Anyone who tells you song lyrics are not poetry has been fooled, and badly, at some point in their life. The simple fact is that modern poetry, which today we primarily read on the page, began as an oral art a way of telling stories out loud – that is, in song. Even the most ancient verses have form, the Greeks singing in dactylic hexameter, the Babylonians in strange split verses, the ancient Germans and Celts singing in surprisingly complex and intertwined forms. Song and poetry really are one, and they lie at the root of civilization. Only recently have we seen a split between “poetry” and “songwriting,” but I believe that if you own even one record, you are an appreciator of poetry – whether you like it or not. Granted, some of this poetry is pretty terrible. But there have always been strains of popular poetry and song that maybe have not been the most well-written of lyrics. But should those songs be denied the title of poetry? I don’t think so. I has to be an all or nothing deal, I think.
With all that in mind – and it is an awful lot to keep in mind; I can ramble on and on about this – I bring you the first of what I think will be many Poetry Mixes – songs that feature lyrics that I hold especially close to my heart. I would also hold any of these mere songs up against any equal written poem. The thing to remember about these songs is, these are not necessarily my favorite songs by these artists, nor are they even necessarily my all-time favorite lyrics. This is because we’re essentially ignoring the music here. These are simply songs/poems that hew closely to what I like most in poetry, poems that appeal to me aesthetically.
Please send in comments to this post – I’d love to know what your favorite poemsongs are. For each song I include title, writer, performer, and a sample lyric.
The Poetry Mix, vol. 1
“In a Future Age” by Jeff Tweedy. Performed by Wilco.
Some trees will bend, and some will fall
But then again, so will us all
“Tomorrow Is a Long Time” by Bob Dylan. Performed by Rod Stewart.
There’s beauty in the silver, singin’ river,
There’s beauty in the sunrise in the sky,
But none of these and nothing else can touch the beauty
That I remember in my true love’s eyes.
“One Little Song” by Gillian Welch. Performed by Gillian Welch.
There’s gotta be a song left to sing
Cause everybody can’t of thought of everything
One little note that ain’t been used
One little word ain’t been abused a thousand times
In a thousand rhymes
“Post-War” by Matt Ward. Performed by M. Ward.
Don’t they love you in mysterious ways
You say yeah but this is now and that was then
Put a dollar into the machine and you’ll remember when
“Angel from Montgomery” by John Prine. Performed by Bonnie Raitt.
If dreams were thunder and lightning was desire
This old house would have burned down a long time ago
“Fox Confessor” by Neko Case. Performed by Neko Case.
Driving home I see those flooded fields
How can people not know what beauty this is?
“Red Right Ankle” by Colin Meloy. Performed by the Decemberists.
And how it whispered “Oh, adhere to me
For we are bound by symmetry
And whatever differences our lives have been
We together make a limb.”
“Salvador Sanchez/Pancho Villa” by Mark Kozelek. Performed by Sun Kil Moon.
Salvador Sanchez arrived and vanished
Only twenty-three with so much speed
Owning the highway
Mexico City bred so many
But none quite like him, sweet warrior
Pure magic matador
“Tennessee” by David Berman. Performed by Silver Jews.
Marry me and leave Kentucky
Come to Tennessee
‘Cause you’re the only ten I see
You’re the only ten I see
“Let Me See the Colts” by Bill Callahan. Performed by Smog.
Knocked on your door at dawn
With a spark in my heart
Dragged you from your bed
And said let me see the colts
“Sea and the Rhythm” by Sam Beam. Performed by Iron and Wine.
Our hands they seek the end of afternoon
My hands believe and move over you
“Two-Headed Boy, pt. 2″ by Jeff Magnum. Performed by Neutral Milk Hotel.
And when we break we’ll wait for our miracle.
God is a place where some holy spectacle lies.
And when we break we’ll wait for our miracle.
God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life.
“These Are the Fables” by Carl Newman. Performed by The New Pornographers.
Ten thousand dancing girls
Kicking cans ‘cross the sky
No reason why
Why ask to pay yourself
For the call of the wild
You found this child
So raise him
“Major Leagues” by Stephen Malkmus. Performed by Pavement.
They wear you down sometimes
Kids like wine,
Magic Christians chew the rind
Cause bad girls are always bad girls
Lets let’em in.
“Pamphleteer” by John K. Samson. Performed by The Weakerthans.
How I don’t know what I should do with my hands when I talk to you.
How you don’t know where you should look, so you look at my hands.
How movements rise and then dissolve, melted by our shallow breath.
How causes dance away from me.
I am your pamphleteer.
“Magnetized” by Laura Veirs. Performed by Laura Veirs.
With white spider stars coming down
And night blowing black from the ground
“California Stars” by Woody Guthrie. Performed by Wilco.
Underneath my California stars
They hang like grapes on vines that shine
And warm the lovers glass like friendly wine
So, I’d give this world
just to dream a dream with you
On our bed of California stars