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Poem versus Song - per Leonard Cohen
Posted by: Marian-NYC (---.nyc1.dsl.speakeasy.net)
Date: December 13, 2004 04:49PM

Several times in the past this forum has hosted a lively discussion about "whether song lyrics are poems" or what the difference is.

At the risk of starting it up again, here is an excerpt from a 1988 interview with LEONARD COHEN, creator of many poems and many songs. Speaking for himself, about his own work, he makes a very clear distinction.

CAPS are added by me.

============

Interviewer:

What is the difference between a poem and a song?

Leonard Cohen:

The similarities are obvious but the differences are interesting. For one thing, a poem is more DENSE, and it operates in a different LANDSCAPE OF TIME. You can stop at any time and review the line you've just read and go back to the beginning [of the poem] and start over. it can invite you into a kind of STUDY of the material in a way that's inappropriate to songs.

A song should move quickly from heart to heart. It should have a SPACE around the words so tey can be apprehended without any effort. It should have regular rhythm, rather than a more experimental form of rhythm. It's in the nature of song -- popular song -- that you can tap your foot to it.

So the TIME is very different and the SPACE around the words is very very different.

And most important of all, there's no obligation for the lyric to stand on a page for study; it IS an integral part of the music and -- there are exceptions, but even if you read the great madrigals, you know, it's hard to read two or three lines of "la la la la." Well, there's that element in a song, there is the "la la la" built into the song, even when the language is
elusive.


Re: Poem versus Song - per Leonard Cohen
Posted by: lg (---.ca.charter.com)
Date: December 13, 2004 05:08PM

Marilyn, this of course is my passion, lyrics AND poetry. Cohen makes an interesting point in that most songwriters could become poets if they had the inclination, I think. Take this song by Paul Simon. Without the "lie la lie", it IS good poetry.

The Boxer
---Paul Simon

I am just a poor boy, though my story's seldom told.
I have squandered my resistance,
For a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises.
All lies and jest.
Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

When I left my home and my family I was no more than a boy,
In the company of strangers,
In the quiet of a railway station, runnin' scared.
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters,
Where the ragged people go.
Lookin' for the places, only they would know.

Lie-la-lie ...

Asking only workman's wages I come lookin' for a job,
But I get no offers,
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue.
I do declare there were times when I was so lonesome,
I took some comfort there.
Oooh la, la, la ...

And the years are rollin' by me.
They are rockin' evenly.
I am older than I once was, and younger than I'll be.
That's not unusual.
It isn't strange,
After changes upon changes, we are more or less the same.
After changes, we are more or less the same.

Lie-la-lie ...

Then I'm laying out my winter clothes and wishing I was gone,
Going home, where the New York City winters aren't bleedin' me.
Leadin' me, to goin' home.

In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade,
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down,
Or cut him 'til he cried out in his anger and his shame,
"I am leaving, I am leaving."
But the fighter still remains.

Lie-la-lie ...


Les



Post Edited (12-13-04 16:09)


Re: Poem versus Song - per Leonard Cohen
Posted by: Marian-NYC (---.nyc1.dsl.speakeasy.net)
Date: December 13, 2004 05:26PM

Well, regarding "The Boxer" -- if I may be so bold as to take the Leonard Cohen part -- even without the "Lie-la-lie" refrains, there are a lot of phrases in the lyric that are there for foot-tapping rhythm, to make each verse scan to the same music.

JUST SUPPOSE that someone told you there was a great Jack Kerouac poem called "The Boxer," written in blank verse, and Paul Simon took that poem and fleshed it out a bit to make it into a song lyric. If the liner notes said that, I'd believe it. Because WITHIN the popular song lyric there IS a poem -- a "dense" presentation of images that "invites you to study."


Re: Poem versus Song - per Leonard Cohen
Posted by: joseph r. torelli (---.dyn.optonline.net)
Date: December 13, 2004 05:41PM

Marian:

While all song lyrics are not poetic, many are. Les provided a good example, and there are many other contemporary poet/lyricists who can be cited, I'm sure.

From a historical perspective, many of the most treasured hymns, especially the Protestant hymns of the 17th and 18th centuries, were written as poems with no thought of setting the words to music. In some cases, centuries passed before music was written to accompany the words. I often sit in church on a Sunday and "read" the hymns. Their beauty and ability to inspire is heightened, I think, when they are not compromised or forced to the background by melody.


Re: Poem versus Song - per Leonard Cohen
Posted by: vic jefferies (---.tech2u.com.au)
Date: December 13, 2004 07:42PM

It seems very obvous to me that one cannot speak of "songs" collectively anymore than one can speak of poems as all being the same in structure or form.
Many songs do not have words but rely on the human voice producing musical sounds.
Many poems are not lyrical or musical but rely on their message or content.
Many songs are poems set to music and many are not.
The original troubadours were poets and conveyed the spoken word. Later they became musicians and singers, setting their ballads and poems to music.
For a poem to become a succesful song it needs to be written with cadence and metre (not necessarily rhyme) so that the sounds of its words are able to fit together with the tempo, chords and notes of the music. This is not possible with all poems.
So while there is an obvious similarity in the two art forms there are also as many differences.


