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"Sing in me, Muse..." ~ Reflections on How Writing & Music Weave Together in a Creative Life


"Sing in me, Muse..." ~ Reflections on How Writing & Music Weave Together in a Creative Life

Hi Friends,

Last Friday, I participated in an engaging discussion on the relationships between writing and music with 5 other authors at Black Swan Books and Music in Staunton, VA, as a benefit for the new local radio station there — WQSV 106.3. Moderated by James Madison University professor Michael Trocchia, several poets and novelists gathered to speak about how music has influenced their writing. The event was live-taped by WQSV general manager Tom DuMontier, and will be broadcast in the near future on that station. Stay tuned.

I’ve been engaging in both music and writing since early childhood, and am grateful to Michael for the invitation to think more critically about just how they are woven together in my creative life. What follows is the text of my offering last Friday, including some of the poems I read aloud. May it spark you own inquiries into how words and music gift your life.

~ E.H.

Thoughts on Music and Writing

by Emily Hancock, presented at Black Swan Books 6/17/16


Playing traditional Appalachian & Celtic tunes with my band mate, Jim Plitt, in our duo Confluence.

    Growing up in the household of my origin, music and poetry were twin languages, coexisting and even collaborating creatively. One was never far from the other, in a home where both parents read aloud and enjoyed music. Learning to speak and learning to sing happened simultaneously. I grew up learning to play an instrument around the same time as I was learning to write; musical notation and linguistic notation — notes and letters registering in eye, ear, and hand — were simultaneous languages of expression and exploration.

    One of the significant gifts of that formation was the development of an intuition — an “ear,” if you will — for harmony, proportion, breath, and pace. From Emily Dickinson to Yo-Yo Ma, traditional Appalachian fiddle tunes to Wendell Berry and the ancient Chinese poets, I’ve always felt most moved when the individual elements of the poem or the piece of music (words, phrases, line-breaks, etc.) disappear into a larger lyrical arc that carries the listener along with it. 

Our home & workshop, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

    In composing my book, Soundings, a collection of several dozen haiku & short poems, these intuitions of harmony/proportion, breath, and pace took on… maybe not greater importance, but certainly more obvious importance. Traditionally, in Japan, the haiku was formed to fit within one breath — it should take just one breath to speak the complete poem. (Which, incidentally, makes me wonder, does it take just one breath to hear it?) The inspiration — a word which, of course, literally means “to breath in” — for many of my poems arises from the place where my spouse and I live, in a Blue Ridge mountain valley. Living there acquaints one with a lot of silence as well as a lot of earth-sounds — from wind to spring frogs, snowfall to warblers — and all of it is present in my work, in the proportion in which it’s present in my life. 

"Composing" the metal type for a broadside featuring a poem by Stan Galloway called "Winter Garden."

    Musicality features prominently in my day-job as well, as a letterpress printer and book maker. I spend my days gathering letters made from metal and wood into rhythmic lines, into a visual arrangement of their auditory form (a process that, for centuries in the printing trade, has been called “composing”), and then placing this text on a well-proportioned page that harmonizes the speaking words with the silent white spaces around them. 

    So, who knows where one medium ends and the other begins? Where writing and singing, speaking and listening, diverge or come together again? It’s all so deep within us. As old as heartbeat and tide. As native as the cry we raised at the moment of birth, our first song.


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"O, the places you'll go…" for great arts and crafts!

Mira, the St Brigid Press shop dog, overlooking autumn in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here in the Central Blue Ridge region of Virginia, we are blessed to have an array of wonderful galleries and shops that curate and highlight the rich, diverse art and craft being made here. From pottery to book arts, painting to textiles, wood turning, jewelry, and much more, there is a veritable cornucopia of handmade beauty to explore.

Including, we must say, lovely letterpress printed items ;-)

St Brigid Press is fortunate to be included in the artisan offerings at a number of fine establishments. We thought we'd share their info, so the next time you're looking for art or crafts for your home or for giving, stop by and see what awaits!

Not in the area? No problem. Many of these shops ship anywhere in the world.

All best to all,

St Brigid Press

* Click on the gallery and shop names below (in green) to be directed to their website *

The Barn Swallow Artisan Gallery

More than 80 artists' work, including pottery and glass and fabrics, curated by Mary Ann Burk and Janice Arone and beautifully displayed in an early-1800s barn near Charlottesville, Virginia.

Photo courtesy of The Barn Swallow.

The Barker Gallery of Staunton

The area's newest fine art gallery, founded and curated by artist David Barker, featuring the work of Ann Deutermann, Sharon Morris Kincheloe, William Bishop, and many more in a gorgeous loft in Staunton's historic Wharf District.

Photo courtesy of The Barker Gallery of Staunton.

Stone Soup Books and Cafe

Wonderful collection of books (used, new, and vintage), homemade locally-sourced food (soups, salads, sandwiches), beautiful gardens, and artisan goods ~ all tucked into a 1895 farmhouse in Waynesboro.

Photo courtesy of Stone Soup Books and Cafe.

The Market at a.m.FOG

Food is an art and a craft, too! This new market, located in Afton, offers a wide selection of local organic fruits, veggies, meats, and now artisan goods from jewelry and painting to iron-work.

Photo courtesy of The Market at amFOG.

Black Swan Books and Music

Excellent stock of used and vintage books and vinyl records, including local/regional authors' works and regular live music events, in a great location in Staunton's historic Beverley Street shopping and dining district.

Photo copyright

Barrister Books

Thousands of excellent used and rare books, curated by Anthony Baker, in a sweet little shop near Staunton's historic courthouse. On display currently: miniature hand-made books from the Virginia Arts of the Book Center.

Photo courtesy of

The Sacred Circle

"Enlighten the mind, nurture the spirit," is this shop's motto, and they live up to it with a space packed with handmade fair-trade artisan gifts from around the world ~ books, CDs, wood crafts, jewelry, and much more.

Photo courtesy of The Sacred Circle.


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