The Poetry Question

Discovering the Relevance of Words

That’s Not a Poet! Is It?

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Let’s all dim the lights, begin snapping our fingers, and warming our hands, and welcome the musici…. Wait a second. That’s not a poet! Is it? I mean, that’s a lead singer, right? When did they start writing poetry? No, they must have just published a book of their lyrics. That’s got to be it, right?

Those are typically my thoughts when I see that another lead singer has published a book of poetry. It’s not like this is a new thing. I mean, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, and several others have published books of words without music. But they’re not simply recycling lyrics; they are actually writing poems. Well, at least their version of poetry. Which brings up a couple of questions: Does it matter what I view as poetry? Are lyrics poetry?

Let’s start with the first question, because that’s the easiest to answer. No. It absolutely does not matter what I view as poetry. I am one person among 7-billion people, and my opinion matters to a .00000000000000000000000000000000000000001% of those people, and that’s probably pushing it. Even in my classroom, I tell my students that my opinion on their pieces is simply one opinion among a group of 32 students. I am there to offer my advice, and work with them as an editor, but just because I assume the role of educator, does not mean I am the be-all-end-all when it comes to “what makes a good poem.”

I’m sure most of us have seen Dead Poet’s Society, and are familiar with The Pritchard Scale. If not, here’s a reminder:

As the captain reminds us, there is no way to judge a good poem. We feel how we feel about what we read, and if it hits us in the right way, then it works for us, and that’s all that matters.

The question of whether or not lyrics are to be considered poems is a much bigger question. I’ve written a piece about Pigeon John commenting that 2chainz is the new Bob Dylan, but I’m not very sold on that one. Dylan’s lyrics – for the most part – are poetic. He wrote beautiful words that translate just as well in and out of songs. 2chainz writes lyrics that, at least to me, don’t translate outside of the music – and sometimes not even in the music. Tupac wrote what I would consider a very strong book of poetry with The Rose That Grew from Concrete, but again, that’s simply my opinion. I feel that his lyrics would translate well to poetry, and that he was speaking for a large group of people. Maybe that’s what it takes in order to have that transition. Maybe a lyricist needs to be a voice of a generation in order to be considered a poet? I see an increase in hip-hop artists who are telling stories, and truly working in metaphors, and poetic devices that make it easier for me to see the two becoming one. I’m just not sure that all songs equal poems.

In Jay-Z’s book Decoded, he breaks down the poetic devices in several of his songs. Does that make him a poet, or simply a rapper, who uses these devices to further his dialogue with the people who listen to his music? It’s such a difficult transition for me to grasp.

So, I suppose I’m left with no real answer to my second question. I do not know if lyrics and poetry are the same thing. What do you think?

About Christopher Margolin

Chris Margolin spent more than a decade in Education as a high school English teacher, and is now an Instructional Coach for the Longview School District. He is also the founder of The Poetry Question, an online journal which focuses on reviews of small press poetry publications, and runs a regular series called "The Power of Poetry," where notable poets share their personal stories of how poetry has affected their lives. Margolin resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife, and daughter.

One comment on “That’s Not a Poet! Is It?

  1. The Running Son
    May 14, 2013

    jewell is Hot like gwyneth Paltrow.

    I like both of jewels noses. wasnt she discovered in SoCal singing in coffee-shops?
    nobody nose what hotness may come if we let her sing between covers and a binding.

    😉
    ⌡im

    O.question my Question.

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