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How to Write: Week 29: Lyrics: Sunday (Method)

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    Consider the following statements:
    “I’m never gonna give you up”  “I’m head over heels for you”  “I love you”  “You’re so beautiful”  “Wake me up inside”  “I’m changing day to day”
    If you think about these phrases objectively, you know exactly what they mean, but they say nothing concrete.
    That is the beauty and downfall of lyrics.  They can convey an emotion without words a poet would usually work.
    Most poetry bases itself on vivid imagery which evokes emotion through appealing to someone’s senses.  Lyrics do the same by calling upon established meanings associated with words we use in our everyday language.
    Lyrics will use action words, like love or change.  These are still actions, but they are imprecise.  That doesn’t mean they are bad to use, just make sure when they are used that there is precise language around them.
    Another downfall to this kind of imprecise language is it can often come across as cliché.  So many beginning writers feel strongly about the words they use, basing them off of the lyrics they hear from the radio.  The problem is with imprecise language it means so many things and so many different things to different people and it’s hard to help others feel what one is trying to feel with imprecise language. New poets present their words as though they are well crafted.  Poets who have been crafting from reading other poets who focus on the words they’ve read focusing on imagery and visceral reaction, often dismiss the beginners out of hand.
    Any new poet should remember that lyrics work because they appeal to a wide range of people. People who write lyrics for pop songs especially have learned the formula to appeal to the most people at any one time.
    Any experienced poet should keep in mind before disparaging someone who writes lyrics that a single song can sell for more than a year’s worth of chapbooks. Any lyricist who wants to disparage the work of a “poor” poet should remember that the poet is a craftsperson who doesn’t compromise their values to create their art.
    Basically, for both sides of the coin, don’t be a jerk.  Also, keep writing and learn from one another.
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Azriel Johnson is an inkspatter analyst by day and a serial writer by night. He runs a small, not money losing publishing press and a weekly open mic with monthly features called Writing Knights Press.

1 comment:

  1. There is truth to that, of course, but I would also say that the best lyrics work when specific details are there to support the generalities.
    I'm thinking right now of the lyrics to Joan Baez's song "Diamonds and Rust" (which we heard her perform when she did a concert in Cleveland a month ago). The song is about memory and nostalgia (among other things), but there are some real specifics here:

    Now you're smiling out the window
    Of that crummy hotel over Washington Square
    Our breath comes out white clouds
    Mingles and hangs in the air
    Speaking strictly for me
    We both could have died then and there.