FOREVER GREEN

Duncan Gillies MacLaurin  —Open Mic at StAnza 2011/photo: Long Nguyen

The following is by Scarriet guest artist Duncan Gillies MacLaurin:

In the last fifty years song lyrics have become the major form of poetical expression, yet spoken-word poets tend to dismiss the notion that the writers of these lyrics are poets proper. Even song-writing icons such as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Sting, etc. are widely seen by spoken-word poets as merely distant relatives. There is envy at work here. A poet recently told me:

“I often envy singer/songwriters because they can take liberties with both rhyme and meter that poets often can’t. Almost any poem/song can be cured on vocal delivery. Extra beats can be compressed and slant (and even non) rhymes can be rhymed…or not.”

Thus songwriters are en masse perceived by spoken-word poets as having a much easier job. And that is especially irksome in view of the dazzling accolades and monetary rewards Dylan and Cohen et al. receive.  The spoken-word poets have only way of punishing song-writers: exclusion from the inner circle of poetry.

This is very unfortunate for everyone, I think. We should be building bridges and inspiring each other rather than insisting on isolating ourselves in supposedly unsullied domains. I was pretty keen on poetry at school, but my interest would have foundered without the inspiration of pop music, through which I was drawn back to poetry.

I often hear people say that a song lyric can only be poetry if it can stand alone, i.e. without the sung version. Absolute poppycock! If it can, fine, but where’s the problem if it can’t? Have we not ears? All it means is that the reader has to refer to the song in order to be able to appreciate the poem more fully. Likewise, many people say an ekphrastic poem should be able to stand alone, i.e. without the illustration that inspired it. Again, absolute poppycock! Have we not eyes? Again, the reader can merely refer to the illustration.

Here’s a sonnet that has the photo that inspired it attached as well as a sung version: http://www.e-gym.dk/index.php?studenter-2010

In this case neither the photo nor the sung version is necessary for the sonnet, but they certainly add to its effect. And they don’t dilute the poetry; on the contrary, they highlight it.

I write poems and I write song lyrics, and often it’s difficult to see which are which. It’s easier to think of them as both. I would certainly rather sing my sonnets than recite them. Is that improper? If someone would rather hear them spoken than sung, then that’s fine by me, but I’m not buying the notion that singing them is somehow less poetical than reciting them.

I have been lucky to find e-zine editors that have welcomed sung versions of my sonnets. Here are some examples: http://www.the-chimaera.com/May2008/Poems/MacLaurin.html http://www.barefootmuse.com/archives/issue10/maclaurin.htm

A few of the poets I know online have shown great enthusiasm for these versions. But they’ve become wary of expressing it publicly as the general reception has been chilly. Guitar and song is simply not comme il faut. Thus the editor of the sonnet e-zine 14 by 14 was dismayed when I sent him a sung version of a sonnet he’d agreed to publish. To his mind poetry ought not to be sung. I considered withdrawing my sonnet but decided to record a spoken version instead: http://www.14by14.com/Sonnets/March2010/Regret.html

Here’s the version he rejected: http://www.myspace.com/572041222

When one editor recently suggested I record both a spoken and a sung version of a sonnet, I very willingly obliged: http://www.the-flea.com/Issue14/NoBloodyWay.html But again, the spoken version was preferred by the majority of the poets who commented. However, it turns out that most non-poets prefer the sung version. “Ah well,” a poet might say, “that’s because they’re not poets.”

I can relate to the envy spoken-word poets have for songwriters. I myself am a better wordsmith than I am a musician, yet I would like to have been more gifted musically. Here’s a piece I wrote last week that plays with this theme. I’ve been quick to give it to a composer/guitarist to write a melody for and perform as the speaker boasts of having much greater skill on the guitar than I can muster. I’ve written a bridge section to come after the fifth stanza should he so desire.  Seeing as the song version is not yet available, and I don’t know if he’ll be using the bridge section, I’m using it as an epigraph. A concession to the poetry purist in me.

  A Slice of Lemon
 
  I can feel your surprise when you hear me importune.
  I stand by my right to get carried away.
  I’ve no need for disguise; I’m a soldier of fortune.
  I’m ready to fight for the music I play.
 
      There’s a thin slice of lemon
      that’s waltzing through heaven;
   our scholars have named it the moon.
      I can warmly pursue it
      and try to review it,
    but nothing can match this new tune.
 
     There’s a faraway island
     that glows like a diamond;
  a planet, they say, not a star.
      I can slowly explore it
      and try to restore it,
  but words aren’t a patch on guitar.
 
     There’s this lad at the harbour
     who’s shy of the barber;
   his hair tends to tickle his knees.
      He’s the kind of musician
      who borrows your kitchen
   with never a thank-you or please.
 
     Well, we met by the bunkers
     last summer, two drunkards
   pretending the night was yet young.
     I was strumming my glories.
     He said: “These here stories
   would sound even better if sung.”
 
     Well, at first I was wary;
     the prospect was scary.
   Would this mean I’d have to sing lead?
      But I’ve lost all my scruples
      as one of his pupils.
   I’m high on the will to succeed.
  
     There’s a thin slice of lemon
     that’s waltzing through heaven;
   our scholars have named it the moon.
      I can always construe it
      and try to see through it,
    but nothing can match this new tune.
 
     There’s a faraway island
     that glows like a diamond;
  a planet, they say, not a star.
      And although I adore it
      and kneel down before it,
  these words aren’t a patch on guitar.
 
 
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103 Comments

  1. marcusbales said,

    August 5, 2011 at 4:36 am

    The difference between poetry and song lyrics is simple: the lyric has only to satisfy the inattentive ear, while poetry has to satisfy the attentive one. Once you subject a song lyric to the attentive ear it almost never stands up to scrutiny.. In fact, nearly all song lyrics are such crappy poetry that it’s embarrassing even to those who like the song as a whole to recite the lyrics without music.

    A song lyric relies on its music in a profound way — the music isn’t merely what used to be called ‘a setting’, where a poem was ‘set to music’ — unsuccessfully in almost every case. A song is, in fact, a blend of music and lyric, irrespective of which is written first, or whether a single mind or several minds write one, the other, or both — and the more the balance between music and lyric is off between the music and the words, the worse the song is.

    Music can lend such a wide range of effects to even the worst lyric that we are often surprised to find what a bad lyric it is, sometimes years later, humming in the bath, perhaps, when it suddenly occurs to one what rubbish the words are. I doubt it ever happens the other way round: that a lyric is such good poetry that in similar intimate circumstances one finds oneself discarding the music altogether in order to enjoy the poetry of the words.

    No, the music of the song is designed to support the weak lyric, but there is no strong lyric that overcomes the deficiencies of a weak tune.

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 5, 2011 at 2:50 pm

      Marcus,

      An intriguing thesis:

      “The music of the song is designed to support the weak lyric, but there is no strong lyric that overcomes the deficiencies of a weak tune.”

      I think it depends on what you mean by a “weak tune.” Leonard Cohen has beautiful lyrics that work, even though his “tune” might not be terribly strong.

      I like the way Duncan sings his lyric in such a way that he ‘feels his way along’ the tune, with a subtle dramatic intent…it’s not quite the same as a precise tune matching up precisely with a lyric. It might be a bit jarring to some at first, but I like it.

      Tom

      • marcusbales said,

        August 5, 2011 at 6:49 pm

        I’m not saying that weak song lyrics without a strong tune don’t make any sense, or don’t ‘work’, whatever that means, as song lyrics. If by ‘work’ you mean they take up the stresses and pauses, roughly, and fill out the requirements of more or less making some sense in something resembling grammar, sure, let’s say that even the weakest song lyrics ‘work’. But the work that song lyrics do is different from the work poetry does.

        Take rhythm and meter for example – in a song the rhythm and meter are dictated by the music. The words have to fit into the music, even at the expense of mispronunciation, mis-placed emphases, missing or too many stresses in a line, and so on. The singer makes the compromises between the requirements of the music and the requirements of the lyric in order to fit the lyric to the music. So, for example, in the piece quoted above,

        I can feel your surprise when you hear me importune.
        I stand by my right to get carried away.
        I’ve no need for disguise; I’m a soldier of fortune.
        I’m ready to fight for the music I play.

        So here the singer has to mis-pronounce either ‘importune’ to rhyme with ‘fortune’, or vice versa, or let it go as a sight rhyme that auditors will either miss, or will hear as a lazy writer’s rhyme of an emphasized ‘-tune’ with an unemphasized ‘-tune’.

        Then there’s sense – in a song the emotive voicing of the music can carry a lyricist past any number of errors. In the above quatrain, for example, there is no right to get carried away. In fact quite the contrary: most rights require that you be the opposite of carried away: responsible, mature, and sensible of the time and place. And as for fighting for the music he plays, well, what are the odds that a musician will win any fight? What’s he going to do, sing that boot to the bollocks away? Further, since it’s the opening line of the thing, what’s so importunate about the song? Nothing – the word is chosen solely for its sight-rhyme possibilities, and it’s a bad choice. Further yet, what about that ‘feel your surprise’? Wouldn’t ‘see your surprise’ be better? Who is the singer feeling? And ‘see your surprise’ has the additional advantage of some interesting alliteration. Further even yet, who asserted that the singer was in disguise, so that he has to deny that he has one? The entire quatrain is blank incompetence as poetry – we can only hope that the tune is strong enough to stir us emotionally so we overlook the idiocy of the sentiment, metaphor, assertion, and rhyme. Which is a lot to overlook, frankly. It’d better be a goddamned good tune.

        What the writer really means, if he really means anything, which I doubt, since song lyric writers are notoriously careless with every aspect of writing and meaning, is something like

        “I’ve had a special request tonight, but I’m going to sing what I usually sing, the way I usually sing it, in spite of that.”

        We’ve really got four things, here, don’t we? 1. The song, a blend of words and music that makes it seem that there is a cohesive, coherent, and meaningful whole; 2. A setting of a poem to music, where the music is purposively subservient to the rhythm and meter of the words; 3. scat, where the words, and they don’t even need to be words, they can be nonsense syllables, simply allow the singer to sing the tune, using color, tone, and emphasis and pause, to invoke the primacy of the music, using the human voice as another instrument in the band rather than as the meaning-making element; and 4. what we’ve got in the quatrain quoted: a failure to do any of those, resulting in a painful and embarrassing imitation of a blend of words and music, as the listeners cringe at the incompetent display.

        And last, it seems to me that there are four critical things that we can say about any piece of art:

        1. It’s good, and I like it;
        2. It’s good, but I don’t like it;
        3. It’s bad, but I like it;
        4. It’s bad, and I don’t like it.

        But simply to assert one’s likes and dislikes isn’t criticism: it’s reaction. Without a context within which we hope to justify our likes and dislikes, our likes and dislikes are irrelevant to everyone else. Only by making a judgment about quality AND a revelation of one’s own appreciation can a comment be worthwhile critically. So you may like it all you please, but that doesn’t say anything about whether you think it’s good or bad, or whether on some reasonable comparison with other similar works that you are trying to persuade us that it is in fact good or bad.

