The Argotist Online
a poet, musician and visual artist. The author of Brambu Drezi,
Species of Abandoned Light, Drafts of the Sorcery, and numerous other
books. He has been an active member of the global arts and literary community
for more than 25 years. His poems, fiction, essays, reviews and other writings
have been published widely in both print and electronic mediums. In 2010,
Lavender Ink released a collaborative book, Cyclones In High Northern
Latitudes, with poet Jeffrey Side and drawings by Rich Curtis; and Outside
Voices: An Email Correspondence (with Jeffrey Side) was released by
Otoliths also in that year.
Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?
Yes and I think of my poetry as songs. Itís a matter of degree, a continuum.
Some poems rhyme that I never write music for in a conventional sense. Some
lyrics donít rhyme in conventional song forms. But I hear all poems as sound
first, so itís all music. The music, like the words, is different depending on
what the experience seems to suggest.
Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?
No. In some songs rhyme helps to move the song, to emphasize the beat or a
melodic phrase. On the other hand the intentional use of assonance, suggested
rhyme, blank verse and slant rhyme can also be very effective in a song. Each
song or poem seems to have its own demands.
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?
Not at all. There are no rules, only traditions and styles. Songs could be free
verse just as easily as rhyme and be a better song for it.
When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any
connection to the music you enjoyed?
Occasionally the imagery in a poem would connect with the music I was listening
to at the time. By the time I was in high school Ė 1973 Ė the connection
between song lyrics and poetry had become a popular notion. Many of the popular
songwriters of the time were respected as poets. Some had even published books
of poetry before theyíd ever made a record. Leonard Cohen for instance. Edgar
Allan Poe was my first fascination with poetry, when I was 9 or so. His poetry
is very musical. I recognized that there was poetry that was written for the
page, but that didnít make much of an impression because some of it was quite
musical as well. The page is a wonderful medium for poetry because it allows the
poet to emphasize the visual as well as the musical.
Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your
Absolutely. Almost all the poetry I read in books that I liked influenced
anything I wrote, whether it was something set to a chord progression or
something I heard only in my head or as a solo vocal.
Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?
There are many reasons for this. To a large extent the audience for popular
music is more interested in the music than the words. They donít care what the
song is about as long as the music has a beat they enjoy, or a pretty melody or
whatever. Another problem is that the only place many people get exposed to
poetry is in school where it is part of a mandated curriculum. This alters the
frame of reference so drastically from the origin of the poetry that even poets
have trouble enjoying it. A good teacher might point out from the start that
they are already enjoying poetry if they enjoy vocal music. Admittedly, the
poetry one is likely to hear in many popular songs isnít going to be very
substantial, but it does serve to acquaint people with the musicality of words.
If the teacher can make that connection there is a chance the students will
begin to find poetry more interesting. Ultimately the problem may lie in the
continued insistence by the academy and the marketers of popular music that
poetry and songs are two different things. There are some poems that are
designed for the page alone and some songs that donít read well on the page.
However, there remains some degree of musicality in any poem that can be
vocalized, if only letter by letter, and some degree of poetry in even the
simplest lyric. A letter is after all, a symbol for a sound and a simple lyric
may have great meaning depending on the circumstances of the person who wrote it
or the one hearing it.
Poetry, especially in the 20th century, became a victim of specialization. That was the trend Ė the notion that in order for someone to be good in a discipline one needed to devote all his or her time to a specific aspect of it. This makes sense in the sciences because the more we know the broader the area of study becomes and there is simply not enough time to know everything about all the sciences. Following the lead of the sciences the whole of Western culture became specialized. This was not necessary. I think we are beginning to recover from that misstep. And the sciences are discovering that it is beneficial if all the sciences collaborate to create a more complete picture of what we know and donít know. Specialization was essential as a way of moving away from the ancient centralizations like monarchy, a single dominant religion and so forth. And specialization should continue, but in conversation. The arts can lead and are leading this development Ė not toward an elimination of specialties, but conversation and collaboration.
© Jake Berry