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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #358

The Piano Man

I was listening to this song the other day, and in particular some of the lyrics:

It's nine o'clock on a Saturday

The regular crowd shuffles in

There's an old man sittin' next to me

Makin' love to his tonic and gin

He says, "Son, can you play me a memory?

I'm not really sure how it goes

But it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete

When I wore a younger man's clothes"

There is some brilliant writing in that one stanza.

Instead of writing “there’s an old man drinking a tonic and gin,” he writes “makin’ love to his tonic and gin.” This is such a subtle change, but it speaks volumes about the state of mind of the man who is drinking.

And, again, “when I wore a younger man’s clothes,” instead of simply “when I was younger.” Again, a very small change, but so much more satisfying.

That sort of thing is what good writers do. They try to find new ways to say things. They try to capture emotions with words. They try to put you, the reader, into the scene so that you experience the nuance of that scene.

Just something to think about as you begin your day of writing.

Now, on to the Mail!

The Mail Room

The Mail Room

Say a Lot in Fewer Words

From Ann: “So what's your attitude to 'fewer words to say more', bill? I know you think you can't write poetry but, as I've said before, your writing is already poetic, so what's the difference? Thought those might be challenging questions for you!! I know you're going to come up with clever answers though....”

Ann, they are, indeed, challenging questions.

“Fewer words to say more” – I’m all for it! In fact, the truly talented writers, I believe, write in a sparse style which manages to capture, in a couple lines, what average writers would need to capture with a couple paragraphs.

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Take the stanza above – “makin’ love to his tonic and gin.” There really is nothing else that needs to be added to that lyric. Those seven words perfectly capture the hopeless, soul-crushing state of mind you will find in dingy bars across the landscape of most countries.

I would challenge all writers to work on this. Toss away the unnecessary and learn to choose your vocabulary wisely. There is power in sparsity, but it takes practice to achieve that power.

Having said that, I’m thinking of the first chapter of Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” and the wordiness he displays and yet, somehow, those hundreds of words were necessary to capture the bleakness of the scene.

So what do I know, really? LOL

On to your second question . . .

I read an article which described poetic prose the following, and I’m borrowing this from

“Though the name of the form may appear to be a contradiction, the prose poem essentially appears as prose, but reads like poetry. In the first issue of The Prose Poem: An International Journal, editor Peter Johnson explained, "Just as black humor straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy, so the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels resting precariously on banana peels."

While it lacks the line breaks associated with poetry, the prose poem maintains a poetic quality, often utilizing techniques common to poetry, such as fragmentation, compression, repetition, and rhyme. The prose poem can range in length from a few lines to several pages long, and it may explore a limitless array of styles and subjects.”

So, there you go! It turns out I am a poet! So, what’s the difference? None that I can think of, Ann, and I stand corrected. In fact, let me be so bold as to make this statement: all good creative writers are at least a tiny bit poetic. Any excellent scene in a novel, a scene which comes alive and transports the reader into that scene, is poetic writing, don’t you think?

Just for practice, find a creative way to describe this picture in two sentences.

Just for practice, find a creative way to describe this picture in two sentences.

Spoken Word Poetry

From Brenda: “I do have a question. I've been struggling with Spoken Word Poetry. My poems are on a local radio station, but I am not happy with the outcome when I hear them. I record these poems on my phone and then send the audio to them. I have recently gotten advice from a friend to act like I am telling a story to a child or senior when I record.

“This has helped me a bit.

“I guess the Tone is the problem. Do i use a soft spoken voice, a loud voice, or what? Or do I try to tell it like a story? I'm not sure if this is anything you can help me with, but I thought I'd toss it out there.”

This is a first, Brenda, and I love the question.

For those who are not familiar with Spoken Word Poetry, it is an art form which dates back hundreds of years. Basically, it is the poet performing their piece either in front of an audience or, with Brenda’s case, on the radio. Think back to the 50’s and 60’s, in coffeehouses across the country, poets would sit at a microphone and deliver their poetry to an audience.

