Some people think poetry is only found in greeting cards and old books, but poetry is part of our lives in many places. We can find poetry in lots of children’s books, advertising and songs, for instance.
In 1993, Sheryl Crow launched her music career with her first musical hit — “All I Wanna Do.” Did you know that song was based entirely on a poem her producer found in a used book store? Wikipedia explains:
The lyrics for the song are based on the poem “Fun” by Wyn Cooper. Crow’s producer (Bottrell) discovered Cooper’s poetry book “The Country of Here Below” in a Pasadena, California used bookstore. Crow adapted “Fun” into the lyrics for her song – earning Cooper considerable royalties, and helping to push his book, originally published in a run of only 500 copies in 1987, into multiple reprints.
Other bands and singers have turned poetry into songs. Stevie Nicks turned Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” into a song, for instance.
All songs that have words have poetry, though, and some songs are filled with really wonderful poetry in the form of great word choices, images and fresh language.
If you remember what we talked about last week, one of the most important elements of good poetry is the ability to talk about something in a fresh way that makes people feel and think. Those dreaded cliches are as common in songs as they are in poems! There are also songs that have lines that are wonderfully poetic, though.
If you take the time to really listen to the words of songs, you’ll find examples of both good and bad poetry.
To be fair, there’s no such thing as “bad” poetry. Poetry is a form of art, and the great thing about art is that there are no rules. It’s also subjective, which means people have different tastes and opinions that determine whether they think something is good or not.
That said, there are some things you want to strive for in poetry and some things you want to avoid. We’ll call them good and bad to make things simple.
Elements of bad poetry that you can find in songs include:
- Choosing words that don’t fit or words that are boring only because they rhyme with other words
- Using just a few dull words and repeating them over and over
- Using cliches
Elements of good poetry that you can find in songs include:
- Phrases that describe common things in fresh, new ways
- Words and images that make you think
- Words and lines that perfectly sum up a feeling and bring on emotions
- Lyrics that could stand alone without music and be great poems or parts of poems
Some bands and singers use a lot more poetry in their music than others. Some are famous for having very poetic lyrics in their songs.
Here’s a few examples of poetry that you can find in song lyrics. See which ones appeal to you poetically.
Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.
Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free.
– – – Kris Kristofferson, “Me and Bobby McGee”
It’s the heart afraid of dying, that never learns to dance
It’s the dream afraid of waking, that never takes the chance;
It’s the one who won’t be taken, who cannot seem to give;
And the soul afraid of dying, that never learns to live.
– – – Amanda McBroom, “The Rose”
And the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls,
And tenement halls,
And whispered in the sounds of silence.
– – – Paul Simon, “Sounds of Silence”
He not busy being born is busy dying.
– – – Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright, Ma”
Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way.
– – – Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now”
When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all
I’m on your side when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down
– – – Simon and Garfunkel. “Bridge Over Troubled Water”
You can find examples of good and bad poetry in every kind of song, from country songs to rock songs to traditional gospel songs and children’s songs. Even “The Rainbow Connection” by the Muppets has some neat poetry in it!
Today, find some songs and look for examples of good poetry. You can do this by listening to the radio and writing down lines that you really like, by getting the liner notes from your favorite CDs, or by looking up lyrics to songs online. You can even try to remember the words of lullabies and see if there are any great lines in those.
Remember, good poetry avoids cliches and makes you think and feel. But also remember that there are no rules, and if a song or poem is full of cliches but it moves you then it’s good to you!
Also look and listen for examples of bad poetry or lyrics that could use improvement. Can you think of a way to make them better?
Then share your list of great lyrics (and the not-so-great) with each other. See if you agree about which lyrics make good poetry.
Head to the library or log into interlibrary loan for some great poetry picture books. In particular, look for
- Mirror, Mirror (highly recommended!)
- Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
- Poetry for Young People: Edna St. Vincent Millay
- A Fairy Went a-Marketing
(All of these can be found at the Mankato Public Library or through interlibrary loan.)
Continue to listen for good and bad poetry in songs.
Continue to read poetry together as a family.
Look for poetry in unexpected places, such as ads.
Note: This post is part of my free 10 week poetry for kids course. You can view all 10 weeks of the course with a description of each week and the links here.