Poem, verse, lyric, rhyme, ode, jingle, ditty or doggerel

When the word you are seeking, pursuing or hunting
Is hiding, secreted away.
There’s a book to exploit,
Apply, use, allot
To help you mean what you say.

It’ll show you some variants, changes or surrogate
Phrases and words that might fit.
But understudy, no,
That wouldn’t go.
I’ll have to read on just a bit.

If it feels like cheating, wheeling and dealing,
Chicanery, fiddle or trick
You’re probably honourable,
Artless or responsible,.
Or maybe a little bit thick.

But when the right word, the only McCoy
Springs from the page, more a leap.
You feel such relief,
It’s beyond belief,
But keep quiet, not a peep.

When the word you are seeking, finding, unearthing
Is faultless, exact and so true.
Then hide your Thesaurus
And join in my chorus
And say that you thought it all through.

As you can see above, I’m not at my best when writing poetry. I should stick with prose. However, I enjoy poetry, or rather, I enjoy some poetry, particularly fairly recent poetry, from around 1960 onwards. That’s when I was beginning to read more poetry, not to mention listening to it.

At college I was ‘in’ with a number of Bob Dylan fans, most of us being committed to his lyrics, if not his musical style. Nowadays, I suppose they would be called Dylanies, or maybe Bobbies. Whenever he came out with another record, we’d concentrate on the lyrics, probably because the music he set his poetry/lyrics to wasn’t what you might call inspired. Not even his most manic fans would suggest otherwise. And his instrument playing could be better. For us, it was the words, and only the words. For once, we had poetry that spoke to us and was about us.

Schools pumped the Romantics at us and poems about itinerants from sandy places chatting about what they’d seen had little relevance to someone born in the Elephant and Castle. If that wasn’t bad enough, we were obliged to shovel the glimpse into the ditch of what each one means. (Taken from Gates of Eden.)

We didn’t dissect It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue; we didn’t need to; we understood as much as we needed to. Like a Rolling Stone we took as a bit of a warning, and Blowin’ in the Wind was something of an anthem for my generation. So many anthems.

The lyrics were poetry. Poetry set to music of course, but they were readable, had messages, opened our eyes to other ideas – you know, what poetry does. The Romantics didn’t stand a chance. It was pleasant listening to some bloke captivated by gorgeous eyes, and failing to learn his lessons, but we wanted the big themes: drugs, suffering violence and revolution, and we didn’t get that from Thomas Moore.

There seems to be a distain for lyricists, despite the serious nature of some of the subjects. Take Dancing at Whitsun by Austin Marshall, still a modern poet despite predating Dylan by four or five years. It’s heart-rending. An anti-war poem, about the fallout from warfare, which was still fresh in the minds of many when it was first published in 1969. It’s set to a pleasant tune, there are no bangs, no one dropped dead from injuries, just the aftermath as seen though the eyes of a woman walking to her village to dance at Whitsun, made all the more poignant by the fact that pre World War One, certain dances would have been the preserve of men. It’s about loss and change brought on by the outcome of war. The hedges grow free with no young men to tend them. If you are moved by moonbeams hitting the sea, you’ll be distraught if you read the lyrics of Dancing at Whitsun.

When at college, there was a girl who was loosely attached to our group, colloquially described as part-time girlfriend of one of the blokes. She went away, came back, she went away . . . and one time did not come back. She just drifted off. Her parents came to see the ad hoc boyfriend and his friends and they asked us, as a group, if we’d seen her. “We just want to know if she’s alright,” they asked, maybe a dozen times.

The first time I heard Lucinda Williams’ Are You Alright? it hit home. The title makes up alternate lines in the verses, just like the time the mother pleaded with us. It’s a pounding rhythm. I almost choked up, despite the years between.

Rock has something to say as well. REM’s Everybody Hurts is one of the few about depression; aimed at youngsters. It treats them seriously. Ralph McTell, not rock of course, takes the alternative view with Streets of London, pointing out there are a lot more worse off than you. I’m not sure that would help those with depression, but you never know. Sting’s Don’t Stand So Close to Me is about the male teacher/female pupil relationship, this time from the former’s point of view, the ‘other side’ so to speak. A relationship develops and is found out. Sting, who has since denied it is autobiographical, but I could have told you he would. Sting tends to change the common view. His I’ll Be Watching You is a poem from the point of view of a stalker. It’s horrific. It was meant to be. I’m not one to ban a song or lyric, but this pushes my belief.

If you don’t think you can be moved by words, read Suzanne Vega’s semi-autobiographical Luka. It’s about the abuse she suffered as a child. The words are particularly memorable, especially ‘They only hit until you cry and after that, you don’t ask why.’ If it doesn’t get to you, you are probably dead, if only emotionally. The follow-up, Song of the Stoic, shows the damage caused by child abuse is not only physical. The emotional side can follow you into middle age. She opens her heart to us.

It’s painful. It does what poetry does. It is poetry.

The sole difference between poetry ands lyrics is the latter’s set to music, and in the case of Dylan, only just. Remove the soundtrack, and the poetry shines. It’s patronising to suggest lyrics can’t move like poetry. They do. All that is required is to listen. Shelly, if he was writing poetry nowadays, would be submitting his creations to pop singers. After all, he’d need the money for drugs. Very modern.

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