Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Strong Verse

I used to write poetry a lot. And I mean a lot.

Back in college, in Indiana, I minored in creative writing. I took a bunch of poetry writing classes. It was over that time that my writing evolved. I used to think that obscure and confusing was cool. I had a really good teacher that showed me that the point of art was to communicate, not to obfuscate.

I still write poetry, but most of it is in the form of song lyrics. There are those who would separate those two into different camps. There are songwriters that say that poems can’t be lyrics, and poets that think that song lyrics are simply strings of clich├ęs. And, by the definitions in their own minds, they’re both right. In my mind, however, they are inseparable. A song is merely a poem written with certain rules of form and structure.

That does mean, however, that a good song should be much more “poetic” in its use of imagery and a good turn of a phrase.

Both, however, should be clear. One of my biggest gripes with both the poets I read and the songwriters I listen to is that they both seem to think, as I used to, that obscurity is the epitome of artistic expression.


If I don’t get it, you failed to communicate.

Today, I found a website that’s dedicated to poetry that reflects these values. It’s published by, no surprise, Orson Scott Card. The site is, and their slogan is “Great Poetry is meant to be understood, not decoded.” In their submission guidelines is the following rule: “If your poetry can only be understood by you or your close group of friends, share it with them.”

That’s so cool. I wish more mopey, angtsy, sappy “alternative” songwriters would do that…

Mark Hansen


  1. Hi, Mark.

    In one sense, I agree, probably because I tend to write in a more obvious way. But I also love poems and lyrics that are very vague and sometimes wish I could write more that way.

    One of my favorite lyricists is Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip (huge in Canada, mostly unknown in the States), and more often than not, I don't know exactly what he means in a particular song, and yet there are little nuggets and layers of meaning and understanding that come through and make it so interesting to discover. Sam Payne is much the same way. And that's why I've always loved e.e. cummings' poetry. Sure, it's kind of gimmicky, with the punctuation tricks and all that, but there are also many really cool things to discover in the process of trying to understand the work.

    Sometimes, a poem or song that isn't clear at all is a great means of getting your mind to think in a more abstract and creative way.


  2. I remember back in a social poetry class that I took... I had an assignment to "decode" a certain poem. I worked on it for a while, came up with some images in my head and thought I had it down, it was logical to me, the images were SO obvious in there symbolism ...I thought. I turned in a paper thinking I would earn an A and thought that there could not have been an alternative meaning to the poem.

    Obviously by now you know that I goofed the entire thing up. The teacher was less than impressed, thought I was insulting *her* personally in my paper and gave me the worst grade I had ever recieved.

    I see symbols sometimes where there are none, and I have been known to find "weird/hidden" symbols in scripture, stories, and you name it.

    hmmm. It made such sense at the time...



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