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From Paul in Colorado:

Dear Nan,
I was wondering who your influences were with your lyrics. Did you read poetry? Or did you listen to a number of songs of particular styles? Im very curious because your lyrics strike as having a depth that reflects the character of the story, not just the beauty or romantic qualities of a melody or serenade.

Thank you,

Thursday, 28 July 2005

Dear Paul,

I guess my primary influence (viz a viz lyrics) has always been poetry. Poetry was my first love as a child. We lived in the country- in a bird sanctuary, actually- and there were no other kids my age in the neighborhood, so I just developed the habit of going outside with my pad and pencil and sitting on the grass to write poems. They were all pretty "spiritual" for a child- poems about God and the clouds, heaven, lost people searching for a home, things like that. I talk more about this in an essay I wrote for "The Michigan Quarterly" which has been reprinted somewhere on this website. I also loved reciting poetry, and adored my 4th grade English class in which we had to stand up in front of the class and recite a poem once a week. I remember once doing "Gus the Theatre Cat" from T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. After class my teacher called me up and told me that the poet was her uncle and she would be going to England that summer- would I like her to take my copy of the book with her for him to inscribe? She did get the book inscribed to me by Eliot and this was long before A.L.W. ever thought about a musical called CATS. Fun memory. I still have the book.

My love of poetry just increased with the years- I was mad about the romantics- Keats, Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron- and I continued writing poetry all through the years. In graduate school I studied for two years with the Pulitzer Prize winning poet Anne Sexton and loved every moment. My work improved so much while studying with her- fascinating woman. She became a friend, too. By coincidence, another theatre writer was in the same class and was also my friend back then- Craig Lucas. Craig has written some wonderful plays and I believe he's now even writing some lyrics. - I have never stopped writing poetry (or reading it- trying to keep up with all the modern poets, my favorites being Billy Collins, James Wright, Mark Strand, Mary Oliver, Katha Pollitt) and would someday like to get around to submitting my own poems for publication. On my office wall I have a framed quote from Robert Frost: "Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat." That pretty much says it all for me.

In terms of musical or lyrical influences, growing up my house was always filled with music- especially classical music and Broadway cast albums. My mother played the piano, and I used to sing duets with my father- everything from Menotti's "Ahmal and the Night Visitors" to "The Pajama Game." I adore Frank Loesser and Stephen Sondheim. As a young woman, Sondheim really hit some deep nerves in me, making me want to seriously write lyrics (and making me wish more than ever that I could also compose!) I think Cole Porter was sheer genius. Gilbert & Sullivan have always been favorites. Most of my comic lyrics are unheard/unproduced, but I probably like writing comic lyrics best of all.

Sorry to be so long-winded, but I guess I really enjoyed your question and the memories it brought back. Good luck to you with all your own future aspirations and thanks, Paul, for writing. - Best, Nan

Related link: Secret Spaces of Childhood: Fear vs. The Happy Ending - an essay by Nan featured in the Michigan Quarterly Review.

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