Sunday, November 27, 2005

Poetry, Song Lyrics and Free Verse

A friend of mine objected in an email that poetry is not a dead art. He noted that there are a lot of great song lyrics and that poetry readings in coffee houses are popular.

Song lyrics can have their glories, but I wouldn't call them great poetry. Song lyrics by their nature are slaves to the melodies they accompany. A lyricist does not have the freedom to do the things a poet working free of melody can do. Look at the lyrics of the greatest Broadway lyricists -- Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein II, Alan Lerner, Dorothy Fields, Stephen Sondheim, and others. If you read their lyrics without the music, they're a little thin as poetry. At best song lyrics are good light poetry.

I've written a lot of song lyrics. In fact, I'm writing pop-rock songs now that I hope to take into a studio next year with my drummer buddy and a female singer. Here's one of my song lyrics:

Better Things to Do

I could mope
I could cry
I could scream
to the sky
I could pine about you
I've got better things to do

I could eat
Haagen Dazs
I could starve
like Kate Moss
drink some beer, whiskey too
I've got better things to do

I could go sailing off in the sunset
or climb a mountain out in Nepal
I could paint pictures or write a novel
or do nothing else at all

So goodbye
fare thee well
don't forget
go to hell
I could say more to you
I've got better things to do

This lyric gets the job done. I hope it even gets a laugh at the end because the line "go to hell" conflicts with the sweet, even melody, as if the singer is saying "go to hell" with a smile on her face. But this song lyric is NOT great poetry. As poetry it's doggeral.

In songs, melody is the master. Melody is always more important than lyrics, although the two should integrate into something even greater than melody alone. The melody in "Better Things to Do" presented a three-note motive to fill; I did it as cleverly as I could.

Mrs. Hammerstein once objected that Jerome Kern did not write "Old Man River." She said something like, "He wrote 'da da dum da.' Oscar wrote Old Man River." That may be true, but da da dum da is more important.

As for coffee houses and MTV's Poetry Slams, that sort of thing, most of that is free verse. I have a radical opinion of free verse, one that is held by few: it's not poetry. It is poetic writing. Poetic writing can be moving and evocative. It can be a lot of things, but not poetry. Poetry requires at least metrical regularity.

4 comments:

stephnyUK said...

this is my first ever blog posting - I was trying to post something relating to Myrhaf's Poetry, Songs and Free Verse but had to get a new google account first (never used first time round!) My comments weren't accepted because I couldn't remember my password so I've had to open another account. What I originally wrote is
"I've never left comments or ever done any blogging before but I enjoyed reading what came up. I don't know if Myrhaf will read this but it's worth a try ... seems a shame nobody commented before!
I googled 'free commisseration verse' and what I found here perfectly fits the bill - I loved the verse and enjoyed reading the rest.
ps wonder if Myrhaf's still an atheist?!

Myrhaf's Nov 27 2005 page worth a look ... I was looking for some commisseration wording with a bit of humour and this certainly fitted the bill.
stephny, uk, mosquin46@ntlworld.com

stephnyUK said...

From: account-verification-noreply@google.com
Date: 08/21/10 13:39:53
To: mosquin46@ntlworld.com
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this is my first ever blog posting - I was trying to post something relating to Myrhaf's Poetry, Songs and Free Verse but had to get a new google account first (never used first time round!) My comments weren't accepted because I couldn't remember my password so I've had to open another account. What I originally wrote is
"I've never left comments or ever done any blogging before but I enjoyed reading what came up. I don't know if Myrhaf will read this but it's worth a try ... seems a shame nobody commented before!
I googled 'free commisseration verse' and what I found here perfectly fits the bill - I loved the verse and enjoyed reading the rest.
ps wonder if Myrhaf's still an atheist?!

Myrhaf's Nov 27 2005 page worth a look ... I was looking for some commisseration wording with a bit of humour and this certainly fitted the bill.
stephny, uk, mosquin46@ntlworld.com

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