What's the difference?

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  1. #1
    Member TJ1985's Avatar
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    What's the difference?

    I've written a little poetry and while I don't feel totally comfortable in that field, I do feel like I understand it. Well, I feel like I'm at least capable of understanding it. My capacity for subtlety is similar with my capacity to fly by flapping my arms and poetry lives and dies in subtlety for me.

    A sad confession: I want to write songs. Worse, I'd like to write songs in the same genre I listen to, country. The biggest thing is that I don't want to write typical country. There's enough "lost my house, lost my girl, got drunk, married a goat" type songs out there.

    What I don't understand is what separates lyric from poetry. The poetry I like and the poetry that others seem to like, it has an almost musical quality. You can feel it. I tend to bob my head in time with the "pulse" I feel within the piece. I do the exact same thing to just about every Rolling Stones song.

    When I try to write lyrics I find it almost always ends up mirroring my poetic efforts. I sit here like a moron with my hand flat on the table, lifting one finger for each syllable to keep count. I then I get a funny look on my face, stop counting, make a change, restart my caveman count, and hopefully when I've finished I've got something worth the paper it's written on.

    For you, where's the line between poetry and lyric? What makes 'em different? Are they inextricably linked? Are they similar only because they both use words?

    BTW, I don't sing, but I'm working on that. By the time I'm done I'll have one pickup truck that's completely sick of hearing it's driver trying to hit a note he can't find with a compass.
    If I can't go down rockin', then I won't go down at all. - Waylon Jennings.

  2. #2
    I'm not an expert, but not sure all poetry can be sung, not sure all poetry has a "beat." I've thought about writing songs myself, but never tried it. My taste in country runs more off the wall, I suppose - Joe Ely, Tom Russell, Iris Dement, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen. I would think playing an instrument would help.

    Hope that helps a little, good luck.
    "Self-righteousness never straddles the political fence."

    Midnightpoet


    "If it weren't for sin, what would we write about?"

    Midnightpoet


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  3. #3
    Hi TJ,

    I participated in a panel discussing the differences and similarities between poetry and lyrics at a conference last June.

    Some things, in no particular order:
    • Lyrics/songs have more mechanisms than cadence/meter to highlight important points/syllables/words. In music, you can vary the pitch, the melisma (number of notes in the syllable), the duration, and other things.
    • Poetry tends not to repeat. Songs tend to have choruses or refrains.
    • Poetry is more often read than heard. There are ramifications to this.
      • poetry tends to be foreground, songs background (except at concerts). Songs therefore need a hook to get the listener's attention and to keep them in the listener's head after they're over
      • it is easier to pause and reread poetry to understand cryptic words or phrases or vocabulary

    • Meter in songs can be less exact because of melisma -- you can artificially lengthen syllables by adding additional notes to them.


    Note that there are not Universal Truths. Not all songs rhyme, for example.

    Country songs tend to follow a verse/chorus/verse/chorus/chorus pattern or sometimes a verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus or sometimes there's an introductory chorus, but you get the idea. Again, this is in general terms, not any sort of Rules of Country Music.

    Disclosure time here. I was a big country listener in the 1970's. So I am not familiar with today's artists, though some of the (even) older ones got airplay as oldies during my time. I currently have (on preset in my van) a station calling itself "Country Legends" but it has (in addition to music I know and love) 1980's and 1990's stuff that I don't recognize (though I've met a few songs that I Really Like).
    Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.
    Robert G. Allen

  4. #4
    Member TJ1985's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by astroannie View Post
    Disclosure time here. I was a big country listener in the 1970's. So I am not familiar with today's artists, though some of the (even) older ones got airplay as oldies during my time. I currently have (on preset in my van) a station calling itself "Country Legends" but it has (in addition to music I know and love) 1980's and 1990's stuff that I don't recognize (though I've met a few songs that I Really Like).
    I spend a great deal of time listening to MP3s while waiting for my mother (medical crap). In my phone I have close to 1500 songs but fewer than 100 of them were written/recorded after 1999. Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Johnny Paycheck, Merle Haggard, they occupy 99% of my phone space and 99.9% of my listening time.
    If I can't go down rockin', then I won't go down at all. - Waylon Jennings.

  5. #5
    Greetings, i like this subject. I'll give you my 2 cents worth.

    I would tend to think anyone that's done a considerable amount of both of them poems & songs, would all give a similar response immediately on the differences. It's almost summed up here "Lyrics/songs have more mechanisms than cadence". A much more simplistic way of putting it would be almost 99% of my songs were wrote with some type of music cadence in the mind. Poems are more wrote as a book would be wrote (you're not using a beat) writing a book.

    Most poems could easily be incorporated into music. Which certainly confuses the situation. But speaking from the origin issue, even if you put a poem to music it DOES not make it a song to me really. I have put poems of my mine to music. When i hear it i think its poetry not a song. The answer really lies in how it was created. Even if you wrote something very poetic if it was wrote with a some music cadence of any form it's a song. Its as simple as that. Only the author really knows how it was conceived.

    I'm sure many writers who did both extensively would all have a similar interpretation as this. So as any writer you know at the very beginning if its gonna be a poem or a song. Both can stand as
    pseudo interpretation of the other form. But only the creator knows whether he was writing with a musical cadence or not.

    As a song writer i find it almost impossible to create a song without musical cadence. The only way i would think it could logically be done would be if you're wrote a song over a course of time in such a way you forgot the musical cadence and thus wrote it to no beat at the point of finishing it. It can be done. But you'd be doing it not very logically. In either case its still a song because it was created with a cadence and thus forgotten and morphed into a pseudo poem. Which happens more often than one would think, and thus creates some rather interesting songs.

    But for me the difference is very clear it lies in its very origin. Once you commit to writing it to a musical cadence a certain form has to take place. You're using some kind of structure in your own mind (regardless). I wrote poetry because i didn't wanna write with a musical structure. That's way i started it. I wrote without any musical cadence of any kind. For me that was a very new form of writing. That's why some people who can be genius poets can't write songs. Because they have no familiarity with writing with a musical cadence. I use the term musical cadence because its anything a beat, a rhythm a melody no specific term. Poets may not be use to writing anything in this manner.

    As far as both are concerned. I feel songwriting is much more of a skill. Great book writers who are 100 x times the writer id ever be at describing things. Can't necessarily write a song.
    But i feel poetry has a much more apex to be great than a song. A song has limitations i think poetry could be more limitless. I will always think that the greatest poems have yet to be written. And the greatest songs may already have been done. But that's just the way i think...

    Some people may enjoy a good book over a good song. This is kinda why i think poetry could be more limitless because you could be conveying a far more impactful message than most songs would contain.

  6. #6
    Hello, my name is John, I am both a rapper and spoken word poet performing out of phoenix arizona. The similarity is in the rhythms. You have to feel the rhythem. Sometimes I write and practice delivery with a metronome. A song is to me a poem written with and to music. As far as the skills taken, it all depends on the type of thing you wanted to create. I have heard poems that the world's most talented singers could not deliver properly, and songs that the world's greatest poet could not sing. As for country, that is a wider genre than people seem to think it is.

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