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  Adam Fieled  


Adam Fieled is a poet, critic, and musician currently based in Philadelphia. He has released three print books: Opera Bufa (Otoliths, 2007), When You Bit... (Otoliths, 2008), and Chimes (Blazevox, 2009), as well as numerous e-books, chaps, and e-chaps. His work has appeared in journals like Tears in the Fence, Great Works, Upstairs at Duroc, Cake Train, and in the &Now Anthology from Lake Forest College Press. A magna cum laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he also holds an MFA from New England College and an MA from Temple University, where he is finishing his PhD.  




Q: Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?


A: No. When I’m writing a song, I don’t write with the intention of producing something that will scan on a page (or a screen) as a poem. For me, the combination of (usually succinct) words, chord changes, vocal inflections and melody creates the work of art. The lyrics are one essential component among several.


Q: Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?


A: Not always. Lou Reed was (and still is) a great one for making non-rhymes and near-rhymes work. ‘Sister Ray’ and ‘The Murder Mystery’, both tunes from his Velvets days, are obvious examples. Or Kurt Cobain, who wrote the chorus ‘Doll steak/ test meat’ for ‘Milk It’ from In Utero. I think the most important thing for a song to do is to create and sustain a pungent mood. How you get there is immaterial. There are lots of ways.

Q: Do you think song lyrics must conform to recognized song structures such as clear rhyming schemes, choruses, refrains, hooks and bridges or that songs can also be like free verse?


A: I really like songwriters who use the “free-verse” approach. Many of the lyrics from Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks album are like that — he rambles, free-associates, repeats things, stumbles at times, but the quality of voice, its natural intensity and pathos, see him through. Content-wise, lots of Van’s lyrics are, on that album at least, open-ended. Syd Barrett tends to leave things open-ended too, especially on his solo albums. Here, we have zaniness rather than pathos, the bizarre rather than the intense. I don’t think Syd ever wrote a straightforward song structure in his life, except maybe ‘See Emily Play’. More recently, Beck Hansen has worked a lot in lyrical “free-verse”. So does Cat Power. It’s all about exploration and spontaneity, which is really what separates rock from previous forms of popular music. Jazz is something else.


Q: When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to the music you enjoyed?


A: Leonard Cohen was the essential bridge for me. My senior year in high school (1994), Leonard put out his Stranger Music anthology. At that point, I was reading rock books avidly. I happened on this anthology somewhere, and the brutal sensuality of his early poetry knocked me for a loop. I memorized, and still have committed to memory, many of those early, Spice Box of Earth-era poems. Eventually I began to appreciate his music, and I realized that one could be both things — a poet and a singer, a writer and a musician, etc. I saw that poetry and song are vitally connected.


Q: Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your songwriting?


A: I began to trace lineages; I saw how Jim Morrison learned from Rimbaud, how Dylan learned from Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, how Mick Jagger might have gleaned something from Baudelaire. This led me to the realization that boundaries between art-forms are essentially a myth, a ‘mind-forged manacle’, as Blake would say. You can pull a Robert Smith and write a great song about a Camus book (‘Killing an Arab’), or simply re-apply a set of moral concerns, as Springsteen has done with John Steinbeck. Things needn’t be compartmentalized; poetry and music and novels and movies can all fit together like puzzle pieces, to be reassembled ad nauseam. 

Q: Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?


A: I think we live in an era in which people need to be viscerally stimulated. We’re surrounded with noisiness, clutter, disorder; we need our own louder noise to fight these forces back. A great rock song offers satisfaction on many different levels; it can satisfy viscerally, intellectually, emotionally and psychologically at once. Poetry is less visceral; it is more bound to temporality, i.e. you have to take the time to delve into it. The pearl is there, but it’s harder to reach. Songs are more overt, and the great ones have great subtlety, too. You can be slugged in the gut and caressed at once. 


copyright © Adam Fieled