        • thomasbrady said,

          August 5, 2011 at 7:16 pm

          Marcus,

          I can feel your surprise when you hear me importune.
          I stand by my right to get carried away.
          I’ve no need for disguise; I’m a soldier of fortune.
          I’m ready to fight for the music I play.

          I get a different meaning from this: it’s not literally about fighting, but rather displaying raw feelings and therefore taking a social risk.

          It’s an epigraph to the song, by the way.

          Since we don’t get to hear Duncan actually sing this one with his evocative voice, perhaps it ought not to be an important part of our discussion.

          Your four bad/good divisions are only two, objectively. And subjectively, well, the options always double! I’m afraid that formula won’t get us anywhere.

          You and I usually disagree on degrees of precision—the pedant usually trips over exactitude, but the difficulty of our day tends to be the opposite, since the modernists influenced us towards a folly of pedantry which is inexact. You, therefore, are an important voice for our time.

          Tom

          • marcusbales said,

            August 5, 2011 at 9:12 pm

            “I can feel your surprise when you hear me importune.
            I stand by my right to get carried away.
            I’ve no need for disguise; I’m a soldier of fortune.
            I’m ready to fight for the music I play.”

            As a metaphor it’s even worse, since the disclaimer about disguise obviates any claim to metaphor. The singer explicitly says he’s explicitly not using political language about rights and fighting as a disguise: he claims to be not figuratively but literally a soldier of fortune. Whether as bridge or epigraph, it’s sloppy thinking, and its sloppy writing.

            I think it’s a good idea to use it as an epigraph, though, instead of as a bridge: it was so execrable that at first I could save myself from reading the song itself, on the grounds that an introduction like that promises nothing worth reading below. Now that you’ve tried to claim that it’s not of the essence because it’s an epigraph, I went back and, to my dismay, read the rest – and it’s even worse, and I don’t thank you for putting me through it. He says he just composed it, and it bears all the hallmarks of haste.

            “ There’s a thin slice of lemon
            that’s waltzing through heaven;
            our scholars have named it the moon.
            I can warmly pursue it
            and try to review it,
            but nothing can match this new tune.

            Okay, I’ll give you that the moon as a thin slice of lemon is not horrible – but nothing about the moon suggests a waltz – there is nothing to the movement of the moon through the sky to suggest ¾ time, and to impute such a rhythm is a fallacy unsupported by any awareness on the speaker’s part that such an imputation would necessarily be made by the people looking at it, or a context in which we might empathize with a what’s happening in the observer/speaker’s circumstances that might suggest that he’s living and dying in ¾ time.

            Why drag in scholars? It’s a light verse technique to refer pretend within a humorous context to be referring this way to a larger context as if ordinary people didn’t name it ‘the moon’. The reason to drag in scholars is a mistake as a light verse technique since this is clearly not meant to be light verse; or the reason it so eke out the beats in the line, and that’s a mistake, too. And finally the whole explicit naming of the thing metaphorically a slice of lemon so detracts from the slice of lemon metaphor that now I say the slice of lemon metaphor sucks. Ew.

            The distinctions between pursuing the moon, reviewing the moon, and matching the moon as a representative excellence against the unmatchable tune are bogus. The pursue it/review it lines are only in there to take up space – they have nothing, really to do with it: to compare pursuing and reviewing or the moon itself to this new tune is a category error.

            “There’s a faraway island
            that glows like a diamond;
            a planet, they say, not a star.
            I can slowly explore it
            and try to restore it,
            but words aren’t a patch on guitar.”

            Who is the ‘they’ who say that the island is not a star but a planet? The ‘they say’ is another example of eke words padding out a line, and it’s not helped by the confusion of the image of an island coming quickly on top of the image of the moon, which places us at the seashore, only to mix the metaphor abruptly and imply that the ‘island’ is an astronomical phenomenon. There is no reason to distinguish a planet from a star in this context except to pad out the line – the writer makes no effort to make the distinction significant or important, or even explain why the distinction was made within the context of the piece. And what is the writer going to restore after due exploration – exploration which must necessarily be figurative, however slow. Is he exploring the distinction between planet and star? does he propose to contravene science and insist that it is a star after all, and not a planet, and thus ‘restore’ the glow to its rightful place as, well, as what? As a mere metaphor for something far away and unexplorable? But here I think we’re giving too much credit for elaborate thinking that isn’t supported in the words as presented. And then the awful colloquialism of ‘aren’t a patch on’! What is this guy thinking? Well, it’s clear he’s not thinking much – maybe the tune has so enchanted him that he can’t speak clearly.

            Now, one imagines in a song that right after ‘guitar’ the guitarist really lets loose on the strings and does some amazing work that justifies the assertion that words can’t do what music can. And right there is where this fails again as a poem: without the virtuosity of the guitar performer the assertion falls flat.

            “There’s this lad at the harbour
            who’s shy of the barber;
            his hair tends to tickle his knees.
            He’s the kind of musician
            who borrows your kitchen
            with never a thank-you or please.”

            Now I’m starting to think this really is meant to be light verse, and not any sort of serious attempt to say important things significantly. The repetition of ‘shy of a barber’ with the hair that tickles the knees is just more padding – one or the other! Either trust us to get the notion of ‘shy of a barber’ without explanation, or provide the explanation without the coyness. And why a musician would borrow a only a kitchen, as opposed to seeking the traditional three B’s (burger, bed, blowjob) it’s hard to see. The inversion of ‘thank you or please’ is there only for the rhyme, and only acceptable in light verse – the kind of seriousness advertised by a soldier of fortune fighting for his right to sing his song is simply not consonant with this level of cute. Further, the kitchen is really only in there as assonance for ‘musician’ – and you know what assonance is, right kids? It’s getting the rhyme wrong.

            “ Well, we met by the bunkers
            last summer, two drunkards
            pretending the night was yet young.
            I was strumming my glories.
            He said: ‘These here stories
            would sound even better if sung’.”

            What bunkers? Bunkers? As in machine-gun emplacements or revetments for aircraft? What are two drunkards doing hanging around military bases? Are they in the military? Are these bunkers some sort of metaphorical reference to something musical-poetical that two metaphorical soldiers of fortune would be using to protect themselves from – from what? From angry auditors tired of senseless variations in tone, logical fallacies, bad rhymes, and mixed metaphors? No, bunkers is there to try to rhyme with drunkards. Sigh. If you can’t get a rhyme to the word, move the word inside the line and choose a better rhyme word.

            And stories? What stories? If the speaker is the guitarist mute except for his virtuosity on the strings and frets, what ‘these here stories’ (another horrid locution eked out for the meter that make the guy advocating talking sound like he can’t talk too well) is the non-guitarist drunkard talking about? Or since he’s a drunkard, are we meant not to care? How does characterizing the two main characters as drunkards push the story of brave soldiers of fortune determined to fight for the right to sing as they please forward? Is it ironic? Are we meant to see that these two drunkards have only managed to present us with this jejune piece of poorly-written and ill-constructed crap, which reveals ta-da! that the real voice of the poem is the poet who is mocking the pretentions of lazy or incompetent or both songwriters?

            Okay, that’s enough – the rest goes downhill from here. It’s obviously ill-conceived, poorly thought out, and hastily written.

            Fortunately for Mr MacLaurin, I read some of the links to his sonnets. I frankly thought I could, what the hell, throw in some mockery of them, too, but it turns out that his sonnets are much better than this. They still eke out meters and pad out lines, but the failures of tone, rhyme, and mixed metaphor are absent. So that’s the good news. The bad news is I listened to one of them sung, and it was not a success. Enjambed lines that left the music gamboling dignifiedly along while the sense of the thing was frozen cryogenically for what seemed like an eternity before the next word resurrected it was typical. The sonnet form requires a musical form as flexible as the sonnet itself if you’re going to sing them, and Mr MacLaurin hasn’t hit upon it.

            In short, poor Mr MacLaurin’s practice only undermines his thesis: he’s not good enough at merging sonnets and music into a complete whole that so blends the two together that you notice neither that it’s a sonnet nor that it’s an unusual musical form. But that’s what’s needed, here: not three quatrains and then a half quatrain jambed into the second half of the verse bars to end it. And the folk-singer’s deadly readiness to distort the words in order to achieve some sort of purity of musical form, leaving enjambed lines hanging interminably waiting for the next bar of music is fatal to what he’s trying to do.

        • August 5, 2011 at 9:10 pm

          Yes, Marcus, the bridge section that I wrote with a view to a possible song version is indeed a weak point in “A Slice of Lemon” as a poem, and I think your analysis of it is fair. (Apart from your complaint about the pronunciation of “importune”, which, in British English anyway, can be stressed on the second syllable.) As Tom has pointed out, it is meant as an epigraph here. Though, in fairness to you, the original layout didn’t make that clear.

          One of my poet friends tried to persuade me to omit this epigraph from the poem, arguing that it could be the bridge section of any song. But I wouldn’t listen to him. Because if it does end up as part of the song (because the composer wants to use it), then I think it should be there. I don’t think I should hide it, for all its weaknesses.

          Part of my intention with this short essay is to ask for a certain amount of tolerance from spoken-word/text-based poets precisely when it comes to some aspects of songwriting. Of course there are often going to be too many end-stopped lines for the taste of many a modern poet, and of course there will be places where the music has somehow dictated a text (e.g. that bridge section) so that it looks very clumsy in the eyes of those who have no such constraints.

          But just because there are certain features of songwriting that can make the text weaker should not mean that it is disqualified generally as being poetry. I would claim that there are so many elements that are common to spoken-word/text-based poetry and song lyrics that to insist that they are basically different is just silly. Even in spoken-word poems we sometimes hear a chorus repeated that adds little new meaning. It is a device. And we recognise it as such.

          Occasionally we hear a “song” where the verses are spoken and the chorus is sung. What genre is this? Occasionally a poet will recite a poem with some gentle piano playing in the background. What genre is this?

          Music can be used as a tool to spotlight the poetry rather than disfigure it. And words can be used to draw music into a more grounded form. They should be regarded as allies, not enemies.

          • marcusbales said,

            August 6, 2011 at 2:20 am

            Hi Duncan:

            Rhyme is an ornament that fails when forced – if the word ‘can be’ pronounced one way but is ordinarily pronounced another, it sounds forced. I can’t say how many people pronounce ‘importune’ to rhyme with ‘fortune’, but even among them I’d say that since ‘importune’ is a verb and ‘fortune’ is a noun there is an element of forcedness about that rhyme even by those who pronounce the rhyme – particularly since you’re using the verb as you do, without the usual direct object. “I’m sorry to importune you”, it seems to me, is what a native speaker of English would normally say, not “I’m sorry to importune.”

            Regarding not hiding things because they’re weak, I disagree completely, except for drafts – there are always weak things in drafts, and the point of drafts is to find them out and eliminate them if you can. The notion of keeping a weak thing in simply because it is a weak thing seems unpromising to me. If craft means anything it must mean taking the weak bits out and substituting better bits. Begging tolerance for one’s weak bits seems explicitly the very behavior expert craftsmen must most disdain: the master doesn’t blame his tools – but the apprentice does. The notion of begging tolerance for bad craftsmanship is precisely the refuge of the apprentice.

