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Phillip Henry Christopher


Phillip Henry Christopher spent his childhood in Paris, France, Biloxi, Mississippi, and the Green Mountain State of Vermont before landing in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, where he grew in the smokestack shadows of blue collar America. Since then, he has been a news reporter, industrial mechanic, taxi driver, karate sensei, political activist, educator, reggae singer and mambo orchestra leader.

He has published in The Caribbean Writer, Gargoyle, New York Quarterly, Lullwater Review, The Haight Ashbury Literary Review, The Argotist Online, Blazevox, Perigee, Slow Trains, Blue Collar Review, Indented Pillow, Melic Review, True Poet Magazine and Cokefish. His most recent writing, including the novel-in-progress, Steeltown Dream can be found on the web here. 

When not occupied with basic survival, or trying to find a publisher for one of his novels, Christopher is arranging and recording new music for his next sonic adventure, which he terms "psychedelic son-ska mambo reggae", a sometimes joyous, sometimes disturbing, always quixotic blend of Cuban, Jamaican, African and American musical influences, all sounding as if performed by and for someone with drastically altered consciousness. That said, it should be noted that Christopher, known musically as "Philadelphia Phil", doesn't indulge in psychoactive recreations. (He's just creatively, and permanently wired that way.) His latest music can be heard here. 




Q: Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?

A: In the broadest sense, song lyric and poetry are the same. They originate from similar intention to self-conscious self-expression, share the mechanics of meter and syllabic stress, and can apply the same literary devices. They may also differ significantly. Simple declaration is not often perceived as poetry, yet is often accepted as credible song lyric. In this respect, my own work strives to accomplish lyric that can sustain itself with or without a musical context. I confess I am not always very successful in this ambition.

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

A: No, there is no absolute regarding song lyric and rhyme. That said, it is certainly easier in many ways to rhyme lyrics. Our ears are accustomed to recurrent cycles in music. Rhyming constructions might be a linguistic parallel to predictable musical movements.

Q: 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?

A: Songs can be free verse. Making it work is the challenge. Choruses, refrains and rhyme schemes are conveniences. As such, they are functional and useful, but certainly not absolutely necessary for song lyric. Most music is highly structured. Entirely free verse, verse in which structure is more difficult to identify, might suggest the need to operate in a freer musical context, one in which oblique structure mirrors and complements the same in associated language.

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

A: Yes, though my own early education presented musical lyric and poetry in segregated environments. Despite this, my best recollection is that I came fairly early on to hear music in verse, and verse in lyric. Some popular music of the period reflected the intention by songwriters to explore nuanced lyric, to apply metaphor liberally, and to experiment with song and verse structures also.

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

A: Before becoming fully engaged in music I read and wrote rhyming poems and a great deal of free verse. It would be impossible to ignore the influence of poetry on the songwriting I undertook some years later.

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

A: There are probably many reasons for the enduring popularity of song, even when poetry as a solitary reader's pleasure seems to be waning. I think the distinction itself may be somewhat of a contemporary fiction. In past centuries, in most cultures, poetry and music have never been entirely distinct, even at times perceived as the same; spoken, sung, a capella or accompanied seen as both poetry and music. Considering that, those expressions which we tend to call "songs" benefit from those fundamental visceral elements which sound, harmony, melody and rhythm bring to the experience of language.

Able as I am to address mostly the question in the English-speaking world, I do have to wonder if the unpopularity of poetry is incidental to declining reading by an entire generation. (In the U.S., nearly 40% of college students have not read a book for pleasure in the last 12 months. Today's entering freshman students have significantly smaller vocabularies than the past generation. The first time ever that such a de-evolution of language has been recorded in this country.) Songs and song lyrics are often simple in language and explicit in meaning, making them easy to follow and understand. Perhaps this has always been the case. Whether poets or musicians can influence these trends or not is yet to be seen, though I would like to believe that using current technologies it may be possible.




copyright Phillip Henry Christopher