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DESPERATE little songwriter....
Posted by: Kdsugar (
Date: June 10, 2003 08:02PM

I am hoping someone out there in poetry world can help me....

This summer I'm working at a writing camp for high school students. One of my jobs as a councelor is to create ellectives for the kids to sign up for. right now i'm working on a lesson plan based around character development through "people watching". Basically I'm going to have the kids go to a downtown area, find a person to observe (at a distance of course) and create a character sketch from what they see.

Here's where i hope one of you can come in. I'm a songwriter so my basis of knowledge comes mostly from songs but i'm looking for a few poems that might illistrate this technique of observation of people. I would really appreciate if someone could give me some suggestions on writers or poems!


Re: DESPERATE little songwriter....
Posted by: Les (
Date: June 10, 2003 09:02PM

Here's one from singer/songwriter Paul Simon. He was observing the "human zoo". It's a technique you might use to demonstrate what can be done with their observation and a vivid imagination.

Someone told me
It's all happening at the zoo.

I do believe it,
I do believe it's true.

It's a light and tumble journey
From the East Side to the park;
Just a fine and fancy ramble
To the zoo.

But you can take the crosstown bus
If it's raining or it's cold,
And the animals will love it
If you do.

Somethin' tells me
It's all happening at the zoo.

The monkeys stand for honesty,
Giraffes are insincere,
And the elephants are kindly but
They're dumb.
Orangutans are skeptical
Of changes in their cages,
And the zookeeper is very fond of rum.

Zebras are reactionaries,
Antelopes are missionaries,
Pigeons plot in secrecy,
And hamsters turn on frequently.
What a gas! You gotta come and see
At the zoo.

- Paul Simon -
"Bookends", 1968

Re: DESPERATE little songwriter....
Posted by: Pam Adams (---)
Date: June 10, 2003 09:27PM

Try some of Emily Dickinson's works. There are lots listed under the Classical Poet list. A lot of her work is based on observation. Here's a sample-

I'm nobody! Who are you?
by Emily Dickinson

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us -- don't tell!
They'd advertise -- you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one's name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!


Re: DESPERATE little songwriter....
Posted by: rikki (
Date: June 10, 2003 09:58PM

You might like some of the poems by Australian poet Henry Lawson (1867-1922). He was totally deaf by the age of 14, and quite a loner, and was very perceptive in his observations of the people around him.

Faces in the Street

They lie, the men who tell us for reasons of their own
That want is here a stranger, and that misery's unknown;
For where the nearest suburb and the city proper meet
My window-sill is level with the faces in the street
Drifting past, drifting past,
To the beat of weary feet
While I sorrow for the owners of those faces in the street.

And cause I have to sorrow, in a land so young and fair,
To see upon those faces stamped the marks of Want and Care;
I look in vain for traces of the fresh and fair and sweet
In sallow, sunken faces that are drifting through the street
Drifting on, drifting on,
To the scrape of restless feet;
I can sorrow for the owners of the faces in the street.

In hours before the dawning dims the starlight in the sky
The wan and weary faces first begin to trickle by,
Increasing as the moments hurry on with morning feet,
Till like a pallid river flow the faces in the street
Flowing in, flowing in,
To the beat of hurried feet
Ah! I sorrow for the owners of those faces in the street.

The human river dwindles when 'tis past the hour of eight,
Its waves go flowing faster in the fear of being late;
But slowly drag the moments, whilst beneath the dust and heat
The city grinds the owners of the faces in the street
Grinding body, grinding soul,
Yielding scarce enough to eat
Oh! I sorrow for the owners of the faces in the street.

And then the only faces till the sun is sinking down
Are those of outside toilers and the idlers of the town,
Save here and there a face that seems a stranger in the street,
Tells of the city's unemployed upon his weary beat
Drifting round, drifting round,
To the tread of listless feet
Ah! My heart aches for the owner of that sad face in the street.

And when the hours on lagging feet have slowly dragged away,
And sickly yellow gaslights rise to mock the going day,
Then flowing past my window like a tide in its retreat,
Again I see the pallid stream of faces in the street
Ebbing out, ebbing out,
To the drag of tired feet,
While my heart is aching dumbly for the faces in the street.

