You may have heard the phrase “Music is a language.”
The inverse is equally true: language is music.
Have you ever spent time listening to a language you don’t speak? The cadences, the sounds of the consonants and vowels, the inflections…I could listen to French, for example, all day. Go find a French person, give her a big stack of legal fine print to read aloud, and switch a microphone on — I’ll buy a 10-disc set of that. I don’t understand a word of French, so it all sounds like poetry to me.
And actually that’s what poetry is all about: the sounds. The rhythms. The cadences. The beauty of language itself.
As songwriters we share whole horizons of common ground and history with poets. There’s a long tradition (we’re talking centuries and centuries) of classical composers setting poems to music. The word “sonnet” literally means “little song”. The word “lyric” itself originally referred to short, personal poems starting about five centuries ago. More recently, Leonard Cohen published several books of poetry before ever releasing his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, in 1967. And this is just skimming the surface.
There are countless intersections between poetry and lyric writing. The two art forms are simpatico.
As a songwriter, anything you can learn about the craft of poetry will put you at an advantage in writing lyrics. Even the simple act of reading poetry will dilate your sense of what’s possible in lyric writing far, far past the limits of mainstream music. It’ll infuse your mind with fresh images, connections, and ideas. It’ll trigger memories and ideas that are uniquely yours.
All that, yes—and aside from all that, reading poetry is a joy in its own right. [Read more...]