Thursday, April 21, 2011

The lay of the Zoomba

Art is art because it's an expressive mission in constant flux, which means that the definitions are of what a lyric or a poem happen to be are slippery suckers indeed. Fact is, though ,is that Poe was a mediocre poet , an arch romantic rhymester given to obsessive surface effects because, I believe, he realized the vacuity of his content. One never responds emotionally to Poe's cadences; rather we appreciate them for their scansion, which is a distinction as banal as his best rhyming work. For all the talk of poems and lyrics being arbitrary distinctions at best, one needs to admit that the aesthetic of poetry has changed dramatically since the days of yore; reciting rhymed verse is more likely to seem affected and goonishly cute than stirring; there is always the genius who will rhyme brilliantly and with emotional power , but said poets are rare things. The upshot is that rhymes sound stilted, mannered, over thought to the contemporary ear. Recited sans music, one is greeted with the feeling of a peg legged man pacing a creaky wood floor. As awful as so much free poetry can be, the poets do not, by default, sound ridiculous reading their work. Theirs is a different kind of banality altogether, starting with the waste of their parent's money to send them to a writing program.


All the same, the criteria of what makes for credible poems has evolved along with the style in which poems have written; although one may take from the past and revolutionize it to some degree, it's a new set of idioms that make up the current sensibility. Dylan and others may also be the inheritors of what Poe, Crane and still others have done, but they do so in the practice in another art, related to but distinct from poetry, which is songwriting. Dylan is a songwriter, not a poet. Some would point out that Dylan did produce a book of poetry, "Tarantula", a surreal stretch of William Burroughs insomnia that suggested, yes, but had little in the way of poetic achievement, He was merely typing madly, as Capote said of Kerouac. Leonard Cohen, of course, is the logical example of someone who can both be a published poet, novelist and songwriter and achieve remarkable success in each of those forms. One does need to remind the earnest that Cohen the songwriter was not working as Cohen the poet who, in turn, was not operating under the mistaken diversion of writing a novel while thinking he was in a rehearsal for Sid Caesar  beatnik sketch, 




The lyrics to Leonard Cohen's song "Sisters of Mercy", written as lyrics , remain lyrics. In that case, Mr.Cohen is a lyricist, a songwriter. As the author of the haunting poetry sequence "Flowers for Hitler", he is a poet. He is a poet and a songwriter, and we appreciate what he does in either in both fields by related, but finely distinct standards. Poetry, written for the page, in a tone closer to vernacular speech, has greater range and may make use of more literary devices and is, as a result, capable of greater depth of feeling , allusion, association. Given the skill of the page poet, the poems have a life , a musicality when they are read aloud. Song lyrics, no matter how "poetic" they sound (or indeed, how actually brilliant they may be) , are confined to the contours of the melody they accompany. Cohen songs, Costello Songs, Dylan Songs, Mitchell songs, Hendrix songs sound stiff, silly and vaguely pretentious when read aloud, as speech, sans melody. Ours is not an age of great rhymed poetry.

1 comment:

  1. Harry von Tollenbooth7:21 AM PDT

    Then perhaps it is TIME to make it an age of great rhymed poetry! We need a new Edwin Arlington Robinson.

    Nice new look to the blog, by the way. Post-apocalyptic antiquarian.

    ReplyDelete

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