on songwriting

Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time
Far past the frozen leaves
The haunted frightened trees
Out to the windy bench
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow

– Bob Dylan, Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)


Songwriters create some of the most potent poetry in the world.

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for literature is a step, in fact a leap, in the direction of recognizing this fact. His music has touched millions, and in his case, so have his well crafted words. Fascinating, then, that the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Johnson writes, “the literature prize has previously gone to writers of prose, poetry and drama.” I am not critical of Johnson’s article, which provides a balanced take on the win. However, it is interesting to note that he considers Dylan “pop” in a way that more traditional poetic forms are not. There is a disparity in the perception of songwriting as compared to the perception of “poetry on paper,” if you will.

Songwriting has been around in one form or another for millennia, in all the great storytelling traditions on the planet. A song is a poem in aural form, and to write one well, the poet must wield craft and skill. Write a song, but first write what we generally perceive as a poem. (Another option of course is a collaboration between a musical composer and a lyricist.) Carefully consider rhythm and form, balance and blend, make the aural and the written aspect complement and resonate equally.

A song is a poem, but it is also far more than that. It is an entire world. The songwriter brings you into this world as a guest for a short period of time, offering an escape from the temporal universe.

Photo: my instruments and scores of my songs, from a recording session with dea.nice for Gravity Wing.

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