Since Feeling is First: How Musicality Powers Meaning in Free Verse

There is never any end … there are always new sounds to imagine, new feelings to get at.

—John Coltrane

No matter the size or shape a well-composed poem takes, the sound devices employed within it hold a unique capacity to transmit any and all of the intended emotional “frequencies” to a reader. This truth gives rise to a guiding principle that readers and writers of poems are well-served to revere: musicality is as crucial an element and powerful a force in free verse as it is in works that adhere to strict patterns of meter and rhyme. But there is an inquisitive “rub” to this principle: what makes for musical greatness in verse that is not bound by rules of form and instead strives to liberate language and make meaning in innovative, more subtly symphonic ways? Merriam-Webster defines musicality as sensitivity to, knowledge of, or talent for music; melodiousness. And yet, in poetry, those who don’t sing or play instruments with technical know-how compose with immense musical flair, and both euphony and cacophony serve as sonic agents of depth and delight. In this weekly drop-in class, we’ll take a close, adventurous look at how musicality emanates from the free-verse poetry we read (and long to read again), and how we can artfully evoke music within the poems we write. As Mary Oliver observed, “words have not only a definition and a connotation, but also the felt quality of their own kind of sound.” The creative versatility and emotional capacity of this quality is heeded with great care in poetry. Reading and writing together each week, we’ll examine, celebrate and experiment with that ineffable but perceptible attunement we relish in free verse, not merely as readers and writers but sentient beings with iambic hearts and dreaming minds. After all…

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you

—E.E. Cummings

Sharing will be encouraged but optional. (Note that drop-in classes are not a forum for critique of work; students looking for critique should register for multi-week workshops.)

Drop-In Details

  • Teacher: Danielle Gasparro
  • Dates: Mar 25–May 13, 2023
  • Time: Saturdays, 11:00 am–12:00 pm
  • Location: 144 Montague
  • Cost: $23 in advance / $25 at the door
    $20 for members anytime

Click Register to check the class schedule on Eventbrite—classes are sometimes canceled due to teacher unavailability. Save by becoming a member or registering in advance on Eventbrite.

Danielle Gasparro

Danielle Gasparro

Danielle Gasparro is a Brooklyn-based wordsmith, songsmith and teaching artist. She holds an MFA in poetry from New England College and a BA in creative writing with honors from Florida State University. Her poetry and essays have been published in the Daily PaletteChronogramShift: A Journal of Literary Oddities, the Red Wheelbarrow and elsewhere. Prior to 2018, Gasparro devoted nearly twenty years to performing, recording and building an avid following as a nationally touring singer-songwriter. The obtaining of her MFA signaled a shift in artistic focus to her long-term work as a writer, and Gasparro is currently developing a hybrid memoir that fuses poetry, nonfiction and photography. A passionate educator, Gasparro regularly presents poetry talks and workshops in partnership with public libraries and arts organizations throughout New York City and the Hudson River Valley. On occasion, Gasparro still performs her music live, as curated with her poetry into a dynamic solo concert experience presented exclusively in intimate, piano-centered spaces: “An Evening of Voice & Verse.