Thursday, August 5, 2010


Recently an acquaintance of mine published a collection of poetry. Now that’s not noteworthy; I know many writers, and usually somebody is bringing out a book. This person I know mainly as a musician who plays several instruments. I also understand that he was the main songwriter for a folk group some years ago. So we have a reputable musician and songwriter turning his talents to poetry.

Although there are great differences between writing songs and writing a poem, (I know, I’ve tried writing songs. I’ve even attended several workshops by excellent singer/songwriters) it’s not a great leap. Scotland’s Robbie Burns wrote lyric/poems. Some of the old folk ballads are wonderful poems apart from the tunes. So I had some expectations.

Granted, I did not expect a modern Burns. I did not look for comparisons to Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, or so many others. But I was certainly looking forward to see what this musician could do with words. And I’m sorry to say all my expectations went for naught. The “poems” in his book were … well I can’t really sum them up in a word or two although “drivel” comes close.

From a musician, I expect music. Since as a songwriter he must be aware of fitting words to rhythms, I looked for sustained rhythms and the use of sound because these are also basic components of poetry. Even the ancient Greeks saw music and poetry as a complimentary pair, as sister Muses.

I was sad to discover his poems do not sing. There is no hint of music, either obvious or latent. When I heard him read some to an audience it sounded like prose, and I thought I was missing something, something obscured by his delivery perhaps. When I examined his book in private, I found that was all there was: prosodic language masquerading (and not very well) as poetry. No marvelous use of language; none of the devices that make a poem the special thing it is. Lacking in imagery, lacking in descriptive phrasing, lacking the rhyme and assonance that connect poetry to music.

The poems about places read even less exciting than a travelogue. The poems about emotions read like a teenager’s diary. Most of the language didn’t rise above a hastily scribbled letter home.

And this is a singer, a songwriter, a musician. And now an artless arranger of meaningless prose. Words without music.

Who dare call it poetry?

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