For this week’s post on literary influences, I’m republishing an essay I wrote about the intersection between song lyrics and poetry and how an unlikely rock band influenced a younger version of myself to think and read differently. The essay, On the Poetry of Isaac Brock, originally ran on Vol. 1 Brooklyn.
When I was a freshman in high school, I had one of those rare things that stay with you forever: an extraordinary teacher. Ms. Casella was young and enthusiastic, taught English, and cared about keeping her students engaged in her class. To this aim, she gave us more time in class for creative writing than the Dean of Students would have likely deemed necessary, but since I went to one of the elite private schools that inspired Gossip Girl, she conducted her classroom however she liked. I liked her because of a note she left on one of my poems early in the year. It was the first time I’d ever been called talented, and I was insecure about my ability to do anything, even though—or maybe especially because—I was at the school on full scholarship. This is great, Stephanie, the note read. Have you considered submitting to writing contests?
By that point, I’d become a frequent visitor to a site called SongMeanings.net. In long chains of comments, anonymous users discussed the lyrics of their favorite songs, and wrote essay-like posts about what a single metaphor could mean, entire paragraphs dedicated to a single verse or chorus. I remember consulting SongMeanings.net the way I used to load Sparknotes—so poignant were the analyses I found there that I was always exhilarated, breathless to read them, and afterwards, I’d feel a tinge of disappointment for not solving the mystery myself.
But because anyone could register and contribute, I soon created an account, and began uploading my own interpretations of songs, and my entries, all too often, were on the lengthier side, sectioned into neat paragraphs with thesis statements, introductory sentences, and rounded out conclusions. When I should have been reading Huckleberry Finn or The Scarlet Letter, books that seemed to me as dated as Shakespeare, I was posting on SongMeanings.Net. I stopped reading The Scarlet Letter after the baffling ten-page description of something called a Custom House (What the hell is a wharf? Or a surveyor?) and by the time I got to Huckleberry Finn, I was convinced that I didn’t know how to speak English. The teachers instructed us to highlight words we didn’t know but it was more humiliating to open a book in class whose pages were sopping in yellow ink than to just give up on reading altogether.
Read the full essay “On the Poetry of Isaac Brock” on Vol. 1 Brooklyn.