Blues for Almost Forgotten Music by Roxanne Beth Johnson explores nostalgia for past relationships, thinking about fragments of something now passed. Johnson explores love and the loss of love through the metaphor of forgetting a song. While you remember it and it is beautiful, the song ‘plays like a God’. Yet, after the relationship has ended, that song begins to fade – only leaving you with the remnants of the past.
Explore Blues for Almost forgotten Music
For Johnson, a happy relationship is like a ‘musical’ or ‘hymn’, the music is harmonious and great. Yet, just like music, relationships can be forgotten and fade over time. Johnson uses this idea of ‘forgotten music’ to discuss past relationships, their passion never fading, only being thought of less and less.
You can read the full poem here.
Roxanne Beth Johnson writes Blues for Almost Forgotten Music over 27 lines. The five stanza poem is written in a structured free verse. Although Johnson has given the poem structure through the stanza division, within those stanzas it is changing and free. Lines begin in different places across the lines, giving the page a mismatched and jolted appearance. This seemingly random positioning of the lines in each stanza could reflect the disjointed nature of memory. Johnson is trying to recall details from a long-past relationship, reflected through the wildly changing structure.
The main theme Johnson explores within Blues for Almost Forgotten Music is memory. Although talking about a relationship, the main metaphor that Johnson is using is music. Johnson uses the metaphor, or the forgetting of this metaphor, to illustrate her loss of memory. Over time, specific details of relationships fade away, leaving Johnson with less and less of her song. In a way, memory provides a pathway of connection to the past, that being all she has left of her past relationship.
Another theme that Johnson discusses in the poem is love. Perhaps better stated as lack of love, Johnson explores the end of a relationship. The titular word, ‘Blues’ suggests a tragedy in the poem, with Johnson mourning what she has lost. Even ‘music has a certain melancholic quality, Johnson reminiscing about her past relationships.
One technique that Johnson employs in writing Blues for Almost forgotten Music is anaphora. Across two lines of each of the five stanzas, Johnson repeats the opening line. This anaphoric repetition grounds the poem. This grounding is polysemous; it could represent the comfort that memory provides to the writer, while also possibly reflecting the continual nature of memory and how it is something she constantly returns to.
Another device that Johnson uses when writing the poem is caesura. Particularly when reflecting on the breakdown of her relationship, the poet frequently uses caesura. Caesura slows down the meter of the poem, creating slight pauses that disturb the meter. This slowing reflects the melancholic tone of the poem, helping to create a sense of sadness and longing as the poem is read.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
I am trying to remember the lyrics of old songs(…)buses and in the car.
Johnson begins ‘Blues for Almost Forgotten Music’ with the personal pronoun ‘I’, signaling the intimate direction the poem will take. By syntactically placing this pronoun in an emphasized location, Johnson is symbolically placing herself first, ready to lead her own single life. By using the present continuous, or gerund, ‘trying’ tense, Johnson suggests that this is something she is still actively doing. The process of ‘remember[ing]’ is something that is currently happening in the present. Johnson is actively participating in memory, trying to recall her past.
The caesura between ‘forgotten, mostly’ seems to point to an admission of guilt. Although Johnson has ‘forgotten’ a lot of her past relationships, the caesura pause gives her a moment to reflect. The swift admission of ‘mostly’, followed by enjambement allows her to move on from her acknowledgment quickly. Perhaps the poet remembers more than she cares to let on.
The repetition of ‘over’ echoes the use of anaphora, two instances of forms of repetition. This could emulate the fact that Johnson keeps on going over her memories, looking back over past relationships. The consonance of ‘o’ across these words reflects this repetition, the line being soothing to read.
Stanzas Two and Three
I am so often alone these days with echoes of these old songs(…)It wasn’t, after all.
Johnson acknowledges a spatial aloneness, ‘I am so often alone’, this being the anaphoric admission. Johnson discusses how her single life has lead to a faint loneliness. She surrounds herself with ‘ghosted lovers’, catching ‘echoes of these old songs’ to occupy her time. The image is melancholic, Johnson revealing her desire to relive moments of the past.
This is followed by the anaphoric line, ‘I remember’, drawing directly on the semantics of memory. Johnson colours her poem with these semantics, constantly referring back to the action of looking over her past. The relationship is defined by ‘music’, evoking both melancholic and joyous emotions. The ‘gathering dust’ on the musical ‘record’ signals how her relationship was quite some time ago, something she no longer feels an emotional reaction to. Instead, she puts those ‘records’ on from time to time, reentering that period of her life through memory.
The depiction of a ‘favourite song, a love found’ is starkly contrasted by the following line, ‘It wasn’t, after all’, Johnson displaying the insincerity of true love. Although at the moment you maybe think that you have ‘found’ a ‘love’, this could reveal to be nothing ‘after all’. The use of caesura between this phrase slows the poem, this moment is tinged with a sense of melancholy due to the slight pause.
Stanza Four and Five
Days later, while vacuuming, the lyrics come without thinking.(…)what’s gone?
Johnson presents a moment in which she ‘think[s] it was him’, thinking that she saw her lover in a ‘café’. Although it wasn’t him, ‘didn’t’, she still gets the heartfelt pang of nostalgia for her past relationship. Indeed, ‘To think it was him’ was to ‘finally sing that song’, recall all of the lyrics and joy. This metaphor fits the concept perfectly, a relationship fading into the past just like the lyrics of a song would. Although you can still remember them, they will never be totally fresh.
The final stanza of ‘Blues for Almost Forgotten Music’ reflects upon the nature of memory. Johnson argues that she is not sure which is better, ‘remembering…. What’s gone’, or completely forgetting. On one hand, ‘remembering’ signals that you can recall all of the happy times in your relationship. But, the fact they are over contrasts your current moment in life, perhaps causing a great deal of melancholy. Johnson wonders if maybe it would be better to ‘know’ ‘for certain/what’s gone’, realizing what you’ve lost. The use of a question mark ends the poem with ambiguity, Johnson not being able to answer her own question. Is it better to remember, knowing what you’ve lost, or forget and not know at all?
A similar sense of moving away from a relationship is explored in Audre Lorde’s Movement Song. Both of these poems focus on the end of a relationship and the following period afterward. Although tonally similar, Lorde’s poem has an element of hope at the end, while Johnson’s poem ends ambiguously.
Similarly, Owen Sheers’ Keyways takes a more positive view on the end of a relationship. Sheers explores the first meeting of an ex-partner after the relationship came to an end. Both of these poems engender a sense of uncertainty, Johnson and Sheers not totally understanding where they stand in the world.