Last weekend I attended a brilliant poetry workshop called ‘sip n’ rhyme’; fairly self-explanatory in that as a group we sipped alcoholic beverages and wrote poetry, each of us quietly hoping that the faint inebriation might help to uncover some fantastically original poetic voice. It didn’t necessarily happen for me, but one of the exercises – we were asked to take the lyrics from a song and rearrange them to create a poem – did at least remind me of the latest volume of Lyrics as Poetry.
The truth is that words are just as powerful as music in provoking emotion. The melody may even obscure the lyrics; a good example of this is Obadiah Parker’s cover of Hey Ya by Outkast, which, without the iconic upbeat instrumental backing, suddenly exposes the lyrics as melancholic.
That particular song is about feeling forced to stay in an unhappy relationship, and perhaps that’s why this third volume of Lyrics as Poetry: The Love Issue didn’t include it. I am surprised that it’s taken three issues to reach the theme of ‘Love’, which is perhaps the most common subject matter in modern songwriting.
Credit is due to the editors Sara Noelle and Erik Hayden, who tackled the far more abstract themes of ‘Time’ and ‘Space’ before they covered ‘Love’. With thousands of love songs to choose from, it’s nice to see that so few clichés are included. Just like my experience at the workshop, reading the lyrics to songs I’d never heard helped the words to take on a life of their own.
The 32 reprinted lyrics are all footnoted with comments by the songwriters, offering a glimpse into their process. It’s a nice touch, proving once and for all that their words are not simply a means to an end.
There are also insights from 20 writers who take the opportunity to enthuse about love, be it ‘romantic or familial, about heartbreak or loss, [about] self respect and yearning for connection or endearment of a place or time’.
Design-wise, it’s a little larger and a little slimmer than a novel. Soft pencil drawings by the journal’s designer Justin Page are scattered throughout, roughly framing the lyrics and adding a gentle weight to each page. The last page is ruled and entitled ‘Notes’, encouraging handwritten annotations. It feels personal, like a high quality handmade document – which is, I think, what the editors hoped to achieve. As Sara’s introduction says, the journal is ‘our mix for you’.
Lyrics as Poetry is timely too – Kate Bush and Florence Welch both published beautifully bound volumes of their lyrics last Christmas, and of course Bob Dylan’s 2016 Nobel Prize (whether you like it or not) is undeniable proof that song lyrics are finally being taken seriously as a form of literature.
Ultimately Lyrics As Poetry is a simple idea done very well, as all good things generally are.
Erik and Sara have been experimenting with live events based on the issue, but I can’t find a Spotify playlist based on the issue, and maybe that’s right. It would detract from the core objective of this project, and its dedication to creating ‘art on the printed page’.
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