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The Poetry-Music Connection

The Poetry-Music Connection

Poetry and music can have a strong musical connection. I alluded to this in last week's post about ligatures, where a slur in musical notation serves to indicate that each note, from the first note of the slur to the last, should be played smoothly, without articulation.

Some bands and artists are profoundly poetic — Leonard Cohen being the quintessential example of this. He is both a published poet and a singer of highly poetic songs. His first album, The Songs of Leonard Cohen (1968) has gems like Suzanne, Stranger Song, and Stories of the Street; Songs of Love and Hate opening with Avalanche, Last Year's Man, and Famous Blue Raincoat; Ten New Songs (2001) with Alexandra Leaving, which uses the words of Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy; Dear Heather (2004) with Villanelle for Our Time, in fact every song on every album is at its heart a poem.

It's four in the morning, the end of December
I'm writing you now just to see if you're better
New York is cold, but I like where I'm living
There's music on Clinton Street all through the evening.
Ah, the last time we saw you you looked so much older 
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder 
You'd been to the station to meet every train 
And you came home without Lili Marlene 
(from Famous Blue Raincoat by Leonard Cohen)


Electronic music can also be poetic. The band Underworld, which grew from an earlier 1980 genesis under a different name, emerged in 2001 and now hails from Romford, Essex. The band is categorised by Wikipedia as Progressive house, progressive trance, techno, alternative dance, breakbeat, experimental, and synthpop (early). But you could easily make the case for a genre of electro-poetry on the basis of their 1990s albums, dubnobasswithmyheadman (1994), Second Toughest in the Infants (1996),and Beaucoup Fish (1999). The epic Juanita : Kiteless : To Dream of Love from Second Toughest, clocking in at an impressive running time of eighteen and a half minutes, warms up with a minute of percussive intro before spoken vocals begins with

your rails 
your thin 
your thin paper wings 
your thin paper wings 
in the wind, 
your sun, fly 
your window, shattering 
bootleg babies call to you, 
lying among the mosquitos 
and the summer's fever coming 
cats are gathering 
outside your window 
homeless strays 
bootleg babies 
calling to you 
lying among 
lying among the mosquitos 
talk to me... 
there is a sound on the other side of this wall 
burning singing on the other side of this glass 
silence is preserving the voice 
footsteps concealed 
walking in the wind at the water's edge 
comes close to covering my rubber feet 
listening to the barbed wire hanging 
there is a sound on the other side of this wall 
burning singing on the other side of this glass 
(from Juanita : Kiteless : To Dream of Love, by Underworld)


The Poet enfant terrible of musical poetry is John Cooper Clarke, often called The Punk Poet, who I saw for the first time performing in Milton Keynes where he was followed on stage by the post-punk, alternative rock band (fronted by the legendary Mark E. Smith) The Fall.

His poetry does indeed carry a punk attitude to life, as in this YouTube performance of his poem I Don't Want To Be Nice, but he has his tender moments too, such as I Married A Monster From Outer Space.

Due for release in October, John Cooper Clarke is releasing a CD of cover versions of songs, called This Time it's Personal, which promises to be inimitable. I love cake a lot, and my favourite ever song about cake is MacArthur Park, written by Jimmy Webb and performed by Richard Harris in 1968, and which JCC's version is already on YouTube and I think it's destined to be a classic (at least amongst JCC devotees)

This is the album track listing. It is available for pre-order on iTunes, priced £9.99.

Dr. John Cooper Clarke & Hugh Cornwell
This Time It's Personal (Expected 14 October 2016)

  • 1. It's Only Make Believe
  • 2. Way Down Yonder in New Orleans
  • 3. Spanish Harlem
  • 4. Johnny Remember Me
  • 5. MacArthur Park
  • 6. She's a Woman
  • 7. Donna
  • 8. Jezebel
  • 9. Love Potion No. 9
  • 10. Sweeter Than You
  • Digital Booklet - This Time It's Personal
Published inPoetry

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