Morning Coffee

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.


Presented by

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.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In