Anyway, Brenda, I did a little research on this, reading articles written by the pros who do Spoken Word Poetry for a living, and their suggestions are pretty straight-forward. They say to memorize the piece first, or at least know it so well that it is easy to recite it with very little in the way of notes. This way you are intimately familiar with it, and you can concentrate on the delivery rather than just the words.

They also suggest practicing it over and over again, recording yourself, listening to the recording, and fine-tuning your performance.

Finally, they all favor the storyteller. Through the inflections of your voice, through the emphasis you place on certain words and syllables, you, the storyteller, can make your poems come alive.

And, finally, this from me: change your routine! Recording on a phone and sending that recording out suggests a lot of the process is either skipped or rushed through. I would find a little bit better recording equipment to record with.

But that’s just my opinion! Good luck and thanks for the great question.

And thanks, Ann, for your great questions!

Use whatever tools you need to use in order to deliver your message as a writer, poet, or whatever.

Use whatever tools you need to use in order to deliver your message as a writer, poet, or whatever.

The Piano Man Again

Again, describing lonely people at a bar:

“Yes, they're sharing a drink they call loneliness

But it's better than drinkin' alone”

Really excellent writing! “A drink called loneliness” is such a powerful metaphor, so deeply depressing, and it is much better than the alternative, “to drink alone.” My God, when faced with genius, all I can do is bow to the gods of writing and thank them for making me a writer.

I hope this finds you well. Stay safe and healthy, all of you, and remember, please, to do all things with love as you go about your daily whatevers. If you have a question for the Mailbag, and I sure hope you do, drop it in the comments below, or send me an email at And finally, if you need a writing coach for a month, shoot me an email. I would love to assist you as you continue to improve as a writer.

Finally, I want to say goodbye to an HP friend of mine. I met Mark Bruno on this HP site, and we have been friends for a number of years. Mark recently passed away. He was a good man. I am proud to have called him a friend, and our little community of writers is better for having known him.

Blessings to you all and Rest in Peace, Mark!

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on May 02, 2021:

Gyanendra, I am honored and humbled. Thank you, Sir!

gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on April 29, 2021:

You are my Guru. Om!!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 29, 2021:

Gyanendra, I am very happy for David. I hope the visa situation has been resolved and he continue to be safe in Nepal. And thank you, sir, for the kind words you say about my writing. You are appreciated.

gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on April 29, 2021:

Hi my coach Bill, I feel my journey with English words are getting smoother every time as I keep on learning from your fabulous article every Monday. This time I am late here to stop by because I had to visit to immigration office with David who has slipped disk he has to obtain visa from 6th Jan onwards. He will be penalised. He's prepared to pay for it. Because he's happy in Nepal. He's happier because he's received his new passport from U. K. on 19th of April21. (afer 13 month!)

He will be the happiest person when he obtains visa stamped on his new passport. Because he's safe in Nepal.

Meanwhile I was left behind to read and learn from your article. Though late I have this opportunity from today onwards. Reason: Lockdown has began from today onwards.

Thank you

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 28, 2021:

Well, that gave me shivers, Sha! lol I'm glad you were able to release that darkness. :) I love it, right up my alley. Well done, dear friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 28, 2021:

I appreciate the visit, Amara! Blessings to you always.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 28, 2021:

Dora, I don't have a good feeling about his health. I hope I'm wrong.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 28, 2021:

Mary, I think you do quite well. I can't imagine learning English as a second language. Very difficult!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 28, 2021:

I really did, Brenda! It was very good!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 28, 2021:

Love Billy Joel! "The Piano Man" is an epic tale of loneliness and regret.

As for the photo, how 'bout this from 'lil ole me?:

As if regurgitated from the belly of the Devil's Lair, the ancient barn loomed over the landscape emitting a horrific stench as its walls pulsated with the breath of pure evil. What started out as a leisurely trek on a breezy Spring day was about to turn into a nightmare.

Amara from Pakistan on April 27, 2021:

Bill I enjoyed reading your hub.. You got a unique style indeed.. God bless you..

