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Poetry and Music: Re-United at Last

Posted: 15/12/11 15:58

Poetry and music have long gone hand-in-hand. Without wanting to dig out my Literature degree notes, it's been going on for millennia. And it isn't difficult to understand why given the poetic nature of music and musicality of words. There are a whole host of quotations one might be able to use to back up the relationship between words and music, but I shall choose these from two finest Dylans to have ever lived.

Dylan Thomas wrote of words: "The first thing was to feel and know their sound and substance; what I was going to do with those words, what use I was going to make of them, what I was going to say through them"; for him, words made sounds like notes that he could shape into symphonies of sound that he called a poem.

Bob Dylan once said: "Anything I can sing, I call a song. Anything I can't sing, I call a poem." For Dylan, lyrics were poetry, that was just how music worked; putting a musical backing to a poem was no different to writing a song. And between these two great writers I think it isn't so hard to see how strong the link between the mediums of poetry and song are.

But, in the last few decades there has been a slow and steady separation of these two media. I'm not old enough to be able to tell you when or how or why, but I can see it in the lack of any great lyrical geniuses of the last 20 years. That's not to say there aren't any, there just aren't as many as, say, the 60s or 70s.

The good news is things are changing. People are beginning to question lyrics now, pay more attention to them, appreciate well-crafted poetry in songs. And it was only a matter of time before poetry became music in itself.

How many of us remember the first time we heard The Streets? I remember it vividly because I thought: who is this guy that just talks over music but has you wrapped around his little finger so his drug-fuelled adventures seem beautiful? Then I heard of Buddy Wakefield and Sage Francis teaming up over in America for Sage's Human the Death Dance record. And gradually this kind of collaboration became more widespread.

For me, two acts epitomise the rise of the poet/musician collaboration. UK Poetry Slam Champion and rapper Dizraeli, whose band Dizraeli and the Small Gods regularly pack out venues and festival tents up and down the country, and Kate Tempest's band Sound of Rum, who have just completed a nationwide tour supporting Billy Bragg. Poetry and music are in a relationship again in a way that some of us may have forgotten could be done after the deluge of Popstars and Pop Idols.

The latest incarnation of this wonderful surge is the announcement that the lovely Jodi Ann Bickley is going to team up with dub-step artist Skream on a new track. Jodi has worked in the past with people like Ed Sheeran and Jamie Woon, and this is one more step on that roller-coaster ride of fame she has found in the last 18 months.

When asked about the rise in these sort of collaborations, she told me: "The reason people like Adele and Ed Sheeran are so popular is not only their unbelievable voice, it's the narrative within each song and how we can relate it all to our own lives. The same with The Streets; Mike Skinner stands on stage basically talking to a soundtrack - where the music paints the picture, the words add the narrative, and together it makes something real beautiful that even "MALIA LADZ ON TOUR 2011" sort of guys finds themselves loving. I guess we are slowly conning people into poetry, not because they wouldn't like it if they heard it on T4 or Radio 1, but because we just haven't got that recognition yet. Artists such as Ghostpoet, LV and Josh Idehen, Sound of Rum, Greeds and the Remedies, Dizareli and the Small Gods are battling to change things this year and with some Big names on side it looks like a battle we could win.'

So there it is, straight from the front line. The 'battle' that Jodi speaks of is slowly taking shape and it looks like the poets are going to rise again. It won't be the poetry of Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, but it will be different and just as strong. The musical landscape is changing and the poets are gearing up to take their place and play as big a part in that as they used to. I, for one, can't wait!

 

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