            When you look at masterful songs that achieved both popular success and that do come across well on the page (Noel Coward, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Yip Harburg, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, among many others, all leap to mind), you see how well they’ve integrated not only a bridge but often an introductory frame into the song – though often we only remember the song itself. These artists didn’t beg tolerance from anyone: they worked at it until it was right, or discarded a piece and started over. The idea that a songwriter is entitled to some sort of tolerance is an intolerable one, from a craftsmanship point of view. Where do you draw the line? Why bother with meter or rhyme or metaphor or anything at all? Why not just write free verse, which is merely oddly lineated prose?

            Because the point of art is to set oneself limits and then make the effort to transcend those limits look easy – sprezzatura! You may have to practice like mad in secret, but the performance looks effortlessly flawless. Begging tolerance is just not in it.

            So the fact that difficulties arise in songwriting that don’t arise in a poem is simply no excuse – and the attempt to excuse artistic weaknesses on the basis of difficulty ought to be sneered at by every artist – certainly I sneer at it. Of course we all make mistakes, and we all fail to live up to our or the tradition’s highest standards, but don’t whinge and mewl and cry about it! Revise – even to throwing the whole away and starting over – but don’t give up and don’t whine.

    • wfkammann said,

      August 5, 2011 at 9:15 pm

      Who Is Silvia?

      Who is Silvia? what is she,
      That all our swains commend her?
      Holy, fair, and wise is she;
      The heaven such grace did lend her,
      That she might admirèd be.

      Is she kind as she is fair?
      For beauty lives with kindness.
      Love doth to her eyes repair,
      To help him of his blindness,
      And, being helped, inhabits there.

      Then to Silvia let us sing,
      That Silvia is excelling;
      She excels each mortal thing
      Upon the dull earth dwelling:
      To her let us garlands bring.

      William Shakespeare

      • thomasbrady said,

        August 6, 2011 at 3:37 am

        it sounds like ‘that adored she might be’ and ‘to her garlands let us bring,’ but no matter, it’s beautiful, and thanks, kammann; blessed are you for posting this.

        Marcus, doesn’t ‘Silvia’ make you ashamed to be so hyper-critical?

        You may be correct, Marcus, but if Duncan can’t quite refute your exacting criticism, Shakespeare/Schubert do.

        I do think Duncan’s sonnets are fine, and his music has a thoughtfulness—even if it’s not as tight as Taylor Swift’s backing band.

        But bravo for posting ‘Folk Song Army,’ which has to be one of the best things of its kind, ever.

        • marcusbales said,

          August 6, 2011 at 11:23 am

          No, Shakespeare and Schubert don’t — it’s a setting of a piece of music so ponderous in presentation and pretentious in composition in comparison to the delicately winking little poem that it is almost amusing — sort of in the reverse of the way that singing “Because I Could Not Wait For Death” to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” is. The amusement arises from such a lack of emotional coherence and stylistic congruence between the words and the music that it would only take intention on Schubert’s, or on the singer’s, part to amount to parody. The poem allows for several levels of meaning; the music only one, and the singer is handcuffed by the orotundity of the singing style, of which her performance an excellent example. All the winking slyness of the poem is flattened to nothing by the music and performance.

          Even if the Shakespeare/Schubert example were what you claim, and it’s not, though, my critique of Duncan’s work would stand, since it doesn’t even rise to the level of the unfortunate combination of Shakespeare’s wink and Schubert’s plod. Even if all Duncan was trying for had been a wink and a plod, we can’t know it since the presentation as we have it doesn’t include the music.

          Duncan’s poem has serious difficulties, in my view, even as merely a poem-on-the-age; imagining a martial air and the swagger of a bully presentation to go with the soldier of fortune theme doesn’t improve it in the least.

          • thomasbrady said,

            August 6, 2011 at 1:47 pm

            Marcus,

            You really are a modern cynic. Shakespeare’s text is not meant to be ironic, and Schubert’s music and its presentation give it simple, added charm. That’s how I hear it: a gush of delicate and sweet worship without irony—we moderns are so terrified of this, as if we want only counter-snickerings and never the beautiful ideal. Mock on, then.

            As for Duncan, at least hear Hume: “If some negligent or irregular writers have pleased, they have not pleased by their transgressions of rule or order, but in spite of these transgressions: They have possessed other beauties, which were conformable to just criticism, and the force of those beauties has been able to overpower the blemishes.”

            Even one as meticulous as Pope warned in his Essay on Criticism, not to be over-critical, if the spirit and general accomplishment of the author are there. “Slice of Lemon” has a certain enthusiasm and spirit which I like, and it waits upon its music, as a lover waits upon its beloved. Surely you are entitled to not feel the same enthusiasm, but would you call off the wedding?

            Tom

            • Anonymous said,

              August 6, 2011 at 2:50 pm

              You really can’t spoil Shakespeare, can you?

  2. August 5, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    […] Thomas Graves invited me to be his guest blogger on Scarriet, and my post appeared today […]

  3. Bill said,

    August 6, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    I enjoyed Duncan’s poem very much as an imitation-imitation Cole Porter, a tongue-in-cheek rendition of the kind of songs Hugh Laurie sings and plays as Bertie Wooster.

    Thanks for the great discussion and analysis. I once heard some Shakespeare sonnets set to post-1950 twelve-tone that seemed determined to ignore everything in the poems. Memorably gruesome!

    • marcusbales said,

      August 7, 2011 at 12:25 pm

      Bill — you can’t be serious! The crap rhymes, the stumble-bum rhythms, the obviously lost in the wilderness wander of meaning, the lack of any wit whatever — what is ‘imitation Cole Porter’ or Hugh Laurie about any of THAT? This is either a slacker slagging of the notion of wit, craftsmanship, and the very idea of Cole Porter or an apprentice’s notion of what Cole Porter is all about. I’ve written worse stuff myself — in the 7th grade. But to compare this seriously to Cole Porter? Bullshit.

      • thomasbrady said,

        August 7, 2011 at 3:47 pm

        I think you’re letting your emotions get the better of you, Marcus. If I may put things in perspective: there are 3 basic things we ask of a good verse or song lyric: 1. Does it scan? 2. Is tone/theme consistent? 3. Is at least something about it new, unique, arresting, or charming? Beyond this, you can have levels of excellence, and you are certainly in your rights to give it low marks on excellence if it doesn’t float your boat or spin your wagon, or whatever, but let us grant that “Slice of Lemon” meets the three important criteria of a basic song.

  4. thomasbrady said,

    August 6, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    I like the songs Lisa Leaving, Horror Vacui and Dunderhead, which you can hear in the links above. I like them not because they don’t pander to popular taste, for if one listens to them that way, as a protest against what all the shallow people like, one won’t enjoy them. They are not complex songs; they are good songs to me because every part is clear; there is a kind of multi-headed focus—the music does not get in the way of the words, the words don’t get in the way of the idea, the idea doesn’t get in the way of the description, the description doesn’t get in the way of the music, the voice doesn’t get in the way of the whole, and so on. There’s a lot of unintentional beauties somehow, sort of the way Keats spoke of Shakespeare’s sonnets—which many commentators have found harsh and didactic. There is something haunting and fine about Duncan’s work which defies its crudities.

  5. Anonymous said,

    August 6, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Holy shit, you mean peoplestill do this shit? LOL. Fucking incredible.

  6. Buttercup said,

    August 6, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Are you shitting me? People still do this shit? Holy shit.

  7. Buttercup said,

    August 6, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    It’s fucking 2011. You people must be ome bunch of loney fucks having to do this shit.

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 6, 2011 at 9:22 pm

      Buttercup goes on the web to tell people it’s 2011. While doing this, posits that others are “lonely.” LOL

  8. Buttercup said,

    August 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Tom Brady goes on arcane poetry forums (It still amazes me that anyone actually uses these things)because I presume there is no real place where anyone gives a flying fuck what he thinks. Makes perfect sense. If you can’t cut it in the real world make up a world where you imagine you matter. Hey bubby! Get a fucking life.
    Yours,
    Buttercup

    • August 9, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 10, 2011 at 1:31 pm

      Buttercup hints there’s a “real place” where people care what Buttercup thinks. Things are starting to get interesting!

  9. Billy Shakespeare said,

    August 9, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Maybe Duncan can get these “published” (Laff) in The Shithouse Review. I’m sure Paul Stevens wouldn’t mind posting” them. I mean he doesn’t mind publishing himself (Laff) so why should he care about poor Duncan, alas I knew him well.

    Billy Shakespeare

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 10, 2011 at 1:45 pm

      Billy,

      You don’t think the larger publishing concerns are just friends “publishing” friends? It’s the same from top to bottom, and the top doesn’t necessarily publish better stuff. Choose what you like, that’s all.

      Tom

  10. August 10, 2011 at 1:21 am

    Speaking as a poet, composer, and songwriter, I can safely say that I have an opinion on this topic based on experience. I have stated for years that poetry and songwriting are not the same thing because they don’t operate by the same rules. Song lyrics are never meant to be anything but sung: they are integral with the music. It is the synergy of words-and-music together that makes a great song.

    Poets frequently want to ignore the music’s contributions. They focus only on the words. In fact, poets almost always over-estimate the importance of the words to the success of the song. They think it’s all in the words that makes a good song.

    The Cults of Dylan and Cohen are full of non-poets and non-musicians who revere those men as poets, when they’re nothing of the kind. They may write great songs, but a song is not a poem. It’s not even a poem-with-music. A song is its own thing. It’s words-and-music. Without both great words and great music, a song is less than it could be.

    The way you can tell if a song lyric works as a poem, is if you can print it on the page and read it, as a poem, without the music. Which is harder than most people think. Separating the words out from the music in a great song is almost impossible. Even if you try, people will still hear the melody and rhythm in their minds. That just goes to show that a song is the synergy or words-and-music.

    A poem succeeds, as a poem, when it works on the page AND read aloud. (And most poets are lousy performers. Shoegazers. Monotones. No sense of acting.) A great poem can be read aloud and enjoyed, or it can be read on the page, and enjoyed.

    “Spoken word” has evolved into its own genre by now. I was briefly involved with the early Slam scene, till it was taken over by the hip-hop crowd, and everything started to be about performance and cleverness. Spoken word has roots in both music and poetry, but what it really is, is ACTING. It is poetry performance. Poetry performance is a kind of acting, not a kind of literature. It is performance of a literary work. I know a couple of performance poets who could read a physics textbook out loud and make the audience love it.

    Spoken word operates by yet another set of rules. The rules of songwriting lyrics only partially apply to spoken word. The litmus test for most spoken word poems is, can they still work as poems when on the page rather than performed? Most cannot. Just as most song lyrics are not great poems when simply seen on the page. The rules of rhyme and meter in songwriting and spoken word are not the same rules as free verse poetry. Spoken word is its own thing.

  11. August 10, 2011 at 8:29 am

    Art,

    I can see poetry and song lyrics are widely perceived as being two different things, and with good reason, as you argue. And yet the word ‘sonnet’ means ‘a little song’. It is thus a hybrid genre that is inspired by both poetry and song.

    I often seem to find myself playing the role of mediator. First it was mum and dad, then England and Scotland, now poetry and song lyrics. Must they be such rivals that their common ground cannot be explored?

