The Argotist Online
Louise Rowlands is a poet, songwriter and a painter. She plays the guitar, the
bodhran and sings. She has been involved with folk gigs and festivals in New
Zealand and the UK since the late 1990s. She now lives in Austria where she is
collaborating in a musical project with The Urban Nomad Mixers—a collective of
European performance artists. She is currently working on her first CD (Behind
the Blue Door) to be released by Trivial Music in 2007. She has also written
songs for the Viennese DJ, Alexander (‘The base Angel’) Idel. For the most
part, however, she works alone
focusing on textual composition.
Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?
Only in terms of metre. Poetry can have superior abstract elements, whereas
lyrics tend to be more direct because they traditionally address a more communal
(and in some cases less introspective) audience. Poetry can be a space for deep
reflection, as well as being linguistically experimental. I think many lyrics
are poems, but few poems can be said to be songs—although they can be musical.
Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?
Only in that I think rhyme serves as an aid to writing a song. It can push you
to find the right word to complete the rhyme scheme. It also helps the listener
remember the lyrics. But for me, full rhymes are not all that important, I
prefer half rhymes because they are more subtle and less like nursery rhymes.
Old songs and folk songs depended on rhyme because their archetypal content
reflected the communality of their audiences. People shared these songs in a
communal sense. In our more socially fragmented society, songs largely, have
become more personal and complex in their concerns. Because of this, I think
rhyme is slowly becoming less and less important.
Do you think song lyrics must conform to recognised song structures such as
clear rhyming schemes, choruses, refrains, hooks and bridges or that songs can
also be like free verse?
Personally I think that experimentation is valuable and opens up avenues where
all mediums can express themselves and explore each other, but most songs do
tend to display distinct formal qualities (such as rhyme, verses, bridges,
refrains etc), which can place limitations on a songwriter’s spontaneity. Incidentally, Jazz which also has certain formal qualities
probably has more in common with free verse than is perhaps evident in much
When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to
the music you enjoyed?
Absolutely not. Poetry was reading. It was as though I were watching a film. I
could take my time, I could hover over any phrase or word or line and ponder it.
I could put it down and go and research something that was relevant to the text
I was reading and then go back and pick up the verse again and continue. I could
be reading poetry lying in my bedroom, sitting on a bench in a meadow. It was a
relationship between the poet and me, mediated by the “ poetic muse”.
Incidentally, with regard to walkmans, when one’s hearing is cut off
from the surroundings, it is as though you are caught up in a solitary
world where nothing else can be brought in. Hearing normal sounds such as a fire
burning, birds, the wind, a river, the traffic, children playing, people walking
past; gives one a sense of reality so that reading a poem does not isolate you
and force you into it’s frame of mind, so to speak. Foe me, poetry didn’t
connect with music because I felt that I was part of poetry. With music I feel
possessed by some aspect of its power.
Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your songwriting?
I cannot say that from reading poetry books anything influenced me in terms of
wanting to write songs. I wanted to write poetry for music, and how I wrote and
constructed verse was part of songwriting for me. I was writing poetry before I
wrote songs and it was the way I wrote poetry that influenced how I wrote songs.
But reading poetry itself did not influence my songwriting. Playing guitar
influences how I write songs more. It is actually quite frustrating to try to
balance the two. I think Roy harper does it amazingly. However, it could be said
that if you read my poetry and read my lyrics, you would probably find that they
were similar. I feel I lose a lot of what I want to say when I am writing songs.
Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?
Poetry tends to require some effort to engage with it, as opposed to songs,
which can be more passively received by the listener. Also poetry is viewed by most people as being obscure, and
this can intimidate them to some extent. I think many people feel that they
should be educated in order to engage with poetry. The literary establishment
creates this impression to some extent.
school and university, you are taught to deconstruct poetry; to delve into the
meaning, the genre, the culture, the history, the sociological ramifications
etc. Because of this, poetry is seen as being hard work. Music, on the other
hand, is just music. Everyone listens to it. Everyone buys it. You don't have to
be educated to listen to it. It reaches people on all levels and is not
intimidating. I have met people who are ashamed that they don't read poetry and
who are embarrassed because they don't understand it.
They see poetry as elitist and because of this they feel belittled. Most
people can enjoy (and more easily find meaning) in abstract language when it is
in the form of a song they are listening to. Everyone sings to themselves.
Everyone can make up lyrics. Unfortunately, most people are terrified to delve
into the world of poetry. I am saddened that in order to reach the poetry I
wanted, I had to turn to music. Yet, this is still not enough. I cannot express
what I really wish to. That is about readership, not about expression and
poetry. Now, I need my guitar to write poetry, and so it becomes a song and then
a band and then so on and so forth!
© Bariane Louise Rowlands