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 27, 2021:

Bill, I also sent Eric Dierker an email a few weeks back, and haven't received a response. Was just checking.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 27, 2021:

Sparsity. I love that. I wish I have an excellent command of the language to do that. Or, could it be a gift? Whatever, it is a good goal to work at.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on April 27, 2021:


Thanks for the kind comment on my attempt at your photo challenge.

Glad you liked it!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2021:

Thank you for your kind words, Devika. I'm glad you enjoyed reciting poems in school. I was too afraid and shy to do it. :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2021:

Thank you, Farah, for that information about aabriti. I love that you shared that with us. I'm always learning from my fellow writers on HP.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2021:

Thank you Linda! It is always sad. We have a close community here, small but caring, and I hate losing one of our own.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2021:

Peggy, I love it...wild frenzy of weeds growing with abandon is a description worthy of Steinbeck. Thanks so much for sharing that.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2021:

Thank you Alyssa! I plan on doing just that, and I hope you do that same.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2021:

Brenda, no one else picked up that challenge. Thank you! I love your description based on the photo....empty field just like her lonely memories of yesterday...that is some powerful stuff. Excellent!

Have a great week, my friend, and thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2021:

Indeed, NIthya, may Mark rest in peace. He was a good man, and I'm better for having known him.

Thank you my friend. Have a great week!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2021:

Rasma, I suspect Billy Joel inspired many written pieces with that song. It's that way with the classics.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2021:

Dora no, we have not heard a peep out of Eric Dierker of late. Linda tried to contact him but hasn't heard back in a couple weeks now. I don't have a good feeling about that.

Thank you, always, and blessings to you today and always.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2021:

James, you are right on. I don't know what I heard that advice either, but I've repeated it to other writers many times. And yes, Baldwin is a master!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2021:

Heidi, you always make me laugh. You and I have a similar sense of humor, so I do appreciate you. If that was a rant it was a pretty mild one.

Pay attention, all of you, this lady knows what she's talking about.

Happy May! It's almost here!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2021:

That would certainly help, EK! Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2021:

Thank you, Linda, for that suggestion about pitch. I know so very little about recording. I think I need to learn a bit more before I attempt it.

I hope this finds you happy in the garden. Stay safe, dear friend.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 27, 2021:

Hi Bill your ideas in writing is informative, fun to read, and so much to learn from here. You have a perfect way of addressing your skills and teaching us more each day. I recited poems at school and enjoyed that experience.

Farah N Huq from Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 26, 2021:

Thank you for clarifying how to bring uniqueness to an article in the section "say a lot in fewer words".

Spoken word poetry is commonly known as "aabriti" in Bengali and it is very popular here. It requires a lot of practice and skill to master the art.

Sorry to hear about Mr. Mark Bruno. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 26, 2021:

Thank you for sharing the lyrics of “The Piano Man” and discussing them. It’s a powerful song.

It’s always sad to hear about the death of a hubber. May he rest in peace. .

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 26, 2021:

Hi Bill,

I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Mark Bruno. May he rest in peace.

Per your challenge: "Just for practice, find a creative way to describe this picture in two sentences." Here is my attempt:

The rounded silo crowning at one end of the steep-sloped, weathered, cinnamon-colored barn roof points towards the cloudless, multi-hued sapphire sky. Surrounding that gated scene, with another farm building in the near distance, is a wild frenzy of weeds growing with abandon.

Alyssa from Ohio on April 26, 2021:

Much food for thought this week! Thank you Bill! I hope you have a wonderful week!

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on April 26, 2021:


I sent a response, but not sure if it went through since I had to sign in once again.

If you receive two, I apologize.

Thank you so much for researching Spoken Word Poetry.

Your tips are definitely worth while.

Memorizing is the one thing I need to work on, because I do notice a lag when I look down at my notes.

Recording equipment is probably what I need also. Maybe I can get my computer hooked up and use a microphone.

It's in a tiny room that one can barely turn around in, but I do have a laptop that I am setting up.

I think learning the craft of story telling is probably the to grab that attention.

I love the way each week you push us to be more descriptive.

Something I need to use more in my poetry.

You are a poet. Prose does count.

Here is a little something I tossed together for your picture.

I went a little off target, but that's the way my brain works.