    • August 11, 2011 at 2:19 am

      “Sonnet” is a word from another language, that meant “little song.” The word was brought into English to describe a fixed poetic form—which by the way is not a song form native to English, such as the ballad. In other words, it’s a borrow word—actually, a borrowed form, from the Italian. (The Petrarchian sonnet.) Ditto the sestina, the villanelle, etc.

      So while I respect your point about bridging differences and bringing things together, and while in many ways I agree with you about hybridization—in the case of the sonnet, it’s not a historically valid argument for the hybridization case. The sonnet was never a musical song form, but always a poetic one. Not that it’s never been sung, or as a poetic form set to music, but like many poetic forms that use musical terminology as their names it’s not really derived from a musical origin. The villanelle WAS a musical form, as was the rondeau. And some others, of course.

      There’s plenty of common ground between poetry and song lyrics, I agree. But, again, their intentions and purposes are often not the same.

      My main point here is to be thoughtful about all this stuff, rather than casual. There’s lot of common ground, certainly, but causally ignoring the differences doesn’t get us anywhere.

  12. thomasbrady said,

    August 10, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    We have those who want to separate out the categories: Song, Poetry, Acting, and I suppose we could throw in Apollonian and Dionysian, tragedy and comedy, too. Perhaps Acting is what bridges poetry and song? Even if you read a poem silently to yourself, a ‘performance’ of some kind is still going on. What about background music in films when an actor is speaking? That’s words and music, but not the same as a song’s words and music. Frank Sinatra was said to be successful because he ‘spoke’ his songs. Arthur, that was a wonderful overview. However, I tend to be more on Duncan’s side of this argument…there’s no doubt in my mind that song lryics scan just as poetry scans and the better either one scans, the better for both. A ‘poem’ can remain a ‘poem’ for years, until someone puts music to it, and then, it’s a ‘song,’ right? In that moment between being a ‘poem’ and a ‘song,’ what is it?

    • August 11, 2011 at 2:42 am

      Oh, I don’t fundamentally disagree with Duncan, or with you, but as I said above in reply to Duncan, I prefer to be thoughtful rather than casually sloppy when thinking about all this. Maybe it’s just because I’m a composer first, a poet after that—and I get tired of all the misinformation that poets throw around about music and lyrics.

      It’s easy to throw out sweeping generalizations, but generalizations often fall flat because the exceptions are so bloody obvious. Sloppy thinking gets us nowhere.

      Now, to your points.

      I’ve played in bands and orchestras where poets recited with musical accompaniment. I have no problem calling that poetry performance. I have no problem thinking of reading a poem silently as a performance. When I read a poem, I do hear the words in my head; I’m sure others do that too. Background music behind poetry is great.

      But in all of these cases, while it’s words-with-music, it’s not a song, the words are not SET to composed music, so to make distinction, it’s not words-and-music in the way a song is. You see?

      Having said all that, I do agree that some song lyrics fulfill the requirements of being poetry. I could name a few myself, as others have here. But my feeling is, far fewer songs qualify as stand-alone poems than folks here seem to think. I’ll stand by my comments on the biases that many poets have about this topic. Experience has shown that most poets I’ve met really know zero about music anyway. LOL Not that ignorance has ever been a reason to avoid having an opinion.

      I used the term the Cults of Dylan and Cohen before, and that’s because they ARE cults. LOL People who don’t worship Dylan or Cohen are anathema. If you don’t think Dylan’s a great poet, you’re evil. Well, I don’t think Dylan’s a great poet. I think he’s a great songwriter—and there is a difference, no matter how much some would like to say otherwise.

      • thomasbrady said,

        August 11, 2011 at 3:40 am

        Desolation row—edgar allan poe.

        I’ve never cared for ‘desolation row,’ it’s too hodge-podge; it just sounds like Dylan is messing about, really. The one thing it has going for it is that REFRAIN—which Poe in more than one place said was KEY.

        Durkee’s phrase “Dylan/Cohen cults” is a good one. It’s undeniable that songs, good songs, and I mean good song lyrics are pretty bad poetry. I love Dylan’s song, “I Want You,” but the chorus, “I want you…so bad…” does not work as poetry…

  13. james bagger said,

    August 10, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    yeah, don’t who art durkee is, but there are many poet-poets, such as myself, that believe excellent song-writers are, without question, poets.

    in fact, you are specifically wrong about dylan. i’ve read all of his lyrics, many times over. poetry. tom waits. poetry. springsteen. poetry. cohen, definitely a poet, has even published books of poetry. eminem. poet. beck. poet. jonie mitchell. poet. and the list goes on and on.

    now, just like any poets, the quality of their poetry shifts up and down, but they are still writing poems that also happen to have excellent musical compositions attached to them as well. without jim morrison, i would have never gotten to rimbaud, to baudelaire, to poe, and so on and so forth.

    anybody who says that song-writers cannot be writing poetry is flat-out, plain and simple, ignorant as a pork-chop slathered in shake-and-bake.

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 10, 2011 at 4:03 pm

      I don’t know if Love Minus Zero No Limit is a “poem,” but look how many times it’s been covered!

      http://baseportal.com/cgi-bin/baseportal.pl?htx=/dylancov/main&db=main&TrackCode==lmz

      • james bagger said,

        August 10, 2011 at 4:23 pm

        love minus zero, of course that’s one of dylan’s best poems. if i wrote something like that, and sent it to a poetry magazine, it would, without a doubt, be published in said magazine. awesome on the page, even better on the stage!

        • james bagger said,

          August 10, 2011 at 4:36 pm

          p.s. and if i were doing a poetry performance, i’d be more likely to throw in a dylan poem than a billy collins poem.

          • marcusbales said,

            August 10, 2011 at 5:49 pm

            And that is, exactly, the point, Mr Bagger: Dylan wrote songs; Collins writes poems. Hoist by your own petard. QED.

            • james bagger said,

              August 10, 2011 at 6:52 pm

              mr bales, not sure what petard you are talking about, but i don’t like word altogether. seems insensitive to petards.

              • marcusbales said,

                August 12, 2011 at 11:46 am

                By saying you choose the song to perform, you choose the song written to be performed — you do not choose the poem written to be read. You are explicitly demonstrating, by your choice, the very difference between song and poem that you deny.

                Anyone who has performed successfully for audiences has, by their very success, to have realized the difference between the performing arts and the fine arts. Joni Mitchell famously pointed this out in a recorded live concert when some leather-lung kept shouting out “Circle Game! Circle Game!” as she was working through her set. She said “You know, the difference between a performing artist and a fine artist is that no one ever shouted to Vincent van Gogh ‘Hey, man, paint “Starry Starry Night” again!’.”

                There’s a difference not only in result, but in artist intent and audience expectation between performing and fine arts, and your admission that you’d take the piece written to be performed if you were giving a performance, rather than the one written as fine art, explodes your argument that they are the same.

                • August 12, 2011 at 12:57 pm

                  Marcus Bales

                  You talk twaddle and believe it is the holy gospel. Where do you get it from? The New Criticism, of course.

                  You/they claim poetry should be read and not performed. But take Allen Ginsberg, for example. Poetry is a lot more than your/their narrow definition of it.

                  You/They fail to understand the wide-reaching nature of the word ‘performance’. Every poem. however silently written and/or read is in fact a performance in some way. And it’s even more obviously a performance the moment someone reads a poem for someone else, no matter how much the poet tries to hide behind the phoney culture of poetic hush. There are also two very different kinds of public performance of a poem or a song or whatever: one, the studio version, and two, the live version. Dylan has always said that the studio version is the more important one for him. It’s cool though that there are several versions. But you and the so-called ‘New’ (ha ha) School believe in one pure version of a piece of work. This ignores the reader, the performer, the time, the place, and yes, more or less everything under the sun entirely. It’s a total fraud. And I for one say the emperor has no clothes on.

                  And I hear you talk of audience expectation. You poor sod! That’s always been the concern of mediocre talents. I prefer to think of Wordsworth quoting Coleridge: “every author as far as he is great and at the same time original, has had the task of creating the taste by which he is to be enjoyed.”

                  Duncan

                  • marcusbales said,

                    August 13, 2011 at 1:32 pm

                    Duncan: “You/they claim poetry should be read and not performed. But take Allen Ginsberg, for example. Poetry is a lot more than your/their narrow definition of it.”

                    The real issue you’ve raised, Duncan, is the issue of whether songwriting ought be perceived as legitimately an art form art as poetry. But you’ve phrased it in an attempt to hijack ‘poetry’ as a term for ‘songwriting’. The answer to whether songwriting is art is obviously ‘Yes.’ But because songwriting is a perfectly legitimate art form doesn’t make it poetry, any more than agreeing that sculpture and painting are each legitimate art forms makes sculpture painting, or painting sculpture. What you’re arguing here is that songwriting can be art, and that that makes it poetry. But that’s simply wrong. Songwriting is in fact art, but your syllogism fails (Songwriting is art; poetry is art; therefore songwriting is poetry) because it’s simply a failed syllogism. You’ve committed the fallacy of the undistributed middle, and that means your argument is flatly wrong.

                    But no one is arguing that songwriting can’t be art in the first place. In spite of that, you seem to think that the only kind of art that songwriting can be is the art of poetry. And that’s where you make your mistake. Songwriting is an art separate, and different, from poetry. It’s neither easier nor harder. But you’re taking the similarity of some tools as dispositive while ignoring the essential differences. Carpentry and masonry use similar tools, and sometimes the same ones (hammers, tape measures, saws, etc) but no one argues that carpentry is masonry because some of the tools are the same. And that’s what you’re doing, here: you’re saying that because songs have words and poems have words that songs are poems. But it’s not just false common-sensically, it’s false because it’s the fallacy of the undistributed middle.

                    Duncan: “You/They fail to understand the wide-reaching nature of the word ‘performance’. Every poem. however silently written and/or read is in fact a performance in some way.”

                    But if you allow performance to mean so widely that it means anything (“Every … in some way”) then you’ve destroyed the usefulness of the term. Such a view is so flabbily meaningless that it’s useless. “… in some way” indeed! You might as well claim that your own internal monologue is poetry – you perform it for yourself and you appreciate it more than anyone else possibly could since you get all your own references and allusions, after all! A term that doesn’t distinguish anything from anything else is simple and meaninigless blather.

                    Duncan: “And it’s even more obviously a performance the moment someone reads a poem for someone else, no matter how much the poet tries to hide behind the phoney culture of poetic hush. “

                    This is the adolescent view of art, the notion that the only way to know whether what you’re experiencing is art or not is to have the public approbation and mutual participation during the performance – because otherwise you don’t know what’s art and what’s not, because you don’t know enough about art in general, and certainly not about art in specific, to be able to come to an autonomous judgment about it without other vocally enthusiastic people enabling you. And sure, I’ll give you that some of the poetic hush types are equally only gathering in a public place among like-minded appreciators, and that some of those participants’ enjoyment is of the enabling gathering instead of of the art itself. But the phony-ness lies neither in the hush nor the noise – the phony-ness lies in the necessity of the mutual enabling without autonomous individual appreciation.

                    But it’s not about whether songwriting is poetry – it’s about whether songwriting is an art of its own. I’m of the opinion that it is an art of its own. It borrows some tools from poetry, some from music, and does something different from either poetry or music. Different, though – neither better nor worse, neither more nor less legitimate, neither more nor less worthwhile.

