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Lyric Poetry & Poetic Lyrics

To Dig What We All Say

I have a small, gold book which I bought on eBay a few years ago. It’s called Richard Goldstein’s The Poetry of Rock and it was published in 1969. It declares itself to be ‘the most comprehensive collection of great Rock lyrics ever assembled.’ A review on the inside cover from the LA Times calls it ‘the morning star of a renaissance in poetry (…) the kids with an intuition, which is at the base of response to all good poetry, dig more than the critics!’

The Poetry of Rock was published by Bantam Books and Goldstein struts through it like a rock ‘n’ roll cockerel. The book is something of a relic, an artifact; contradictory, frequently sexist and occasionally agist (which has a certain irony when you look at how the kids of yesteryear are getting on now, still singing My Generation, an octave lower). And yet! It has its moments. It is celebratory, adulatory, fizzing, fiercely earnest but incapable of taking itself too seriously as a man called Steve becomes ‘Steverino’ and all Life Magazine can think to say about the book is ‘wiggy words that feed your mind’.

In this class, Lyric Poetry and Poetic Lyrics, we’ll look at both lyrics that use poetry, consciously or otherwise, and poems that use lyrics, considering how they are written and how they are taken in; how we think of them and how they get us thinking. How they feed our minds, if you like.

Leonard Cohen gets a mention in The Poetry of Rock as ‘a recognised Canadian poet who has recently turned to song-writing’. There, I know you were all expecting me to mention Leonard Cohen in a blog about poetry and lyrics, so there’s one for the bingo card. It’s almost inconceivable to think of Cohen being a recent addition to the music world, so ubiquitous are his songs and his presence now, even in his absence. In Will Oldham’s bad-tempered piece on poetry, written for POETRY, ‘To Hell with Drawers’, he tells us: ‘Leonard Cohen sings, “I needed so much/To have nothing to touch/I’ve always been greedy that way.” I have heard that line so many times in my head that it functions like propaganda. It has become a part of my lang-scape.’

Propaganda. I imagine the lyrics which live in my head painting placards, writing themselves onto posters (getting the spacing wrong so they shrink towards the end of a line), stitching themselves onto banners and dangling from the balconies in my brain. I can’t ignore them, least of all when I’m doing something rhythmic and wordy like writing poetry, and so I don’t. In this course we will look at some of the surprising ways poets utilise music and lyrics and we’ll try them out for ourselves.

Lang-scape. What does yours look like? A graveyard of phrases? The ‘immense reservoir of power’ Goldstein describes? Do you pass by the reservoir? Do you swim in it? Is your lang-scape a compost heap of writhing earworms? Do you dig it like the kids in the LA Times review (put the spade down, Lily, that’s not what dig means). Through this course we will hone in on our musical horizons, listening to some rock and many genres besides, and map our lang-scapes so that we can go to them whenever we need to.

Lyric Poetry & Poetic Lyrics (International) with Lily Blacksell will run from May 13 til July 22 as an online course on our Summer Term 2021. Join the waiting list by e-mailing [email protected]

Image Credit: Travis Yewell

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