Image result for rolling stones two thousand light years from home

These two acts, Leonard Cohen and the Stones, facing off in a Round One contest in the Song bracket, represent that era in popular Western music when singers with poor singing voices became immensely successful because of catchy melodies and beats, but also because of good poetry.

This is where poetry went—into music—when it was killed off by the Writing Programs in the mid-century, disappearing on the “any scribble can be poetry” prose-train of William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound and Robert Lowell-teaching-and-drinking-at-Iowa. Poetry, ever resourceful, escaped into popular music and flourished on the lips of Frank Sinatra, Syd Barrett, Arthur Lee, Donovan Leitch and Marc Bolan.

Leonard Cohen, a small, tone deaf man with a two note singing range, became one of the greatest and respected pop singers of all time. He was a poet above all else.

As with Bob Dylan, female singers with lovely voices, like Judy Collins and Joan Baez, swooped in to create sweetness out of Cohen’s songs and words. Poetry transcends musical sweetness, however, for poetry is the music itself. Shhh. Don’t tell this to the modern “poets.”

Bob Dylan was a gigantic influence in the mid-60s—that wonderful window of intellectual and poetic ferment, extolled today by Camille Paglia, pitiful dinosaur! But it’s true, the 60’s was an amazing time for poetry, such that Dionysian, phenomenally successful, rhythm and blues acts like the Beatles and Stones chucked their blues for invention, jumping on the cool bandwagon of Dylan’s poetry.

Ironically, Dylan wasn’t really that great as a poet—far more facile than great, but definitely good—but he absorbed folk and protest poetry in a highly authentic and skilled manner, and pushed it into the rock mainstream in a manic, overdone, hyperbolic, LSD, sort of way in 1965, just when the zeitgeist was waiting for this to happen, apparently, and poetry sprung up everywhere in the music business, as amateur poets, often better than Dylan himself, began to infuse poetry unapologetically into the immediacy of their extremely popular music, which already had a boomer audience of millions hanging on their every word.

So this battle represents that: one of the lyrics is from the 1967 Rolling Stones, when these English white boys, exploiting “black” music, returned to their own “roots” of “white” English “poetry.”

“Two Thousand Light Years From Home” by the Rolling Stones  is the first great “lonely outer space” symphonic rock song, which no doubt influenced what is arguably the best songs ever produced by David Bowie and Elton John—“Space Oddity” and “Rocket Man.”

“Bound for a star by an ocean” is beautiful poetry—by the Rolling Stones! Sure, why not. Their large audience at that time, not yet fully crushed by corporate, dumbed down, entertainment, wanted and expected poetry. It was the 60’s, remember. Poetry’s revenge.

Leonard Cohen’s entry is from a later composition, “Anthem,” (from the 90s, from Leonard Cohen as a wise old man—Cohen established himself in the 60s as a romantic Dylan and Donovan type singer-songwriter).

Bells are cracked, and everything is broken, and that’s how the light gets in.

Cohen’s lyric is too clever, too precious, too abstractly sentimental in its—yes—scientific profundity—breakage is the key to progress and spirituality—Cohen would absolutely win if scientific wisdom were the sole criterion.

But “you’re two hundred light years from home” is more fully poetic, as true poets will understand.

The Rolling Stones advance.




KELLYANNE (First woman to run a winning presidential campaign)


Kellyanne takes you down to a rally by the river.

You can hear the votes go by, you can spend the night forever

And you know that Trump’s half-crazy but that’s why you want to be there

And he feeds the crowd the truth about trade deals with China

And when you tell Hillary you have no vote to give her

The echo chamber media gets you on its wavelength

And lets sexism answer you’ve always been her lover.


And you want to travel with her and not seem too unkind

And you know that she will trust you

For you’ve touched her perfect electorate with your mind


And Trump was not a lawyer when he walked upon the water,

Planning from a lonely office of Trump tower

And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him

He said Americans will be builders, as trade deals will free them

And Hillary was broken long before Wikileaks would open

And the truth about the Saudis sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.


And you want to travel with them

And you know that they will trust you

For you’ve touched the New World Order with your mind.


Now Kellyanne takes your vote as she leads you to the rally.

She’s wearing scarves and feathers from Saks Fifth Avenue counters

And the votes pour down like honey on the candidate, the builder

And she shows you where to look away from CBS towers

There are heroes who are builders, there are children in the morning.

They are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever

While Hillary holds the mirror


And you want to travel with her and not seem too unkind

And you know that she will trust you

For you’ve left the perfect protest in your mind




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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