On Post: Moment of Clarity
Date: January 26, 2013
There were so very many ways that this piece was a bad choice. But, overall, I think they can all be melted down to this one truth: writing poetry based on a Jay-Z is a bad idea.
Look, I don’t want to be reductive about rap music, but I do think there is some truth to the idea that what separates rap and poetry is a little more than a beat. That doesn’t make either not an important or impressive art form; it just makes them art siblings, if you will. So, in the same way that it’d be silly to say, produce a poem on the pack of one of Emily Dickinson’s pieces, it’s equally a bad idea to do so with Jay-Z. They are figures who are at the top of the craft, giants of the medium. Your work will, inevitably, suffer in comparison to theirs, so why even bother courting that.
And yet, I did.
I don’t really have a good reason why. I certainly didn’t think of myself as challenging Hova’s talents for writing verse; it wasn’t about even meeting those standards. The moment I finished writing the piece, I knew it was not a good choice on my part. But…I don’t know, I felt like I should use it. I could’ve gone back to the drawing board, done something else, but there was something about the particularly obviousness of the poor choice that felt…worth documenting, if that makes a lick of sense.
Part of the point of The January Project is to just shut off the editor, the naysayer in my brain, and follow impulse. My impulse when the Jay-Z song came up on the randomizer was “write a poem” and, as dumb as that way, it was sort of a spectacular distillation of the idea of following the first impulse and trying to get it to work, even when it, on its face, is a not a good impulse. And while I have, in the past, altered concept, approach, genre, plot, and so on of a January Project piece that wasn’t working, I felt like this time it was not ok to do so.
One aspect of this effort I do standby is the concept. Moment of Clarity the song is, in part, about walking back through your past, head held high, for having survived it and thrived beyond it. The inevitable flip side of that is the person from your past who was so similar to you but failed to go your route. You get the brass ring and moved uptown, they dropped out of high school and live over the garage. Two paths, so similar at one point, so different now. And as interesting as your tale of success, fame, and fortune is, isn’t there also something fascinating about your mirror, about the one who was so much like you and can only look on with envy at what you’ve now achieved.
But the idea of doing poetry style? Ouch…not my brightest moment.