Re: Poem versus Song - per Leonard Cohen
Posted by: joseph r. torelli (---.dyn.optonline.net)
Date: December 13, 2004 08:44PM

A good example of a poem being set to music is Longfellow's "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day," which I cited in an earlier thread about Christmas.

JoeT


Re: Poem versus Song - per Leonard Cohen
Posted by: lg (---.ca.charter.com)
Date: December 13, 2004 10:57PM

I certainly agree with Vic's observation that we should not lump all songwriters or poets together. Still I do believe the twain do meet. Take this song for instance. I do not believe that anyone would argue that the songwriter is not a poet:

Auld Lang Syne
by Robert Burns

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

For auld land syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint stowp!
And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.


For auld land syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd mony a weary fit
Sin' auld lang syne.


For auld land syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us briad hae roar'd
Sin' auld lang syne.


For auld land syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And there's a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak' a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

For auld land syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.


Les



Post Edited (12-14-04 00:15)


Re: Poem versus Song - per Leonard Cohen
Posted by: Marian-NYC (---.nyc1.dsl.speakeasy.net)
Date: December 14, 2004 01:27PM

Yeah, well, I knew I couldn't post the Cohen quotation without the whole discussion coming up again ("Not that there's anything wrong with that!").

Still, to bring it back around:

Leonard Cohen points out that -- as he sees it -- poems invite a kind of study that involves going back over the lines and thinking beyond them, while songs are meant to sink in as you absorb the rhythm and the "la la la" along with the lyrics.

Yes, you can write something that qualifies as both. That just doesn't happen very often. And it doesn't have to: you can write kick-ass lyrics that don't stand up to analysis as poetry, and you can write wonderful poetry that isn't singable.


Re: Poem versus Song - per Leonard Cohen
Posted by: lg (---.ca.charter.com)
Date: December 14, 2004 04:28PM

you can write wonderful poetry that isn't singable.

Amen to that!


Les


Re: Poem versus Song - per Leonard Cohen
Posted by: joseph r. torelli (---.dyn.optonline.net)
Date: December 15, 2004 09:48AM

With my voice, no poetry is singable.

JoeT


Re: Poem versus Song - per Leonard Cohen
Posted by: GuitarDave (---.229.128.135.cmts.haz.ptd.net)
Date: January 25, 2005 08:08AM

According to my mentor, a musician, songwriter and poet, Robin Williamson.
"A poem needs to read well, while a song needs to sing well."
That being said, my own lyrics are written to be as poetic as possible. I count syllables to keep the meter consistent. I try to rhyme because I like the flow of rhymed words. However, I try to say exactly what I want to say within the framework I impose upon myself. I believe that writing within this framework allows me to say things more eloquently than I would have otherwise. Not only that but it has also caused me to say things I didn't know I wanted to say. An example of one of my songs follows.

Footprints On The Moon

I remember riding with you,
I remember how you smiled.
When I pointed out the moon,
We thought of romance.

It was our first night together,
It was love at first sight.
It may have been too soon,
To take such a chance.

I never wanted to lose it,
But it ended all too soon.
There's no romance anymore,
And there's footprints on the moon.

You know the moon had special meaning,
It belonged to you and me.
Every time it's full,
I think about love.

Holding hands in the moonlight,
Embracing in the night.
Underneath that glow,
Shining down from above.

I never wanted to lose it,
But it ended all too soon.
There's no romance anymore,
And there's footprints on the moon.

Loving you was easy,
Pleasing you was not.
No matter what I did,
It was never enough.

But I stayed here with you,
Loyal to the end.
I tried to make it work,
When the going got tough.

I never wanted to lose it,
But it ended all too soon.
There's no romance anymore,
And there's footprints on the moon.

Now I still think about you,
Every time the moon is full.
Even though I know,
You're with another man.

I can't change my feelings,
But still, I really try.
Though it's hard to cope,
I'm doing the best that I can.

I never wanted to lose it,
But it ended all too soon.
There's no romance anymore,
And there's footprints on the moon.

There's no romance anymore,
And there's footprints on the moon.

David Sterenchock (C) Copyright 1997


Re: Poem versus Song - per Leonard Cohen
Posted by: drpeternsz (---.client.comcast.net)
Date: January 25, 2005 10:18AM

"Where Do I Go To Surrender?" I was wondering where I might go to find a copy of this CD. I am just listening to the thread under hand right now, wishing to hear other voices than my own on the subject.


Peter



Post Edited (01-25-05 09:22)




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