Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Songwriters on Poetry

Song lyric writers sound off about poetry in The Guardian.

"I see a huge gulf between poetry and song lyrics. Poetry is so often an internal and individual thing. Music is a social art that speaks to the body more than the mind. Even if you choose to listen to music alone, you are still a part of a living thing. Poetry is about separating yourself out from the masses. It's about not being a social animal. I dislike poetry!" (Bill Callahan)

"Somehow, poetry has been turned into a lock-box which we can only write or read after we've gone to graduate school. People seem worried that poetry isn't selling. If you have nothing useful to sell, people aren't gonna buy it. Poetry is supposed to be useful. It's supposed to help us with our lives. Writing is supposed to be generous." (Josh Ritter)

"The disappearance of objective criteria on which to judge poems sort of opens the floodgates for a lot of bad poetry. And when a market becomes flooded with stuff that's poor, then the customers go away. And bad poetry - there can't ever have been so much as there is present today." (John Darnielle)

Interesting stuff, albeit a bit depressing at times. Poetry really does have an image problem, that's clear enough from what they say, especially if people see it as a way of separating oneself from the masses! Or of being "useful" (define "useful"!).

And perhaps it also suggests we need sharp-minded and enthusiastic critics who can engage with poetry and set forward criteria for assessing poems well enough that they herald a new orthodoxy - an orthodoxy that makes people interested in reading poems again.


Ed Parsons said...

Rob, what made me smile most in that article was this:
'For Ritter much of it is about wordplay: "I make up things off the top of my head," he says.'
Either the journalist, or Ritter, or both, must have such a basic understanding of craft that it's made impossible to take any of the other comments seriously.

Cailleach said...

One of the best comments I have seen on the difficulty of defining poetry was in the PBS booklet last winter by T.R. Hummer, US, where he talked about when people ask him about the 'use' of poetry. His reply went something like: that people have a pituitary gland and they aren't particularly aware of it or what it does, but they'd miss it if it wasn't there... I paraphrase badly here not being able to find the booklet (only reading it yesterday).

I am always fascinated by people making comments about poetry in relation to songwriting, whilst one is not the other, they are related to a certain extent. One thing's for sure, it always generates a good deal of comment!

Rob Mackenzie said...

Tony - I suppose I think of it like this. Poetry should have an appeal to those engaged in related art forms. Just as cinema, theatre, art, music and fiction all relate to one another and often cross genres.

You'd think songwriters, especially those who treat lyrics seriously, would find bags of inspiration in poetry. I get a sense that some of those people just have no idea where to look, and if they were pointed to good poems, they would probably like them as much as they'd like a good lyric.

Ritter has given me an idea for a poem - his quote about poetry needing to be "useful" for something is irresistable to someone like me.

Barbara - I agree with Hummer and I like William Carlos Williams's quote:

It is difficult
To get the news from poems
Yet men die miserably every day
For lack
Of what is found there.

I still think poetry can be vital and that its effect shouldn't be downplayed.

apprentice said...

I like this poem on poetry by M. Moore