And now all blurred and smirched with vice the day's sad pages end,
For while the short large hours' toward the longersmall hours' trend,
With smiles that mock the wearer, and with words that half entreat,
Delilah pleads for custom at the corner of the street
Sinking down, sinking down,
Battered wreck by tempests beat
A dreadful, thankless trade is hers, that Woman of the Street.

But, ah! to dreader things than these our fair young city comes,
For in its heart are growing thick the filthy dens and slums,
Where human forms shall rot away in sties for swine unmeet,
And ghostly faces shall be seen unfit for any street
Rotting out, rotting out,
For the lack of air and meat
In dens of vice and horror that are hidden from the street.

I wonder would the apathy of wealthy men endure
Were all their windows level with the faces of the Poor?
Ah! Mammon's slaves, your knees shall knock, your hearts in terror beat,
When God demands a reason for the sorrows of the street,
The wrong things and the bad things
And the sad things that we meet
In the filthy lane and alley, and the cruel, heartless street.

I left the dreadful corner where the steps are never still,
And sought another window overlooking gorge and hill;
But when the night came dreary with the driving rain and sleet,
They haunted me the shadows of those faces in the street,
Flitting by, flitting by,
Flitting by with noiseless feet,
And with cheeks but little paler than the real ones in the street.

Once I cried: `Oh, God Almighty! if Thy might doth still endure,
Now show me in a vision for the wrongs of Earth a cure.'
And, lo! with shops all shuttered I beheld a city's street,
And in the warning distance heard the tramp of many feet,
Coming near, coming near,
To a drum's dull distant beat,
And soon I saw the army that was marching down the street.

Then, like a swollen river that has broken bank and wall,
The human flood came pouring with the red flags over all,
And kindled eyes all blazing bright with revolution's heat,
And flashing swords reflecting rigid faces in the street.
Pouring on, pouring on,
To a drum's loud threatening beat,
And the war-hymns and the cheering of the people in the street.

And so it must be while the world goes rolling round its course,
The warning pen shall write in vain, the warning voice grow hoarse,
But not until a city feels Red Revolution's feet
Shall its sad people miss awhile the terrors of the street
The dreadful everlasting strife
For scarcely clothes and meat
In that pent track of living death the city's cruel street.

-- Henry Lawson

Re: DESPERATE little songwriter....
Posted by: illudiumphosdex (
Date: July 30, 2003 11:06AM

And if you get stuck (after all, these are kids), you can always rely on the old standbys:

At The Codfish Ball

Next Friday night you're all invited
To dance from 8 to 3
All the fishes in the sea
Are having a ball

It's some affair, they'll all be there
From the Herring to the Whale
They'll turn out to shake a scale
In Neptune's Hall

Come along and follow me
To the bottom of the sea
We'll join in the Jamboree
At the Codfish ball

Lobsters dancing in a row
Shuffle off to Buffalo
Jellyfish sway to and fro
At the Codfish ball

Finnan Haddie leads the Eel
Thought an Irish reel
The Catfish is a dancing man
But he can't can-can like a Sardine can

Tunas trucking left and right
Snappers tapping, what a night
There won't be a hook in sight
At the Codfish ball

Scottish Salmon form a ring
And dance the Highland fling
The music's hot, so the Lox foxtrot
And the Halibut is the jitterbug king

Come along and follow me
To the bottom of the sea
We'll join in the Jamboree
At the Codfish ball

Re: DESPERATE little songwriter....
Posted by: RJAllen (193.114.111.---)
Date: July 30, 2003 11:39AM

At an angle, for they involve people revealing their own characters, Browning's dramatic monologues. Frost and Hardy wrote them too.

Re: DESPERATE little songwriter....
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: July 30, 2003 12:25PM

More from Paul Simon:

from the song "America":

Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the
gabardine suit was a spy.
I said, "Be careful!
His bow-tie is really a camera!"