This dilapidated, wooden red barn sits in an empty field just like her lonely memories of yesterday.

As she stirs in an old rocking chair, forgotten and lost down a lonely path."

Have a great week.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on April 26, 2021:

Interesting questions and answers. Billy Joel’s song The Piano Man is a beautifully written song. He has used few words to create the setting and mood for his song effectively. I feel that Spoken Word Poetry needs a lot of practice and as you say good recording equipment. Sorry to hear about Mark Bruno. May his soul Rest In Peace.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on April 26, 2021:

Thank you Bill for another inspirational and thought-provoking mailbag. I once went your way and wrote about a happening in a bar I don't remember if it was a very successful poem but I do remember that the inspiration came directly from Billy Joel and The Piano Man,

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 26, 2021:

Bill, some of your descriptions have indeed been poetic. Spoken Word Poetry seems meaningful on many levels. Sorry about Mark Bruno. Memories of our dear departed friends reminds us to be grateful that we're still here, and to appreciate each other now. Tons of appreciation, Bill. Has anyone one heard from Eric Dierker lately?

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 26, 2021:

Mr. Happy, I've always heard it as "gin and tonic" too. I think Joel just did that for the flow of the lyrics. It's probably the only time I've ever seen it as "tonic and gin."

A Mailbag without a question from you? I hope I don't suffer from withdrawals. lol

Take care, my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 26, 2021:

You got me, Ann! Darn it! I was so proud of not being a poet. LOL Just kidding! I'm kind of proud of my newfound status as a prose poet. :)

Stay safe and have a fabulous week, my friend...and thanks for the question.


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 26, 2021:

Thanks Bill! Any fan of Billy Joel's is a friend of mine. Take care, buddy, and I'll catch you down the Road of Life.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 26, 2021:

Thank you Mary! I should do more of it since I enjoy it so much. Thanks for the suggestion. I hope this finds you well, and I hope that farm of yours sells soon.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 26, 2021:

Thanks for stopping by, Jamie! I appreciate it, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 26, 2021:

Thank you. Chitrangada Sharan, for weighing in with your thoughts. I hope this finds you healthy and happy. Have a great week and stay safe in India.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 26, 2021:

Misbah, you are diligent and you want to improve. I doubt it will take you very long to make your sentences short and wise. I have faith in your abilities as a writer.

Take care, my friend, Happy Monday, and blessings to you always.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 26, 2021:

Thanks John! I would never use my voice for spoken work poetry either. I tend to lisp occasionally, and that just won't do. lol Take care, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 26, 2021:

There you go, Nell! Exactly! Why write five pages when one will do quite nicely, eh? Thank you!

James C Moore from Joliet, IL on April 26, 2021:

Billy Joel is a boss. He's a first ballot rock and roll hall of famer. I don't remember where I first heard (or read) this writing advice, but it goes as follows: show don't tell. As for prose poems, James Baldwin's " Go Tell it on the Mountain" is the best example that I've read. It's a novel but is a narrative epic poem akin to Homer's Illiad and Odyssey works.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on April 26, 2021:

Happy Mailbag Monday!

Re: Spoken Word Poetry. As the narrator and producer of 9 audio books on Audible, I can speak a little about this issue. Sounds like the poet is struggling with a couple of things.

All of your suggestions are spot on. I would definitely suggest that she practice, and practice, and practice. But imperfect practice just creates imperfection. There's a HUGE difference between reciting a poem and performing a poem.

While I'm not opposed to people using their phones to record, the problem is that they're usually holding it in their hands. That's distracting and impacts performance.

Honestly, I think the problem is in the writing. No, seriously. A lot of "poets" just dump some words on the page in what they think looks like a poem. Then they never read it out loud before they publish it. In reading poetry, I can always tell the visual poets from the auditory ones. Poetry is an oral tradition. Lots of people forget that. Read the darn thing out loud before you publish it!

Now that I've finished my poetry rant (maybe I should have written it as a poem), gotta get going. Have a great week!

