Please welcome writer Dane Cobain to my blog today. If you ever thought song lyrics were just poetry set to music, I think you’ll find this post as compelling as I do.
The poetry scene is going through a weird time at the moment. A new generation of poets, who were raised on hip-hop and who know that modern poetry is about the performance as much as the written work, is about to break through.
There’s always been a link between lyrics and poetry, since way back in the day when wandering minstrels wandered the land in search of wealthy landowners who’d pay them to perform their art. Whether you look at the written word or the art of performance, there are certainly correlations between the two of them.
As for me, I write both lyrics and poetry, and so I get to observe their relationship up close. It’s certainly true that I follow the same thought processes for both mediums, but there are a lot of differences when you get down to it, too.
For me, poetry is all about the inherent rhythm and sound of the language, and so writing it is almost like using language as a musical instrument. When I perform poetry, it also has a rhythm of its own, and each performance tends to pause in the same places and emphasize the same words, purely because of the way that the words themselves are structured.
With lyrics, of course, there’s a lot more to think about – there’s the melody of the vocal line and the melody of the accompanying guitar, as well as other instruments which will be added later. When it comes to lyrics, the words are slightly less important than when it comes to poetry, which is why the lyrics of bestselling songs are often so terrible.
I also find that whilst the two of them are inextricably linked, they’re not often compatible – it’s incredibly hard for me to set a poem to music because, by their very nature, my poems twist and turn, changing beat and tempo and key. The only way to set that to music would be to write a bespoke piece of music to go with it, and that’s far too difficult for me.
You see, I’m a big fan of the whole Kerouc-style stream of consciousness approach to writing, where you write down the first thing that comes into your head. With lyrics, you have to refine it a little more, you have to tweak words and move bits about to try to get it all to work with the rest of the music. With poetry, you don’t have to hold back so much, and so you can stick with your gut and go with what feels right.
Poetry and lyrics aren’t incompatible, but sometimes it feels that way. Still, with poets and performers like Kate Tempest, Joshua Idehen and Mark Grist paving the way for people, perhaps we’ll see a resurgence of poetry that’s strong enough to unseat hip-hop in the minds of the people.
It’s a long shot, but it’s possible.
Dane Cobain is a lyricist and poet from Buckinghamshire in the United Kingdom. When he’s not working on his writing and his website, he’s running his book review blog, SocialBookshelves.com. Dane’s debut novella, No Rest for the Wicked, will be released by Booktrope during the summer of 2015.