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In some of my own writing I'm always thinking about how the sound of certain words--meaning aside--leave us with feelings, impressions and evocations.  That is to say how the shape of words make us feel a certain away, regardless of literal definition. 


Longtime readers will recognize that this thread of the sub-literal, the sonic, is one I've been after for awhile. My most recent thoughts come from my nascent French studies. I don't want to make any broad, sweeping declarations about which is the more beautiful language. I'm not qualified, and hope never to be in that business anyway. But there is something to learning how to say the same thing in different way--sometimes softer, sometimes harsher. Et Alors feels different than "So what." It's a similar feeling, but played with a different drum.

I'd like to do some serious research on Wu-Tang Clan with this thought in mind. I've been thinking, as always, about Raekwon whose ear for the shape of words, is, to my mind, second to none:

Hit the cell phone, regulate with well known tone 
A Wally kingpin, who also slam and strike edition 
Whattup, Corleone, smoke the bone, Tone phone me 
Whattup he tried to slang there? Address him with chrome only...
Switchin Benzes, ten carat nigga with gold lenses 
Frontin like he's sittin on a lump, he sittin on junk 
You wanna pull a heist, draw guns in robberies?
You wanna rock rep, step in yellow Wallabies?

Beyond research, I'd love to take 20, or so, Wu-Tang verses and break them out into poems. I actually believe--with some thought about structure--they could work on the page. They basically need to be translated, not for literal meaning, but for feeling on the page.

Literal meaning is overrated.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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