A Little Help from My Friends

One day during the summer, while listening to the Beatles, I decided I was going to write a poem called “The Final Chord of ‘A Day in the Life.’”

For those unfamiliar with the song, it’s the final track from the Beatles’ 1967 LP Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a record that still casts a large shadow over pop music today. One of the earliest examples of “progressive rock,” the song begins with John Lennon singing over a simple acoustic melody and climaxes with loud, swirling psychedelia. It ends with an E chord that’s played on several pianos and slowly fades for roughly a minute. In order for the listener to hear the chord’s vibration for that long, engineer Geoff Emerick had to turn up the recording levels really high, so the song basically ends with a loud crash before a long, slow fade.

I was always fascinated by the fact that the Beatles (as well as Emerick and producer George Martin) chose to end such an epic song in that way. To me, it was the antithesis of the album’s beginning, which announced the arrival of the titular band on stage. That final chord in “A Day in the Life,” on the other hand, was the exhausted audience trudging to the parking lot after the show.

So I decided to write my poem about that. But a couple of things happened to my piece along the way.

First, one of the lines from the song (“Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall”) kept playing over and over in my head. I eventually incorporated it into the piece, so it was no longer inspired by just that final chord. For this reason, I gave it a new title: “Holes.” (By the way, the revised piece also quotes a Bob Dylan song.)

Second, after I wrote the rough draft, I thought it was, well, boring. Considering that I was using such an adventurous recording for my inspiration, I felt my piece should reflect that same spirit. So I decided to take a different approach: Instead of writing a poem, I wrote a flash using stream-of-consciousness. While I had read some works that employed stream-of-consciousness (notably James Joyce’s Ulysses, Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse), I had never tried writing it myself. But I decided to give it a shot. After all, what did I have to lose?

It took me a little while to get this into shape, but fortunately I got a lot of help from seven of my writing friends (both on and off Scribophile). Sure, it sounds like a lot of people were involved in what ended up being a very short piece (under 800 words), but it’s a good idea to hear from different people about a work-in-progress, especially if you’re trying out a new form.

Some people may be familiar with it and know what to look for in that type of piece. For example, a few people suggested that for “Holes,” I break some grammar rules. I’ve done that for poems, but I would have never thought about doing it for a flash, or at least not to the extent I did it in mine. Of course, others may not be as familiar with the form, so they may judge it based on a completely different set of criteria. Still, one should consider all opinions, even from those readers who may not “get it.” After all, they may see something in a piece that others never noticed, so their feedback is just as valuable as everyone else’s.

Overall, this experience was a positive one for a couple of reasons. First, “Holes” was accepted for the inaugural issue of Tape Hiss, which will probably be out in the next month or so. But also, writing the piece and sharing it with a writing community have inspired me to go on more literary adventures, which I will write about in future posts.

Have you tried experimenting with your writing recently? If so, did you share your work-in-progress with writing friends? Please feel free to tell me about it in the comments.