Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Lyrics Versus Poetry-- The Debate Continues

Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now
-from “Lazarus,” David Bowie

     With the recent passing of the kaleidoscopic David Bowie, the notion of lyrics as poetry crossed my mind. Cryptic images in Blackstar, Bowie’s last album, have suddenly become blatantly prophetic as details of his illness emerge. Among his many talents, Bowie had a powerful command of words, and this will contribute to his body of work outlasting his physical body for many years.

     But I don’t believe that lyrics can always stand on their own as good poetry. They are conceived of as half of an expression, with music being the other half. I know that when I write a poem, I don’t hear the possibility of music, only the rhythm of the words. The unconscious goal of my poems is to imitate the rhythm and breath of human speech. Bearing that in mind guides me in line breaks, word order and stream of thought and image. The songwriter must hear differently, hears the words as riding on a tune, a flexing helix of languages. Much as I admire that art, it is not mine.

     At a folk music coffeehouse in Kingston years ago, a guitar player introduced himself onstage by explaining that he used to be a poet, but that now he was a songwriter! The implication that songwriting is a natural progression, and perhaps even the art of maturity still amuses me. In my mind, they are two separate endeavors, and both can be practiced well into one’s so-called Golden Years.

     I have from time to time attempted a sort of collaboration with some of my musician friends. Basically it involved my offering a selection of poems to the musician, and he or she playing with the words to convert them to lyrics, then fitting a tune to them. It wasn’t truly songwriting as much as providing a source for inspiration. The results have usually strayed quite far from my original poem, but I am always flattered when someone expresses an interest in working together.

     One of the things I enjoy about writing poetry is the solitary effort involved. David Bowie wrote songs and sang them for millions of people around the world during his all-too-brief life. Poets rarely enjoy such exposure, especially in modern times. But I’m OK with that.


caseymcpoet said...

My sentiments precisely, Lady Cheryl. But there is a blurred border as with genius and madness. A Bard is 1st & foremost a Poet but can also be a Singer & Musician. A Minstrel is a Singer & Musician but can also be a Poet. Your thoughts have blossomed Poetry in me, Or is it Song?
"Sure he rode a cart which had 2 horses,
One pullin' him one way with silken Song;
The other, bridled to the opsit side
Pullin' him thither, With potent Poesy.
One horse had Music for human ears,
One horse had Music of the Spheres.
And such a sight this Charioteer,
Driven mad delight we know not where.” JPCasey 12Jan2016 StoneRidgeNY 4:11pm

Fern said...

I like your take on this Cheryl and mostly that Bowie's passing led to your writing it. I have never "heard" music either when I work on poems. As much as I love music, I have no interest in penning lyrics. Something about the repeats of the chorus, the necessary return to the essence of the refrain. It begs for repetition, and oftentimes, a sparseness of words. There is no ladder like progression from one art form to another - how could there be? And yet the wordsmiths, the visual artists, the musicians all have a common goal and drive - getting the thoughts out - whether paper or canvas or across the strings. For us, to create is to breathe fully. Fern