                    Duncan: “There are also two very different kinds of public performance of a poem or a song or whatever: one, the studio version, and two, the live version. Dylan has always said that the studio version is the more important one for him. It’s cool though that there are several versions. But you and the so-called ‘New’ (ha ha) School believe in one pure version of a piece of work. This ignores the reader, the performer, the time, the place, and yes, more or less everything under the sun entirely. It’s a total fraud. And I for one say the emperor has no clothes on.

                    The studio version, though, is exactly the performer’s attempt to produce one pure version of the piece of work! You contradict yourself fundamentally, here. You’re arguing, then, that the studio version is a total fraud, and that only the live version is legitimate. But yet you quote Dylan as saying the studio version is the most important one. You can’t have it both ways, Duncan. It’s unclear here whether you’re citing Dylan as an authority, or accusing him of being the naked emperor. Either way, you’re destroying your own position by contradicting yourself so thoroughly.

                    Duncan: “And I hear you talk of audience expectation. You poor sod! That’s always been the concern of mediocre talents. I prefer to think of Wordsworth quoting Coleridge: “every author as far as he is great and at the same time original, has had the task of creating the taste by which he is to be enjoyed”

                    Ah, the name-calliing has begun. You might ask around a little, Duncan, before you venture on flyting with me. I’ll give you a pass on this one because you probably don’t know. But don’t do it again.

                    I have no problem with you creating, if you can, the taste by which your work is to be enjoyed. But from what I’ve read of your work so far, as a poet you’re a fine songwriter, and as a songwriter there is a flaw in nearly every line, and sometimes several. I wish you the joy of getting better at it – because that’s really where the joy resides – not in the royalty checks, the audience’s cheers, or even the reluctant nod from whoever the contemporary Rossini is from his box seat. The joy is in the doing, and in the improving. Have fun.

                    • August 13, 2011 at 4:30 pm

                      I never said songwriting is poetry. I said that song lyrics are a type of poetry. But it’s like some people don’t want to see it.

                      ‘Performance’ is a word with a pretty wide meaning. Some poets want to pretend they don’t need to perform, but that’s what they’re doing every time they put a poem out there.

                      I don’t see your point about me contradicting myself with regard to Dylan thinking the studio version more important than the live version. I never said he was trying to make a pure version. I said he regarded it as a more important version. And my point actually was that there is no pure version. That’s a myth propagated by the New Criticism.

                      There was no name-calling intended, Marcus. I was merely saying I think you are misguided. As for how much of a heavyweight you are on whatever literary circuit, I couldn’t care less. I make my own judgments.

                    • marcusbales said,

                      August 14, 2011 at 4:32 am

                      Duncan: “I never said songwriting is poetry. I said that song lyrics are a type of poetry.”

                      Well, there’s a distinction without a difference!

                      Substitute “song lyrics”, then, for “songwriting”, above, in my critique of your views, and it’s the same thing. You’re still making the logical fallacy of the undistributed middle, and you’re still just as wrong. Song lyrics are written with a different end in mind than poems. As I said initially, song lyrics are for the inattentive ear, poems for the attentive one. The choices a lyricist makes take in circumstances that the poets doesn’t take in: how the words go with the music (no ee vowels at high or low ends of the singer’s range, for example, or how the meter of the words goes with the swing of the song, and many other considerations); how the music reinforces the words, or the words the music, or how they play against one another; whether the song is part of a show, and has to move the plot along, exhibit character, or any number of other requirements, or is a stand-alone song; and other such problems. The performance of the song musically and lyrically have to be at the forefront of the lyricist’s craft. But poems don’t have performance issues, because they don’t have to match up to or coordinate with any rhythms that the poet has not chosen. When the poet encounters the situation where he has something to say that doesn’t fit the meter, he can simply change the meter — either for a stanza or a section or for the whole poem. He doesn’t have to worry about instrumental or vocal voicings, he can start over and end when he pleases. The differences are both many and fundamental.

                      The question is why you so desperately want song lyrics to be a sort of poetry — what do you think you gain from being called a poet instead of a songwriter? Is there some cultural weight or moral significance to ‘poet’ that ‘songwriter’ doesn’t carry for you and other songwriters and lyricists? Do you think Dylan would trade the fame and money he’s achieved for, say, that of Robert Pinsky or Louise Gluck? Or even Billy Collins? What is it, exactly, that you hope to gain by the claim that song lyrics are poems?

                      Duncan: “‘Performance’ is a word with a pretty wide meaning. Some poets want to pretend they don’t need to perform, but that’s what they’re doing every time they put a poem out there.”

                      There’s still a difference between the poem performing and the poet performing; between the song’s performance when sight-reading it, or practicing it, and the performance of the song in public. Once again, your insistence that ‘performance’ is so widely defined as to take in everything from your internal monologue to Queen at Wembley for Live Aid (or Green Day at Glastonbury, or whatever) if all performances, in short, from internal monologs to performances in stadia are the same kind of performance, then the term is so flabbily meaningless as to lose all significance. And if you start from terms that can mean anything you can prove whatever you please – but so can anyone else: so therefore whenever you think you have proved soething from terms that can mean anything you have to face the fact that exactly the opposite can be proved, too, so you lose.

                      Duncan: “I don’t see your point about me contradicting myself with regard to Dylan thinking the studio version more important than the live version. I never said he was trying to make a pure version. I said he regarded it as a more important version. And my point actually was that there is no pure version. That’s a myth propagated by the New Criticism.”

                      Here’s what you said:

                      Duncan: “There are also two very different kinds of public performance of a poem or a song or whatever: one, the studio version, and two, the live version. Dylan has always said that the studio version is the more important one for him. It’s cool though that there are several versions. But you and the so-called ‘New’ (ha ha) School believe in one pure version of a piece of work. This ignores the reader, the performer, the time, the place, and yes, more or less everything under the sun entirely. It’s a total fraud. And I for one say the emperor has no clothes on. “

                      The point is that the authority you’re citing to demonstrate that there is no ‘important one’, by which you must mean, because you’re citing him as an authority, that Dylan meant ‘there is no pure one’, is flatly contradicted by your quoting Dylan as saying there is indeed a pure one: the one that was important to him: the studio version. You can’t have it both ways. Either you are contradicting your claim by your citation, or your citation is completely irrelevant to your claim. But why would you cite something as support for your claim that you know to be irrelevant? So you can’t think it’s irrelevant, you must think it is apposite: and if you think your citation is apposite, you contradict yourself. You simply can’t have it both ways.

                      Duncan: “There was no name-calling intended, Marcus.”

                      This is a flat-out lie. Here’s what you said:

                      Duncan: “You poor sod! That’s always been the concern of mediocre talents.”

                      That’s name-calling, Duncan, and to claim it is not is to lie in your teeth. If you’re willing to simply lie whenever you’re caught out then your opinion is worth nothing. And since you’ve chosen to simply lie when you’re caught out, then your opinion is in fact worth nothing. Lying is a bad choice when you’re conducting your conversations in writing. Perhaps you can get away with lying like this when you’re ‘performing your conversations’ or whatever double-talk bullshit you think of yourself as doing verbally, but when you’re writing this shit down, Duncan, you ought at least to be smart enough to know it can be quoted back to you when you lie about it. But apparently not.

                      So, we’re left with this: you’re willing to lie about what you’ve said, and you’re not smart enough to realize that your lies can be quoted back to you and revealed. Game over, you lose, and thanks for playing.

                • james bagger said,

                  August 12, 2011 at 1:27 pm

                  mr bales, the mitchell quote, while somewhat interesting, does not really apply to what i was describing.

                  • james bagger said,

                    August 12, 2011 at 2:57 pm

                    again, mr bales, having just perused some of your work: if given the choice between performing one of your pieces at a public reading, or something by bob dylan or ani difranco, as a poet with excellent taste and performance abilities, i would probably choose to recite a dylan or difranco poem anyday over what i’ve seen and heard from you. no petards intended….

                  • marcusbales said,

                    August 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm

                    You’re arguing that songs are poems, and you’re trying to prove it by saying that if you were performing you’d choose the song every time over the poem to perform. Your behavior belies your words. If poems and songs are the same, then it can’t matter which you use in performance. But if it matters which you use in performance, then they’re not the same. QED.

                    • Anonymous said,

                      August 13, 2011 at 9:24 pm

                      nope, not what i am arguing at all. i’m not sure if you’ve willfully misread what i wrote, or if you’re just incapable of understanding. regardless, thanks for responding.

                    • marcusbales said,

                      August 14, 2011 at 4:37 am

                      Well, then, you’re not trying to argue that songs are poems, and you lose, since you were arguing on the ‘songs are poems’ side. You’ve successfully shot yourself in the foot. Congratulations! Game over, you lose, thanks for playing.

                  • August 14, 2011 at 8:22 am

                    I wrote: “There was no name-calling intended.” I didn’t write “There was no name-calling.” So that was no lie. Maybe I got carried away. And I make no apologies for that. I don’t see that there’s much difference between “I think it’s very stupid of you to ….” or “You poor sod!” If you define that as name-calling, than that’s your prerogative. As I say, there was no name-calling intended. Your diatribes about me have had many instances that can easily be transcribed to name-calling. You think you can hide behind your words, but you can’t, Marcus. They reveal you. For you, Marcus, conversation is point-scoring, a competitive game that you want to win. I haven’t been playing a game with you. You’re the one playing games, nit-picking over trifles, insisting on your own definitions (e.g. ‘more important’ = ‘pure’ by your book). You can rule me out of your book as much as you like. I think you give academia a bad name. I think you give poetry a bad name. I think you give conversation a bad name. No wonder people flee from all three in droves.

                    I could call myself a singer-songwriter-poet. Or perhaps singer-poet is the recognized term. I write poems that lend themselves to singing, and I see this as a natural thing. And I wonder why some people insist (so desperately) that there should be a hard and fast distinction between songs and poems. The strange thing is that it’s only New Critics and/or purist poets like yourself who make this distinction. The rest of the world can’t see that Dylan isn’t a poet. He seems to have wandered off the map you folk made for him. I can see this hurts, Marcus. I can see that this makes you so desperate that you call me desperate. Or perhaps you weren’t calling me desperate after all when you wrote: “The question is why you so desperately want song lyrics to be a sort of poetry.” Am I twisting your words?

                    You write: “Song lyrics are written with a different end in mind than poems.” Do you really believe this is so? Have you experienced it yourself? And if not, how come you pontificate so? Is it not just something you have learned from New Critical theory? Do you honestly believe Leonard Cohen always knows whether he’s writing a poem or song lyrics. Or does he perhaps just write something with a rhythm. Or are you now going to tell me that if he’s writing something with a rhythm, it must be song lyrics and not poetry? I wouldn’t be surprised. Poetry purists like yourself are so desperate to eliminate music from poetry that their poetry has become lifeless, at best wooden. And then you wonder where the audience is?

                    • marcusbales said,

                      August 14, 2011 at 12:51 pm

                      Duncan: “I wrote: ‘There was no name-calling intended.’ I didn’t write ‘There was no name-calling.’

