.
I’d like us to take some time now to listen and let silence speak to us,
so that we can be ready to really notice sounds in our next step.
For the next few minutes, please don’t write, read or talk,
and try to keep your movement/sounds still.
Set a timer for yourself for 5, 10, 15 minutes.
From this quiet place, listen to your breath. Listen to your organs.
Listen to the other listeners. The room. To what’s outside the room.
If you can, close your eyes. Otherwise, let your focus be soft.
After your timer goes off,
you can take a moment to jot down what you heard.
Next, we’ll be going outside. Bring a sheet of paper with you or a sketchbook.
Grab some colored pencils or markers too.
We’re going to make sound maps in the area around our residence.
This can look like many different things, but mainly the process is:
Go to an area outside. Wait there, listen.
Draw or briefly describe what you hear
in a spot on the page that symbolizes where you are.
Then go to another area.
Repeat until you’ve captured the sounds all around your building
(or inside your building if you prefer not to go outside).
Instead of a map of what you see, this is a map of what you hear.
Take about 15 or 20 minutes to do this. Take your time, go slow.
Back inside, we can incorporate the sounds into a new piece.
You can do this in several different ways.
Maybe you travel through the sounds as a journey, describing them.
Maybe you write a story that incorporates all the sounds.
Maybe a poem tried to define all the sounds.
Maybe a scene blows the sounds up into giant noises a character has to overcome.
Maybe you're a composer and create a new tune or song from the sounds.
Maybe something completely different.
Any way you’d like to incorporate the sounds writing something new is good.
You can use "The Sound of One Fork" as a model or push in the opposite direction. Use your life. Use your interests. Use what you hear around you.
During the workshop, I played additional music
(tracks from Gnarly Buttons by composer John Adams).
You can play music (preferably instrumental) and incorporate those sounds too.
Write for at least 20 minutes. Share your work with someone.
After we wrote for about 25, 30 minutes,
we created short poems out of our longer texts
and everyone had a chance to share --
some hauntingly beautiful stuff came out of that session!
Thank you for writing and listening with me. Enjoy your spring!
Process notes on a work in progress. This page serves to invite you into the way I work, with intermittent posts to show you the hows and whys on the whats I make, as well as prompts and ideas I bring to certain workshops. There will also be some raw, rough content found in notebooks written years ago, previously posted on: