In my youth I didn’t want loneliness to feel colloquial, sorrow to be pronounced with a twang, a broken heart accompanied by banjos or strummed out in a simple and repetitive chord progression. My emotions were baroque and required complicated phrasing and stringed instruments. Or so I postured. And so I posed. But put me at a country dance where I could hear any version of “Sea of Heartbreak”, any bad cover by a local band, and I secretly had to acknowledge that was really what it felt like for me. A ship listing on a goofy sea of wanting.
Even as I was becoming aware of this, I happened upon the poem “Patterns” by Amy Lowell in a cheaply bound anthology we had kicking around our home. This was different from other poems I’d read before. It had tricky line breaks and unusual, inconsistent rhymes:
“I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.”
It might offend literary purists out there to know that Lowell became inextricably linked in my mind to Don Gibson, but there it is. It had less to do with the theme of loss in either poem or song (I had yet to have my heart broken and couldn’t choose if it was more like being “boned and stayed” or set adrift) and more to do with the evolving realization that you could use the shape and cadence of language to create the type of vessel you wanted to contain and convey the unruly sentiment of loss. The chorus of “Sea of Heartbreak” has a truly clever rhyme scheme which may be mapped as abbbcca with an internal rhyme of “love” and “of” and “divine” and “mine”. Or maybe it is abcbcddfa with no internal rhyme but long upswinging syllables . Whatever it is it felt like an ascending spiral in my brain. Conversely, the poem “Patterns” felt like a descending spiral. Obviously, I prefer ascending.
Now that I’ve taken a few licks I realize, if form ever presupposes function, I was not built to love an elegant and languishing sorrow with its indecipherable rules and messy boundaries. Less sturm und drang, more strum and twang, please. I’m made for the slant rhyme and jaunt of the road house. Slow dancing, draped across your partner, clinging and undulating and swelling like sea weed, that’s great for love songs. But if I have to live for a spell within a break up song I want to be able to two-step all the way through it.