                      So if I say you’re an ignorant lying fuck, but add, whether right away or later if you object, that there was no name-calling intended, you hold that that’s a complete defense?

                      Is there really, in your view, then, no possibility of libel, slander, or name-calling in general, so long as the accused name-caller is willing to say “No name-calling intended!”? Well, then, you ARE an ignorant lying fuck. No name-calling intended!

                      Duncan: “Maybe I got carried away. And I make no apologies for that.”

                      I didn’t expect any, you ignorant lying fuck – no name-calling intended, naturally.

                      Duncan: “ I don’t see that there’s much difference between ‘I think it’s very stupid of you to ….’ or ‘You poor sod!’.”

                      First, I haven’t said ‘It’s very stupid of you’, or anything like it. I have deliberately, and carefully, and civilly, criticized your views, your verse, and your logic. But you are not your views; you are not your verse; you are not your logic – all those things are volitional, changeable, and debatable, and this is a forum for debating such volitional elements.

                      I’ve said: “What you’re arguing here is that songwriting can be art, and that that makes it poetry. But that’s simply wrong. Songwriting is in fact art, but your syllogism fails (Songwriting is art; poetry is art; therefore songwriting is poetry) because it’s simply a failed syllogism. You’ve committed the fallacy of the undistributed middle, and that means your argument is flatly wrong.”

                      I’ve said: “And that’s where you make your mistake. … But it’s not just false common-sensically, it’s false because it’s the fallacy of the undistributed middle.”

                      But saying your opinion is wrong, or that you’ve made a mistake, is not ad hominem, and it’s not name-calling. You’ve put forward your views, and I’ve said I disagree with them, and why I disagree with them. It is of the essence of civilized discourse, of civilization itself, that we be willing and able to separate our opinions from our selves, or else every disagreement must be a personal attack, and there can be no civilized discourse, only pistols for two at dawn, and breakfast for one.

                      Duncan: “If you define that as name-calling, than that’s your prerogative.”

                      It’s not merely my prerogative, it’s the basis of civilization. And if you insist on saying you don’t see the difference and that a blanket “I didn’t intend any name-calling” excuses any possible name-calling then you’re even more of an ignorant lying fuck than I had supposed – no name-calling intended, of course.

                      Duncan: “Your diatribes about me have had many instances that can easily be transcribed to name-calling.”

                      Perhaps the word you are fumbling for in this sentence is ‘described’ – at least, that’s what I’ll take you to have meant. But there are no instances when anything I’ve said to or about you could be described as name-calling until you’ve clarified for me that calling you an ignorant lying fuck doesn’t count as name-callling as long as I say to you that there is not name-calling intended. So once again you contradict yourself: you are either flatly wrong to accuse me of name-calling because even by civilized standards I haven’t, or you’re flatly wrong to accuse me by your own since so long as I say “No name-calling intended!” even when I call you an ignorant lying fuck you can’t hold that that was name-calling so long as I say “No name-calling intended”, so, no name-calling intended, but you’re an ignorant lying fuck. Isn’t this fun?

                      Duncan: “… You’re … nit-picking over trifles, insisting on your own definitions (e.g. ‘more important’ = ‘pure’ by your book).”

                      You’re the one who conflated ‘important’ and ‘pure’, Duncan – I merely pointed out that you’d done it, and pointed out it is a mistake. I don’t insist on the definition – you do, even if when you’re doing it in error, without realizing it. But pointing out that kind of sloppy thinking is just what civil conversation in forums dedicated to challenging one anothers’ views is for. If you don’t want your views challenged, don’t put them forward in this kind of forum. If all you want is a warm-fuzzy-workshop, I’m sure, to judge by your air of injured innocence after debasing the level of the discussion with your name-calling, that you know where to find them, and are a regular habitue of their environs. But this isn’t one of them.

                      Duncan: “You can rule me out of your book as much as you like. I think you give academia a bad name.”

                      I certainly hope so! It deserves it, and I’ve said so many times. But from the outside, Duncan: I’m not an academic by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve never held a teaching job, I’ve never even worked for an academic institution as any other kind of worker.

                      Duncan: “I think you give poetry a bad name.”

                      I certainly try to give free verse ‘poetry’ a bad name by criticizing the theory and the practice, but the notion that criticizing your views and opinions in prose could possibly give poetry a bad name seems ludicrous. You’re still struggling to find a way to justify calling your songwriting ‘poetry’ in the first place, as unsure as you are unable to persuade that it is. So even if I give your work a bad name, which some of it richly deserves, though some of it is not bad, that’s not giving poetry a bad name. I urged you, and urge you again, to keep on reading and writing, and get better at it. Prove me wrong by writing better poems, you ignorant lying fuck (no name-calling intended!) not by whining that you don’t have very good arguments; not by complaining it’s not fair to highlight that your arguments fail, one by one, in detail; not by whingeing about how people disagree with you. Write better poems. Or songs. Whatever. Do better art. And for god’s sake try to learn some logic if you’re going to write prose defenses of whatever it is you’re doing with your art.

                      Duncan: “… I wonder why some people insist (so desperately) that there should be a hard and fast distinction between songs and poems.”

                      Thirty-five hundred years of critical opinion and poetic practice argues that you’re wrong. Alas for your argument, the desperation is all on the side of the aspirant: the burden of proof, and any desperation it may entail, lies with you. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – and so far all we’ve got from you is mere assertion. It’s not enough, Duncan.

                      Duncan: “The strange thing is that it’s only New Critics and/or purist poets like yourself who make this distinction. The rest of the world can’t see that Dylan isn’t a poet.”

                      Everyone is out of step but you, eh, Duncan? On the one side, a mountain of critical opinion and poetic practice, on the other side, your opinion. Well, my boy, you’ve got a climb ahead of you. But so far you haven’t made it through the scree at the bottom of the first hill.

                      Duncan: “… Or perhaps you weren’t calling me desperate after all when you wrote: “The question is why you so desperately want song lyrics to be a sort of poetry.” Am I twisting your words?”

                      Nope: answer the question.

                      Duncan: “You write: “Song lyrics are written with a different end in mind than poems.” Do you really believe this is so? Have you experienced it yourself?”

                      Of course. I can’t think of a poet of my acquaintance who hasn’t tried writing song lyrics; for that matter I can’t think of a lyricist of my acquaintance who hasn’t tried writing poems. But after not much effort, thought, and practice, we’ve all (save you, apparently) for the last 3500 years come to the conclusion that poetry and song-writing are different arts.

                      And note, Duncan, that no one is saying one is an inferior and the other a superior art – they are different arts. You don’t call a plumber when you’re looking to get your house rewired, and you don’t call an electrician to fix the toilet – why would you call a poet to write a song lyric or a lyricist to write a poem? Different skills, different intentions, different kinds of audiences, significant differences. But still each its own art. Once again, Duncan, do you think Dylan would trade his fame and fortune for Billy Collins’s or Robert Pinsky’s? No – he’s made, as you quote Wordsworth suggesting, the taste by which his work is enjoyed – as a songwriter. It’s a splendid accomplishment. What’s wrong with that?

                      Duncan: “… Do you honestly believe Leonard Cohen always knows whether he’s writing a poem or song lyric …”

                      Sure I do – though maybe not from the first word or phrase, because lots of impulses are false starts, evolve into other genres, and such. But sure, as the writer progresses with the writing, playing with the words, working with the rhythms, experimenting with meters, finding the tempo and tone that goes with the impulse, sure, in not too long from beginning Cohen, like you or me, knows whether this is going to be a song or a poem – if he can finish it to his standards. I’m sure Cohen, Dylan, Simon, whoever you please, you, me, have started out to write a sonnet and it turned to a song in the process, and vice versa. But that only shows that yes, there are differences between song and poem, and that as the writer realizes how the thing is developing the writer accepts those developments and goes with it. Only the very inexperienced sit down to write a sonnet and by god write a sonnet even if they have to bend the world around the words that want to be a ballad, because by god I meant to write a sonnet! I’ve done that, and every time it’s turned out badly. If you’re still doing that, stop. React to the gestalt and write what comes, and enjoy both the process of getting better at it (and we’re all always getting better at it if we’re any good at it at all) and the result when it happens to end in a result.

                      Oh, I almost forgot: you ignorant lying fuck. No name-calling intended!

        • thomasbrady said,

          August 10, 2011 at 6:07 pm

          James,

          I think Love Minus Zero is the sort of poem most editors would reject today. MFA students don’t write poems like that—God forbid!
          I bet Dylan wrote it in a half an hour, with very little revisions, too.

          The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ would probably not be considered good poetry by anyone, and yet if one analyzes the clever simplicity of the lyric, how the word, yesterday, begins as a dactyl and then ends each stanza in iambic, the first time at the end of the stanza, and then, this way, “Oh yesterday came suddenly,” it’s quite dazzling, if one can appreciate this kind of simplicity as being harder than it looks. To what, then, does this quality of craftsmanship belong? Surely it belongs to verse (poetry) as much as it does to song, but we ascribe it to ‘song,’ perhaps, because the reason for the pleasure in listening to what I have just mentioned is completely beneath our radar?

          Tom

          • August 10, 2011 at 7:22 pm

            And “Oh yesterday came suddenly” also acquires the extra meaning of “Oh yes, today came suddenly.”

            • thomasbrady said,

              August 11, 2011 at 3:32 am

              Very nice! Yes, today, came suddenly. Good one, that!

          • james bagger said,

            August 10, 2011 at 7:46 pm

            tom, perhaps not good poetry, but you could certainly make the case that “yesterday” is poetry.

            bottom line is this: poetry and song writing share enough of the same qualities to work as either, which is why this discussion has been appearing since poetry editors have been placing song and rap lyrics in poetry magazines and anthologies.

  14. Billy Shakespeare said,

    August 10, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Tommy,
    I’m just fucking with ya.
    Jack Shakespeare

  15. Billy Shakespeare said,

    August 10, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    I think Miles Davis was a great poet.

  16. August 10, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Desolation Row

    They’re selling postcards of the hanging
    They’re painting the passports brown
    The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
    The circus is in town
    Here comes the blind commissioner
    They’ve got him in a trance
    One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
    The other is in his pants
    And the riot squad they’re restless
    They need somewhere to go
    As Lady and I look out tonight
    From Desolation Row.

    Cinderella, she seems so easy
    “It takes one to know one,” she smiles
    And puts her hands in her back pockets
    Bette Davis style
    And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning
    “You belong to Me I Believe”
    And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place, my friend
    You better leave”
    And the only sound that’s left
    After the ambulances go
    Is Cinderella sweeping up
    On Desolation Row.

    Now the moon is almost hidden
    The stars are beginning to hide
    The fortunetelling lady
    Has even taken all her things inside
    All except for Cain and Abel
    And the hunchback of Notre Dame
    Everybody is making love
    Or else expecting rain
    And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing
    He’s getting ready for the show
    He’s going to the carnival tonight
    On Desolation Row.

    Now Ophelia, she’s ‘neath the window
    For her I feel so afraid
    On her twenty-second birthday
    She already is an old maid
    To her, death is quite romantic
    She wears an iron vest
    Her profession’s her religion
    Her sin is her lifelessness
    And though her eyes are fixed upon
    Noah’s great rainbow
    She spends her time peeking
    Into Desolation Row.

    Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
    With his memories in a trunk
    Passed this way an hour ago
    With his friend, a jealous monk
    He looked so immaculately frightful
    As he bummed a cigarette
    Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
    And reciting the alphabet
    You would not think to look at him
    But he was famous long ago
    For playing the electric violin
    On Desolation Row.

    Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
    Inside of a leather cup
    But all his sexless patients
    They’re trying to blow it up
    Now his nurse, some local loser
    She’s in charge of the cyanide hole
    And she also keeps the cards that read
    “Have Mercy on His Soul”
    They all play on penny whistles
    You can hear them blow
    If you lean your head out far enough
    From Desolation Row.

    Across the street they’ve nailed the curtains
    They’re getting ready for the feast
    The Phantom of the Opera
    In a perfect image of a priest
    They’re spoonfeeding Casanova
    To get him to feel more assured
    Then they’ll kill him with self-confidence
    After poisoning him with words
    And the Phantom’s shouting to skinny girls
    “Get outa here if you don’t know”
    Casanova is just being punished for going
    To Desolation Row.

    At midnight all the agents
    And the superhuman crew
    Come out and round up everyone
    That knows more than they do
    Then they bring them to the factory
    Where the heart-attack machine
    Is strapped across their shoulders
    And then the kerosene
    Is brought down from the castles
    By insurance men who go
    Check to see that nobody is escaping
    To Desolation Row.

    They be to Nero’s Neptune
    The Titanic sails at dawn
    Everybody’s shouting
    “Which side are you on ?”
    And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
    Fighting in the captain’s tower
    While calypso singers laugh at them
    And fishermen hold flowers
    Between the windows of the sea
    Where lovely mermaids flow
    And nobody has to think too much
    About Desolation Row.

    Yes, I received your letter yesterday
    About the time the door knob broke
    When you asked me how I was doing
    Was that some kind of joke ?
    All these people that you mention
    Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
    I had to rearrange their faces
    And give them all another name
    Right now I can’t read too good
    Dont send me no more letters no
    Not unless you mail them
    From Desolation Row

    – Bob Dylan

  17. August 10, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    Not poetry?

    Says who?

    GBF

  18. August 11, 2011 at 2:01 am

    Go ahead. Read any of those Dylan or Cohen lyrics on the page and DON’T hear the music in your head. Really. Go ahead. It might work if you don;t already know the song well. But otherwise, you can’t separate them.

    *shrug* Ritual ad hominem BS aside, I rest my case. LOL

  19. August 11, 2011 at 2:15 am

    Hey…not fair! I want my ad hominem put downs! No fun in posting, otherwise.

    But I’ll give you the point, here, Mr. Durkee.

    • August 11, 2011 at 8:22 am

      But, Art, who says the fact that you can only recognise it as poetry with the music in your head means it can’t be poetry? It’s an urban myth. Or New Criticism taken to silly extremes..

  20. james bagger said,

    August 11, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    art, if i gave my daughter–an 8th grade dylan-hater who does not know the tune to desolation row, and very little about poetry in general, except that it should rhyme–a poem written by you, or dylan’s “desolation row,” which do you honestly think she would say, in the end, was the better poem?

    linguistically speaking, “desolation row” is a feast of figurative and allusive language, rhyme and rhythm. and while my daughter is not precocious, she is certainly her father’s daughter, knows what she likes and why…. i’ve seen your poetry, and i know my daughter would be perplexed by both yours and dylan’s poetry, as she is mine too, but in the end, dylan would come out on top for the reasons already mentioned above. my justin bieber-loving daughter would not be wrong. but guess what, she would never read justin bieber’s lyrics as poetry. he’s very cute, a good singer and capable musician, but certainly not a poet by any stretch. the differences are clear.

    reading music lyrics as poetry lyrics is not that much different than reading rimbaud in translation. eliminate the art of translation and then you can talk to me about excellent music lyrics not being poetry.

  21. August 11, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    Try this one, Art:

    A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

    Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son ?
    And where have you been my darling young one ?
    I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
    I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
    I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
    I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
    I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
    And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
    It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

    Oh, what did you see, my blue eyed son ?
    And what did you see, my darling young one ?
    I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
    I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
    I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
    I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
    I saw a white ladder all covered with water
    I saw ten thousand takers whose tongues were all broken
    I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
    And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
    It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

    And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son ?
    And what did you hear, my darling young one ?
    I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
    I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
    I heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
    I heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
    I heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
    Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
    Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
    And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
    And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

    Oh, who did you meet my blue-eyed son ?
    Who did you meet, my darling young one ?
    I met a young child beside a dead pony
    I met a white man who walked a black dog
    I met a young woman whose body was burning
    I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
    I met one man who was wounded in love
    I met another man who was wounded and hatred
    And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
    And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

    And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son ?
    And what’ll you do now my darling young one ?
    I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
    I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
    Where the people are a many and their hands are all empty
    Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
    Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
    Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
    Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
    Where black is the color, where none is the number
    And I’ll tell and think it and speak it and breathe it
    And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
    Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
    But I’ll know my songs well before I start singin’
    And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
    It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

    – Bob Dylan

  22. August 11, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Try this one, too, Art:

    Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues

    When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez
    And it’s Eastertime too
    And your gravity fails
    And negativity don’t pull you through
    Don’t put on any airs
    When you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue
    They got some hungry women there
    And they really make a mess outa you.

    Now if you see Saint Annie
    Please tell her thanks a lot
    I cannot move
    My fingers are all in a knot
    I don’t have the strength
    To get up and take another shot
    And my best friend, my doctor
    Won’t even say what it is I’ve got.

    Sweet Melinda
    The peasants call her the goddess of gloom
    She speaks good English
    And she invites you up into her room
    And you’re so kind
    And careful not to go to her too soon
    And she takes your voice
    And leaves you howling at the moon.

    Up on Housing Project Hill
    It’s either fortune or fame
    You must pick up one or the other
    Though neither of them are to be what they claim
    If you’re lookin’ to get silly
    You better go back to from where you came
    Because the cops don’t need you
    And man they expect the same.
    Now all the authorities
    They just stand around and boast
    How they blackmailed the sergeant-at-arms
    Into leaving his post
    And picking up Angel who
    Just arrived here from the coast
    Who looked so fine at first
    But left looking just like a ghost.

    I started out on burgundy
    But soon hit the harder stuff
    Everybody said they’d stand behind me
    When the game got rough
    But the joke was on me
    There was nobody even there to bluff
    I’m going back to New York City
    I do believe I’ve had enough

    – Bob Dylan

  23. August 11, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Please allow me share a personal story. Back when I was in High School (Benjamin Franklin was my History teacher) a bunch of us were sitting around and got into a debate about whether Bob Dylan and Paul Simon were genuine poets. I, being a poet, was outraged. “How dare you,” I declared, “compare Bob Dylan to Edgar Allan Poe, John Keats, Percy Shelley, Dylan Thomas, even E.E. Cummings.” I was irate!

    The years go by. Recently, Tom asked on a post “What will it take to make poetry popular again?” Well, it may be a sad reflection on American education, but the fact is that more people have heard of Bob Dylan than Franz Wright, John Ashbery, Rae Armantrout and even Ted Kooser combined.

    I guess we have to take what we can get these days.

  24. james bagger said,

    August 11, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    i have two children in public schools gary, there is nothing wrong with american education, gary. in fact, i would still boast that americans do education probably better than any other country in the world.

    if you actually understand the history of world poetry, expanding your poetics to include folks like dylan and springsteen is not a stretch at all. it’s quite natural, and is happening more and more, as it should.

  25. james bagger said,

    August 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    art, i think where you are getting hung up is on the quality issue. whether or not bob dylan, or any other singer/songwriter is a great poet is irrelevant to the fact that song lyrics can be read or studied as poems. are you saying we should only be allowed to read and study great poems?

  26. August 11, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    I think “Louie, Louie,” is a great poem.

  27. thomasbrady said,

    August 12, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Tell the Irish poet Thomas Moore and his friend Byron that songs are not poems!

    On the other hand, you’d never hear someone say, could you sing a bit of “Don Juan,” or “Manfred?” But then you never know…

  28. thomasbrady said,

    August 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    I thought Marcus, who feels it’s important to distinguish metered poetry from lineated prose, would have been more sympathetic to a celebration of song—the best of which tends to be similar to metered poetry.

    But Marcus hates tendencies and loves precision. Song can play loose with meter, unlike good metered poetry.

    But if someone took a Shakespeare sonnet and turned it into a hit song, how delightful would that be! How could this not please all sides of this “debate?”

    Goethe and Heine have had poems turned into songs by great composers. Did this end civilization as we know it? Bobby Burns, Lord Byron and Thomas Moore were poets who wrote what are both poems and songs. I’m not familiar with the extent of this canon, but I think Duncan is not far off when he brings up the New Critics, who were far more likely to discern ironic qualities in poetry than song-like ones, in New Criticism’s surly anti-Romantic campaign.

    As someone who dabbles in poetry and song-writing myself, I have experienced how a good piece of verse turns into a song with no effort—just find a tempo and throw in a 1-4-5 chord sequence. Prose resists taking wing this way. But begin with a nifty tune and search for perfect words for it—now that’s a challenge.

    I wonder if this signifies anything: a certain word-order generates music almost automatically, but good music does not automatically generate good lyrics.

  29. August 14, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    I can see no “Reply” option on the protracted reponse to post #14, so I am adding my comments here.

    To Marcus Bales

    For your information, ‘academia’ isn’t restricted to paid work in an academic institution. It can be any scholarly activity.

    The fact that you have not been employed by any academic institution comes as little surprise to me. You have an inordinately high opinion of yourself and your ability to argue a case, but in your practice you fail to measure up to these high standards. You twist people’s words as a matter of course. To give some examples of this:

    1) When I said “You give poetry a bad name”, you have willfully distorted what I meant by that.

    2) You claim: “What you’re arguing here is that songwriting can be art, and that that makes it poetry.” That is your syllogism, not mine. And your subsequent deconstruction of it by way of the fallacy of the undistributed middle is thus irrelevant.

    3) I have said the idea of a pure version is the invention of the New Criticism. I then said Dylan regarded the studio version as the more important one. And for some reason which only you can begin to account for, you equate ‘pure’ with ‘more important’.

    You call me ignorant, but you display a staggering amount of ignorance yourself. You say: “Thirty-five hundred years of critical opinion and poetic practice argues that you’re wrong. “ I think not. If so, why would you bother trying to argue with me? You say: “On the one side, a mountain of critical opinion and poetic practice, on the other side, your opinion.” You are again misguided, misinformed or speaking against better knowledge. Surely you have heard of Christopher Ricks’ work that hails Dylan as a poet? Ricks is not alone either. In academia the debate rages. To take one example out of many, here’s the Guardian review of The Seven Ages of Dylan event at Bristol University in May this year http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/may/24/bob-dylan-birthday-conference-bristol

    You claim: “I have deliberately, and carefully, and civilly, criticized your views, your verse, and your logic.”

    You don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘civil’, Mr Bales. You have been condescending and presumptuous throughout this thread. Your pompous attitude is no tribute to civilized discourse.

