Poetry and song lyrics

Today, the Nobel Prize of Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan, “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition“.  

In 2011, the Prince of Asturias Award for Letters was confer to the Canadian poet and novelist Leonard Cohen for a “body of literary work that has influenced three generations of people worldwide through his creation of emotional imagery in which poetry and music are fused in an oeuvre of immutable merit.” (You can check it out the full statement in this link: http://www.fpa.es/en/princess-of-asturias-awards/laureates/2011-leonard-cohen.html?texto=acta&especifica=0 )

This two important awards recognize the value of the lyrics in the music, and their influence as a way of poetry, but… which are the relation between poetry and song lyrics?

The poetry, with a little help of music, can become in a hit? First of all, there are poetry which is longer and cannot fit to the rule not written, that a song have an average running-length between 3-5 minutes. Also, in the case of the structure, is not common that the poetry have chorus, which in the song lyrics are essential to have a hook or a sound catchy. That’s why the projects which use poetry as inspiration and necessarily have to transform the poems to fit to this characteristics of the music, as for example “Holger”, the recent project of Victoria Cecilia, vocalist of Gliss. 

In the other hand, the lyrics can be read as poetry? The poetry obey to some rules or mannerisms, as the metric, the rhythm, and so on. But, the “lyrics take place in the context of a lot of deliberate musical information: melody, rhythm, instrumentation, the quality of the singer’s voice, other qualities of the recording, etc. Without all that musical information, lyrics usually do not function as well, precisely because they were intentionally designed that way”. (According to the article “The difference between poetry and song lyrics”. You can check it out the full article in this link: https://bostonreview.net/forum/poetry-brink/difference-between-poetry-and-song-lyrics )

Notwithstanding, there are books with lyrics of the great musicians/groups (as in the case of The Beatles or Bob Dylan), but they don’t seems been accepted as poetry, seems more books focused to their fans. 

Finally, there are a closer relation between both: the poetry (which is part of the literature) and the lyrics (which are part of the music) are inspiring between both. 

In the book “Corn Flakes with John Lennon: and other tales from a Rock ‘n’ Roll Life” the music critic, Robert Hilburn talks about one interview that he had with Bob Dylan, and about his creative process:

“He said [Bob Dylan] he put songs together using everything from Beat poetry to daily newspapers. After the Elliott experience, Bob said he pursued songwriting relentlessly in New York, reading a lot of poetry, going back and rereading Edgar Allan Poe, and diving headlong into John Donne and John Keats and Lord Byron. Bob once told me that he wrote songs so fast in the 1960s that he didn’t want to go to sleep at night because he was afraid he might miss one. As he talked now about poets, I could picture him soaking up influences so rapidly during those early years in New York that it would be hard to turn off the light at night, too. Why not read more?”. 

The conclusion of Hilburn is interesting: “Bob expanded the vocabulary of rock by drawing from the world of poets and novelists and journalists. He extended the themes of rock ’n’ roll in the same way, beyond the parameters of teenage fun and rebellion. His music was also about adult issues, from social observation to personal relationships”. Today the Sweden Academy recognize this closer relation between poetry and music. The only doubt is… Bob Dylan will write a discourse or a song when he go to receive the prize?

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