Re: DESPERATE little songwriter....
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: July 30, 2003 05:37PM

In MACBETH, King Duncan says: "There's no art / To find the mind's construction in the face."

He means, he wishes there WERE such an art -- he's just been betrayed and attacked by someone in whom he had placed "An absolute trust."

HAMLET observes that "one may smile, and smile and be a villain."

You can probably find a lot more passages from Shakespeare warning you of the danger of making assumptions from "people watching."

Lawson a loner...?
Posted by: Elliot (149.123.60.---)
Date: September 11, 2003 06:09PM


Interesting about Lawson. I did not know he was deaf. I would not have guessed hat he had any impediment from reading his work. His observations are poinently acute, and to me, quite social.


Re: Lawson a loner...?
Posted by: rikki (
Date: September 11, 2003 08:04PM

Elliot, I read that about Lawson's deafness in a book that I happened to have from the library at the time, and i was surprised too and wondered then if it was true - so I just tried a bit of googling and came up with a couple of sites that seem to support it. I agree, he seemed from his poems to be very sociable, and certainly very observant.

[] />
[] />
rikki smiling smiley

p.s. did you ever buy that hat??

Re: Lawson a loner...?
Posted by: annette (
Date: November 05, 2003 09:08PM

Actually, the deaf are very observant and very visual "due" to their hearing impariment. Because they can not hear, they depend on the visual and are very adapt at "observing" people, situations and the world around them. The deaf are not distracted by sound, so they become much better at "catching" things that hearing people most often miss.

Lawson's constant reference to "face(s)" is important, because the deaf are very atuned to facial expressions and the meanings behind them. When you see people signing in ASL you will note that they have very expressive faces. This is because different expressions convey very specific meanings and add clarity to the conversation. Since Lawson did not totally lose his hearing until he was 14, it is possible (and likely) that he could read lips (did your book mention this?) and that he could remember sounds from his childhood, all adding to his creative writing abilities.

Also, deaf people are as social on the whole as hearing people, so Lawson being a loner would most likely be an individual preference and not directly related to his being deaf.

Re: Lawson a loner...?
Posted by: rikki (
Date: November 06, 2003 01:12AM

I'm sorry if my comment sounded offensive - i didn't mean it that way. When i wrote that i was thinking of Lawson in the context of time and place. He was born in a tent and grew up in the Australian outback 150 years ago, which would be enough to make anyone a loner, without the added difficulty of coping with losing his hearing in his teens. I agree, that deafness and 'loneness' don't naturally go together.


Re: Lawson a loner...?
Posted by: Mainesail (
Date: November 24, 2003 11:24PM

Here's a late addition: The following is a song from the CD "Day of the Clipper" by the group Schooner Fare. The song is called "Streets of London" and the author's name is Ralph McTell, (Essex Music Int., NY ASCAP) also spelled McTeil on the liner notes (are they still called liner note on a CD?) The CD is published by Outer Green Music Company of Portland, Maine (I just read the thread on copyright and I'm trying to cover everything!)


Have you seen the old man
down by the closed
down market

Kicking up papers with old
worn out shoes,

In his eyes you see no pride,
And held so loosely by his side,
Yesterday's papers,
yesterday's news


And how can you say that
you're lonely,
And say for you the sun
don't shine
Let me take you by the hand
And lead you through the
streets of London,
I'll show you somethin' to make
you change your mind.

Have you seen the old girl who
walks the steets of London,
Dirt in her hair and her clothes
all in rags,
She's got no time for talkin'
She just keeps right on walkin'
Carrying her home in two
carrier bags


In the all-night cafe at a
quarter past eleven,
Same old man sitting there all
on his own
Gazing at the world
Past the rim of his teacup
Each tea lasts an hour, then
he wanders on alone


Have you seen the old
man down by the
seaman's mission,
Memory fading like the medals
that he wears,
In our winter city
The rain cries little pity,
One more forgotten hero in a
world that doesn't care


wrong place
Posted by: Mainesail (
Date: November 24, 2003 11:30PM

OOps, put the post about people watching poems under the Lawson discussion - don't know how to change it

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