    Is it civil to dismiss the song lyrics I presented, “A Slice of Lemon” as “this jejune piece of poorly-written and ill-constructed crap”? Is it civil to say: “I’ve written worse stuff myself — in the 7th grade.” Is it civil to say about my sonnets: “I frankly thought I could, what the hell, throw in some mockery of them, too…” No, Mr Bales, you have been malicious throughout.

    In keeping with a tone that you yourself have instigated, I said: “You poor sod!” Even though I tried to assure you there wasn’t any malice behind it, you have willfully ignored me and taken it as a cue to swear at me repeatedly.

    You have defended your arrogant behaviour on the grounds that this is no “warm-fuzzy-workshop”, claiming, with no proof whatsoever, that I “know where to find them”, and that I am “a regular habitue (sic) of their environs”. Thus you have stooped to ad-hominem attacks.

    You have been quick to offer me advice on many a score. But it is not advice I have solicited. This blog is not a workshop. I can only assume that you are starved of the occasion of being able to crit other people’s work online because you have been thrown out of every workshop you have been part of.

    My advice to you, Mr Know-All, is to wear your learning more lightly. Then people might take you seriously.

    • marcusbales said,

      August 15, 2011 at 12:47 am

      Duncan: “For your information, ‘academia’ isn’t restricted to paid work in an academic institution. It can be any scholarly activity.”

      Yeah yeah, Duncan, it ‘can be’ but it’s not in the context you were using it. You were once again mistaken, assuming that I must be a paid academic, and now you’re wriggling, trying once again to expand a category in order to include something for your convenience. You must curb that tendency, Duncan: if you expand every category to hold everything then there will be only one category: the category of everything, and you’ll be unable to make any distinctions, useful or otherwise, at all. Not that that will bother you, I’m sure — you’re so willing to make hasty generalizations now that I’m sure we won’t even notice the difference.

      Duncan: “… When I said “You give poetry a bad name”, you have willfully distorted what I meant by that.”

      Humorously, Duncan — even lightly. Don’t tell me that with all this hasty generalization you’re humorless, too!? Well, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise, frankly: zealots so seldom have senses of humor.

      Duncan: “You claim: “What you’re arguing here is that songwriting can be art, and that that makes it poetry.” That is your syllogism, not mine.”

      All right, what IS yours then?

      Duncan: “I have said the idea of a pure version is the invention of the New Criticism. I then said Dylan regarded the studio version as the more important one. And for some reason which only you can begin to account for, you equate ‘pure’ with ‘more important’.”

      Once again, Duncan, why cite Dylan in there at all if he’s not meant to support your contention? You MUST have meant to equate pure with important yourself or why mention Dylan’s opinion at all? If you did not mean to equate pure with important then to quote Dylan on that issue is a meaningless irrelevance. What did you expect, that everyone would fall weak-kneed to worship your opinion if you cited Dylan wrongly or meaninglessly, so long as it was Dylan you cited? Come on, Duncan! Either own your citation or admit that it was a mistake.

      Duncan: “You call me ignorant …”

      No, I don’t — I said “No name-calling intended” each time. By your own rules that means that you cannot take offense. But if you’re going to take offense, that means that your blanket “No name-calling intended” rule is NOT a sufficient defense in your mind, and you lied about not meaning to name-call, and then lied about that!

      Duncan: “You claim: “I have deliberately, and carefully, and civilly, criticized your views, your verse, and your logic’. You don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘civil’,…”

      Civil does not mean polite, Duncan. Civil means that we don’t call each other names, even though we disagree with one anothers’ opinions. You violated that, and then lied about it, and then lied about lying about it, because you’ve tried to take offense at my humorous pricking of your balloon of indignation about being accused of name-calling. I played by your rules and you didn’t like it. Well take a lesson, Duncan. The rules that forbid name-calling are better than the rules that encourage it by providing a ‘get-away-with-it’ phrase. Are you willing to play nice, now, or are you still claiming you didn’t name-call with “you poor sod”? You can’t have it both ways, Duncan: either you agree to play by the conventional rules of civil discourse, which forbid name-calling at all, or we play by your rules where we can call each other all the names in the book, so long as we also say “No name-calling intended”. Which is it to be, eh?

      Duncan: “Is it civil to dismiss the song lyrics I presented, “A Slice of Lemon” as ‘this jejune piece of poorly-written and ill-constructed crap’?”

      Yes.

      Duncan: “Is it civil to say: ‘I’ve written worse stuff myself — in the 7th grade’.”

      Yes.

      Duncan: “Is it civil to say about my sonnets: ‘I frankly thought I could, what the hell, throw in some mockery of them, too’…”

      Yes.

      Duncan: “… you have been malicious throughout.”

      No, Duncan, I’ve been brutally honest and forthrightly critical, and, unfortunately for you, right. You know your sonnets are way better than that crappy song, and you’re sort of embarrassed now that you used that song as an example of ‘poetry’ when you now realize that it would have been a good deal better strategically to go with something by Dylan or Cohen or whoever — anyone but you. You don’t have the chops. Maybe you just don’t have the chops YET. Maybe you’ll develop. But that song is crap and you know it. And it’s that you know it that is so annoying. I know, because I’ve been where you are: thinking something I wrote was way better than it turned out to be. But you did write those sonnets — and they’re not bad. I think you may develop. So stop arguing fruitlessly with me and write a song or poem. Channel this energy, channel this anger, make art from it. This is a waste of your time.

  30. Paul said,

    August 15, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    I lost my bunny.
    It’s not funny.

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 15, 2011 at 10:00 pm

      This is what poetry needs: more hecklers.

  31. August 16, 2011 at 1:42 am

    Take my wife…no I mean it. Take my wife.

  32. Wonder Boy said,

    August 16, 2011 at 2:00 am

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/171199

    Sing this. Do you think it’s as good as Dickie Epstien’s? (Laff)

    I know, maybe I should join a “poetry forum” where nobodies tell each other how to write real good.

    Read it and weep fella.

    Hi Tommy.

    I got canned too ya know? What about me????

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 16, 2011 at 5:24 pm

      Ah, Jack. The most fearsome poetry bully on the internet. A shark to all the minnows. But respectable since he was published in “Poetry.”

      Singing that “rag” would be like singing a crossword puzzle.

      But I do congratulate you on publishing in “Poetry.”

      The Poetry Foundation is not to be messed with.

      I defer to you, good sir.

      Have a look around Scarriet. Please don’t break anything.

      Take anything you want!

      Anything!

      Tom

  33. August 16, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Hey, Jack. This is your old bud Gary from the Clattery MacHinery and Harriet days.

    I read your poem, dude.

    You sure you want to put your name to it?

    Just sayin’.

    🙂

  34. August 16, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Just like old times, huh, Jack?

  35. Wonder Boy said,

    August 17, 2011 at 1:37 am

    Tom, love ya buddy.

    Gary, so glad you are doing what you’re doing.

    I love this place. I promise not to spill anything. Just cooling my jets.

  36. August 17, 2011 at 1:49 am

    I’ve missed you, Jack, but…and I have always wondered, what exactly AM I doing?

  37. Wonder Boy said,

    August 17, 2011 at 10:14 am

    You are doing good.

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 17, 2011 at 7:04 pm

      Jack and Gary B.—I’d like to sit down and interview you guys together…that would be great…I’m thinking something like Between Two Ferns…

  38. Wonder Boy said,

    August 18, 2011 at 1:34 am

    Between two urns is more likely…

  39. August 18, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    Jack:

    I just read your poem to my wife. She loved it. She said it was funny and smart and clever.

    Shit! She never said that about MY stuff.

  40. Wonder Boy said,

    August 19, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Gary,

    You always love the ones you hurt!

    Read her my poem “Dear Cupcake” and see what she says (LAFF)

    http://contemporaryworldliterature.com/blog/poetry/dear-cupcake-by-jack-conway/

  41. Wonder Boy said,

    August 19, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    I’d like to thank the academy…I’d like to thank Dickie Epstein for writing such bad archaic poetry that makes anything I write look good.

    I’d like to thank Quincy Lehr for not allowing me on his poetry forum so that I can wreack havoc on the place here instead.

    I would alos like to thank Quincy for being such a whinning, cry-baby about poetry. He just makes those of us who maintain that writing is a contact sport look better.

    I’d like to thank someone names Nevid for having a pea-size brain and half-a-brain talent.

    Oh yeah I almost forgot, I’d like to thank my agent for selling my two books : one for a major motion picture and the other to CBS for a series. And to think the third book in my trilogy hasn’t eevn come out.

    “Genius is pain!” John Lenon (I think).

    What do you think my chance of getting a real book publisher to publish my collection of poetry now?
    It’s tentaively called “Everything I Learned About Poetry I learned on Poetry Forums.” NOT!

  42. Wonder Boy said,

    August 19, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Whoops. I forgot. People who sue poetry forums put a great emphasis on spelling. They are spelling bees. But then what do they know. They neevr publish. Spelling? Spell this!!!!!

  43. Wonderboy said,

    August 20, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    Tom,

    Yeah, he rocks…if it was 1965 on Carnaby Street.

    You’d think his best friends would tell him that being a hipster is so out.

    http://lookatthisfuckinhipster.com/

    Yours,
    Mr. Hollywood

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 21, 2011 at 3:23 am

      Yea, I for one am glad Sinatra never grew a beard!

  44. Wonderboy said,

    August 21, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    “To do is to be.”
    –Aristotle

    “To be is to do.”
    –Socrates

    “Do-be-do-be-do.”
    –Sinatra

  45. August 21, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.” — Woody Allen

  46. Wonderboy said,

    August 28, 2011 at 2:58 am

    Rose are red
    Violets are …
    Wait…Did Alan Cordle marry his professor or what? Did Jen’s attempt at a poetry forum fail? What happened to Kathleen Halme’s poetry career? Is hris Woodman still apologizing for Cordle? Yes. yes. My questions are endless.

    • Nooch said,

      August 28, 2011 at 1:33 pm

      “Tune in next week,”
      (Although the wait burns)
      “For another episode of —
      As the Scarriet Turns….”

  47. Wonder Dog said,

    August 31, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Tommy, get the hell over here. Fo you still think I’m pretty?

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 1, 2011 at 12:38 pm

      not as pretty as me

  48. thomasbrady said,

    January 16, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    LOVE THIS! Leonard’s self-division, the song-within-a-song is great…

    Thanks, Duncan.

    Leonard Cohen, genius.

    not to get back into the poetry v. song lyric argument, but this guy makes it hard to separate the two…

    • David said,

      January 16, 2012 at 7:22 pm

      It is in Music, perhaps, that the soul most nearly attains the great end for which, when inspired by the Poetic Sentiment, it struggles — the creation of supernal Beauty. It may be, indeed, that here this sublime end is, now and then, attained in fact. We are often made to feel, with a shivering delight, that from an earthly harp are stricken notes which cannot have been unfamiliar to the angels. And thus there can be little doubt that in the union of Poetry with Music in its popular sense, we shall find the widest field for the Poetic development. The old Bards and Minnesingers had advantages which we do not possess — and Thomas Moore, singing his own songs, was, in the most legitimate manner, perfecting them as poems.

      ~ Edgar Allan Poe, “The Poetic Principle”


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