The Accordion Principle of Poetry

The Accordion Principle of Poetry

The Accordion Principle of Poetry is the literary philosophy I use to polish my work. I never consider a poem finished after I wrap up the first draft. Instead, I hustle words on the page, let it breathe, and then return to it later with fresh eyes. It is time to edit. This is when my accordion comes into play.

I use the idea of an accordion to illustrate my style of editing. First, remove words (compress) without losing the lyrical essence. Take time to look at each line, then slide it over to a friend or colleague for their impression. Does the condensed version say everything you feel? Remember, it takes greater skill to say it with fewer words than with many.

Next, use free association to dash out (decompress) and attach new ideas, descriptions, references, or whole stanzas. Again, relax and take a moment to read the new product. Often surprises await that hide beneath the surface. Let the same individual/editor as before read what you built for feedback.

Repeat this process allowing time to whistle out of you the true meaning. Like learning the accordion, never rush your composition. Let it find you. Forcing a point will stunt your poem’s growth. Never limit yourself.

Here is a poem of mine I recently used as practice:

Breaking the Steady Bender

I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness, I drank – God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to the drink, rather than the drink to the insanity.

Edgar Allan Poe

It is not romantic,
nor necessary dark magic,
to be a drunk.
Obsessing over
old disappointments,
friends fear your
late-night phone calls.
They do not fear you.

You, a callus next-of-kin,
foul – father, brother, son,
the family sees their tree
has another apple
watering itself
into a stupor.
You, the causality
of moral torpor.

An alcoholic apathy
was my altar,
a fetid womb.
God and the poet’s
screaming ego
pulled me out
of that tomb.
It is true.

Good folks,
I didn’t expire
in the addled
by and by
because death-by-cliché
is the worst way
to die.

I set out to create a poem as a bookend to “Judas Noose Tavern” in my first book. The tone of “Judas” left a forlorn feeling that addiction can’t be overcome. The idea of closing the circle never occurred to me until I cleared my head for inspiration. After I looked at the finished product I:

  1. Felt that the title and quote only worsened the hopeless feeling achieved in “Judas.” I didn’t like that.
  2. There was a judgmental tone towards the “you” at the beginning I found unattractive and counterproductive.
  3. My beating my demons by the end speaks from a haughty place not true in me or constructive for the reader.

I let the discomfort settle over me, and for weeks I stared at the poem. One day it hit me to go back to the spark that lit my inspiration – I wanted to bookend “Judas.” To do that I used the sobriety and poetic growth of the last twenty years since “Judas Noose Tavern” came into existence, and the storyteller perked up. I thought, “What if this poem is written by Bacchus? What if he got tired of the boozy, party-fueled scene and retired? What would he remember, and what warning/hope for others would he impart?”

The childlike wonder sat up, my fingers sped ahead, and this is what I created:

Bacchus Retired

Bacchus sits back with his dignity intact
and reminisces about good luck:
“It isn’t romantic, instead sadly tragic,
to waste one’s life as a drunk.”
Sour consequences and fictitious offenses,
the Lord of Libations speaks of regret,
“Dashell Hammett wrote well. Joplin sang true.
a blacklisted falcon and screeching brunette.”

“Barrooms breed black eyes, and a fool’s folklore,”
taps his smoke growing dour,
“Shotgun claimed Cobain; needles Bird’s ‘nevermore’.”
Bacchus detaches from the past to this hour.
“A family sees their tree has another apple
watering itself into a stupor.”
No good reason except bad timing,
the fate of a slack-faced interloper.

Rock back, rock forward, “An alcoholic apathy
was my altar. Kerouac shared that fetid womb.”
Bacchus blew smoke rings around lost chastity.
“Jesus and the Mary Chain
coaxed me out of that tomb.”
Blue eyes hovered over his ocean view.
Peaceful, humble, healthy, subdued,
a respite being rescued enjoyed by too few.

Do you miss it? Not the women? Not the old crew?
The decommissioned deity is asked every day.
“Not a bit. I got a good one. Good company was overdue.”
Bacchus listens to Bach, breathes deep, then smiles.
No one to argue or harangue over mountains for miles,
and he whispers before a nap, “Good folks, I didn’t expire
in the addled by and by because death-by-cliché
is the worst way to die.”

As you can see:

  1. I dropped the title and drudgery of Poe’s quote.
  2. The scene is far more panoramic, and the judgmental over/undertones are removed.
  3. I brought back the spirit of “Judas Noose Tavern” by highlighting folks who succumbed to alcoholism and drug addiction.
  4. There are bits salvaged from the original.

Is the poem a done deal? No, but it’s close. Some of my thoughts are to clean up some of the loose rhymes, add people in the last stanza who did face down their demons, and tinker with the title. Am I unhappy with the original? No, it’s an opportunity do improve.

A cool gift to give your reader is a poem that shows your internal machinery. Do not change a poem from a magazine publication to book “just because.” However, never feel locked-in to a poem because it’s been published. Poetry breathes. Let it breathe.

Few poems in my experience end up expressing what I initially set out to say. There is an ethereal quality to poetry more song than prose. Channel the spirit of Weird Al Yankovic, and accordion your poetry to life.

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