Poem Spark May 22-29 – Song Lyrics

Hello fellow poets!

Today an odd thing happened just as I got in the car to pick the kids up from school. I’d been thinking about what to write for this week’s spark and decided to talk about song lyrics, but it was 3 pm and time to go. Of course, Fresh Air with Terry Gross is on NPR at 3 pm and I often listen to the show. Surprisingly, today’s show featured Leonard Cohen, a songwriter, poet, and novelist: Fresh Air with Terry Gross May 22. His latest book of poetry is Book of Longing. After some searching, I found the lyrics to the title song of his album Dear Heather.

I haven’t heard the song, but the lyrics function luminously as a poem. They don’t rhyme, they aren’t very long, nothing is repeated. How is this a song? How is this a poem? Yet it is both. Here is the Poets.org page on Leonard Cohen: Poet, Novelist, Musician.

Of course, there no way to talk about lyrics and poetry without mentioning Bob Dylan. He has a page at Poets.org, too: “I’m a poet, and I know it”. The snippet of lyrics on that page delighted me with their irreverence:

Dylan wrote:

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting
“Which Side Are You On?”
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers

But enough of history. What about lyrics? What about how to write a song that works as a poem? A very rough explanation of what a song might look like is this: Most song lyrics have a great deal of repetition. Most of them are built of phrases that have rhyme and rhythm; it makes them easy to remember and sing. These phrases are separated into different sections. Sometimes the chorus is its own section and is repeated several times.

However, I’m of the opinion that with songs, the best way to understand how they are put together is to read some lyrics. Learn by example. Here are some:

Sting, from the album “Ten Summoner’s Tales” — Shape of My Heart

Eminem, from the album “8 Mile” — Lose Yourself

Alanis Morissette, from the album “Under Rug Swept” — Hands Clean

This week’s spark:

Write a song.


Share your favorite lyrics and tell us why you think it succeeds as a poem as well as a song. Just a small paragraph will do. Please provide a link to the lyrics and do not quote more than 4-5 lines.

As always, have fun and be creative!