In Which Sam Explains “Đàn Bầu”

So, I decided to do something I don’t normally do- I’m going to explain the poem I wrote yesterday. Consider this an insight into how I always write, because it’s pretty accurate.

First, an idea strikes my fancy. In this case, I was reading about vibrotranshumanism and the phrase “music of the spheres” caught my eye. I didn’t know this had meaning outside of being the title of a short Doctor Who special. So, to Wikipedia I went.

After a bunch of Wiki surfing and note-taking (yes, I take notes before I write anything), the idea started to take form in my mind. So I set pen to paper (metaphorically, since I write straight to my computer) and got to work.

The broad base of the poem is that idea of the music of the spheres, or harmonics found in the movement of the planets and celestial bodies. It was first introduced by Pythagoras (see how this is starting to unravel?), who also came up with Pythagorean tuning, based on a series of stacked perfect fifths (G above C is a perfect fifth- seven semitones above the original note). He apparently got this idea after hearing the ringing of blacksmith hammers and realizing the sounds were occurring because the anvils (size-wise) were simple ratios of each other.

After Pythagoras introduced the idea of the music of the spheres, it was taken up by other famous names. Dante included a good descriptor of the concept in his Divine Comedy and Kepler also wrote about it in one of his publications. For me, the idea of the music of the spheres seemed reminiscent of superstring theory, so I had to tuck a reference to that in as well.

As for the title, it is a Vietnamese monochord. I liked the idea of the monochord as a symbol for the poem as a whole. There’s the common thread running through each stanza of music and science/math, so the poem feels like the monochord. One string plucked and played in multiple ways. Plus, the titular monochord has a wonderful folk story attached to it of a blind woman who played it on the street while her husband was away at war.

And now you get a better picture of what this little poem means. Of where it came from and how it evolved. And you get a better idea of my process. Almost all of my poems, if they are not personal and targeted at specific memories of mine, are written in this fashion. The Lonely God is a prime example.

You’re welcome. I’m never going to do that again.

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