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on April 26, 2021:

“makin’ love to his tonic and gin." - This one is strange. I can't get over the "tonic and gin". It doesn't flow. I drank "gin and tonic" for many years. It was always "gin and tonic", not "tonic and gin". Can't get over this one. Almost 30 years in North America never have I heard: "tonic and gin".

Well, this piece of writing really underlined for me why I do not write poetry, or do much creative writing. I'm more about the message then I am about style. To each their own.

It's a relief no questions of mine are on this week. Haha!!

Thanks for the writing - all the best!

EK Jadoon from Abbottabad Pakistan on April 26, 2021:

You have given great answers to both, Brenda and Ann. When I was in college, I used to take part in debate competition, and I had to recite poetry. Maybe that's why I know how to recite poetry properly.

Thanks for sharing your valuable thoughts, Bill.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on April 26, 2021:

Bill, some of Billy Joel's lyrics are absolute genius, aren't they? A Mailbag of few questions, but the ones you received were super (as we're the responses.)

I've never tried to write poetry, but I wonder if spoken word poetry is like entertaining children by reading a story or doing voice-overs for radio add? Sometimes the female voice does not sound pleasing in a recording. Lowering the pitch, bringing it down half an octave can help (unless you naturally have a deeper voice).

Thank you for a great start to the week.

Ann Carr from SW England on April 26, 2021:

Loved your answers to my and Brenda's questions! That Piano Man is superb, isn't it? As soon as I read it the tune was in my head - lovely music, clever, beautiful lyrics.

As for your prose poetry answer, I found myself punching the air and saying 'YES!' Gotcha. I knew you were a poet! Great quotes too, bill.

Btw, I used to tell my students to slow down much more when reading aloud.

Have a happy week and keep on writing that poetry - I mean prose......

Ann :)

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on April 26, 2021:

Excellent mailbag, Bill. I have always been in awe of Billy Joel’s lyrics and the “Piano Man” is a masterpiece. As far as less words being better, I totally agree. This is something I need to work on and as you said it takes practice. Have a wonderful week, Bill.

Mary Wickison from USA on April 26, 2021:

I love that you highlight song lyrics. For me, poetry seems unrelatable, but not song lyrics. Yet, aren't songs just poems set to music?

I know you often highlight some of your favorite music. As you've done here, I think pulling out specific lines to analyze is a great idea.

Jamie Lee Hamann from Reno NV on April 26, 2021:

Shoutout to the Poetry Mailbag. Great questions from Ann and Brenda. All my love GREAT MAILBAG TODAY! Jamie

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 26, 2021:

Hello Bill!

An interesting and engaging mailbag. I liked the answer to the question by Brenda. You have some good and valuable suggestions.

Reciting poetry, in front of an audience is a wonderful talent. As you say, one has to memorise it, recite with feelings and expressions, and pause or emphasise at the appropriate words. Writing poetry and spoken poetry are slightly different.

Thank you for sharing another wonderful installment. Have a wonderful week.

Misbah Sheikh from — This Existence Is Only an Illusion on April 26, 2021:

Mr. Bill, sorry to hear about the writer “Mark” who passed away. May God Rest his soul in Peace. I enjoyed reading the mailbag as usual. As you said about the use of vocabulary, that’s an important point. I am also working on myself, to make my sentences short and wise. Let’s see how much time I will take to succeed.

Happy Monday

Blessings and Peace

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on April 26, 2021:

Bill, I totally agree with you about the lyrics of “Piano Man” and Billy Joel songs in general. He is a genius of a writer, and I could only dream of being as good. Absolutely love those lines.

I enjoyed the questions by Ann and Brenda very much also, and thanks for sharing the definition of prose poetry. I have thought about “spoken word poetry” and recording myself reciting but hate my voice. I have used others to recite some, including my son, and they did a good job. I agree they should be memorized first and read like you are telling a story though.

Nell Rose from England on April 26, 2021:

Always great advice Bill. I do love writing poetry, not done it for a while. But mine has its own genre, LOL! Aliens, Fairies etc. Funny how you said about less words the better. My friends daughter literally wrote five pages for a school project, and got a B. Her friend wrote one page and got an A. I had to tell her about less words etc. She gets it!

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