Poetry and music share a long history. Long ago, the ancient Greeks used song to memorize Homer’s epic poems; and in slightly more recent times Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” expressed the blossoming of a new, distinctly American point of view. From the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, the Romantic period and the Victorian, poets have drawn on song as a muse and vice versa. In modern times, acclaimed songwriters ranging from Bob Dylan to Patti Smith draw on poetry as a source of inspiration for their art. In her memoir Just Kids, Smith recalls coming into her own as an artist and how the poetry and life of Arthur Rimbaud deeply affected her own journey.
As a songwriter myself, I gain insight into my own lyrical process from reading and studying poetry. Even when I am working on other things, I keep a copy of Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Sonnets to Orpheus on my desk as a reminder of the beauty and power of words. To celebrate National Poetry Month this April, why not let a poem be your muse and guide you as you write your next great song? Here are some songwriting tips to help you find your way!
Find what moves you! I’m sure that when you were in school, you were introduced to the traditional great poets like William Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson. If those poets inspire you, fantastic! If you don’t feel moved by their words, it’s time to do some exploring. Search the web for poets who share your heritage, hometown, astrological sign, or whatever helps you feel connected. If you have trouble finding a poet whose work speaks to you, ask a librarian, teacher, or bookseller for tips.
Get to the heart of the matter. Once you’ve found a poet whose work feels meaningful and important to you, pick one poem that particularly stands out. Spend time with the poem figuring out what makes it tick and why the poem is meaningful to you. Are you drawn to an image that the poem presents, an intriguing metaphor, or a familiar emotion that the poem evokes? Explore why the poem draws you in and allow that point of interest to become your muse.
Bring it in. Once you feel that you’re in a kind of dialogue with the poem, draw on that conversation as you write your own lyrics. Don’t just borrow an image or a line. Think of your song as a reply to the poem. Do you agree with the poem’s conclusions? How does the poem look in your world as compared to the poet’s world? Make it personal and specific to your own voice as a writer
Does poetry inspire your songwriting? Tell us about your work, your favorite poets, and your own songwriting tips in the comments!
–Megan L. TakeLessons Staff Member and Blogger
Photo by Nataliesap