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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Poetry Smackdown: Frost vs. Dylan

Well, fellow worms, I suppose I shouldn’t let the month of April slip away from me (as more and more months do with alarming rapidity of late) without acknowledging that it is National Poetry Month. 
I must admit that I haven’t read much in the way of poetry since my college days.  That is unless you count Anna Dewdney’s llama llama red pajama (which is my three-year-old’s absolute favorite book ever) or her equally masterful follow-up llama llama mad at momma.  Dewdney’s rhyming story lines about a loveable llama expressing his emotions over every toddler’s worst life experiences—bedtime and grocery shopping—are about as close as I’ve come to reading any poetry since the required Frost, Poe and Dickinson of Freshman English…or so I thought.
 I’ve spent the last few days considering poetry as an art form, trying to answer for myself the not so simple question:  What is poetry exactly?  Having never met a question I don’t want to immediately google, I turned to the internet.  On a side note, I’m following a blog by a woman known simply as Megan B. called Bangable Dudes in History, and have decided to comment to Ms. B. that she should strongly consider Google inventors Larry Page and Sergey Brin while cooking up her next pie chart of bangability.  The guys are Stanford grads that built their first server network out of cheap, used and borrowed PC’s and called the program (which would eventually become Google and secure $1,000,000.00 in funding) Backrub.  Hello?  Bangable on sooooo many levels.  But I digress.
Anyway, thanks to Larry and Sergey, I learned that Aristotle’s early attempt to define poetry focused on the use of speech in rhetoric, drama, song and comedy, while later attempts by others concentrated on the aesthetics that distinguish poetry from other forms of writing:  repetition, verse form and rhyme.  This led me to consider the musicality of poetry.  Aren’t songs and poems virtually the same thing?  Turns out, that all depends on who you ask.  Some argue that song lyrics are not meant to stand on their own.  While I cannot think of too many “poems” I would like to hear with instrumental accompaniment, (certainly no music could improve the lines “baby llama what a tizzy, sometimes momma’s very busy, no more of this llama drama, you must be patient for your momma”—they are beyond perfection) I do believe there are some songwriters whose lyrics are most definitely capable of "flying solo”.  Take Aoife O’Donovan’s song Lay My Burden Down which can be found on Alison Krauss and Union Station’s newest album Paper Airplane.
               Gonna lay my burden down
               Lay my body in the ground
               Cold clay against my skin
               But I don’t care at all

               Can’t seem to find my piece of mind
               So with the earth I’ll lay entwined
               Six feet underground
               My feet are warm and dry            

Or just about any of Bob Dylan’s songs.  These lines are from Farewell Angelina:

               Farewell Angelina
               The bells on the crown
               Are being stolen by bandits
               I must follow the sound
               The triangle tingles
               And the music plays slow
               But farewell Angelina
               The night is on fire
               And I must go

               There is no use in talking
               And there’s no need for blame
               There is nothing to prove
               Everything still the same
               A table stands empty
               By the edge of the stream
               But farewell Angelina
               The sky is changing colors
               And I must leave

Both examples stand alone as poetry, whether so intended, in my opinion.  If I’m able to count the many song lyrics I’ve committed to memory over my lifetime as poetry, then I intended to hold my head a little higher for the rest of the month of April.  I may only be able to recite a few lines of Robert Frost’s The Road Less Traveled, but I can recall whole LP’s worth of the likes of Jimmy Buffet and Sting.

Who are your favorite poets/songwriters?  Any memorable lines you’d like to share?