All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Difference Between Poetry and Lyrics

I don't know anyone who doesn't have at least some appreciation for music. And within my writer circles, I don't know anyone who doesn't have their favorite musicians. Of course, the personal reasoning behind a particular artist being the favorite can vary wildly, from musical genre preference to their variety of styles to simply the way that musician makes the writer feel. However, it doesn't take much digging to find that most writers have a group of musicians that they like for their lyrics. No surprise here, but lyrics are harder to write than we might think.

I hope someone gets the reference...
Lyric composition is a special category of writing that also qualifies as a close cousin of poetry (no, this is not another poetry post). While the message is the same as any story or poem, good lyrics follow a very distinct meter and pattern, usually with a fairly tight rhyme scheme. The reason is that it creates a distinct pattern that instills the song's beat into the listener, and they are able to see what is coming. 

Here's the first lines from Bob Dylan's lyrical masterwork, Subterranean Homesick Blues. Read it aloud and feel how the measure builds as you go through the lines (the above link also can play the song, if that's your thing):

Johnny's in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I'm on the pavement
Thinking 'bout the government

Now, as cryptic as these lyrics might be, the meter and measure of this piece is so precise that it serves as instructions on how to read through the rest of the song. You don't even need the musical accompaniment to understand how the song should go. As you read subsequent stanzas, that rhythm stays with you throughout the entire piece - even building to where you might be singing just like Mr. Dylan himself.

The other difference between lyrics and writing is that lyrics can, and often do, abuse grammar in order to fit to the measure. Formal poetry is a discipline of making grammatically clean sentences within a meter and rhyme scheme. Write them as lyrics, and maybe you throw in a few extra words or useless prepositions to fill in the beat. Redundancies and flabby grammar take over, maybe because you need to end the line with something that rhymes with "-in."

With lyrics, this is okay.

If you choose to try writing lyrics, your attention quickly shifts to meter and measure, followed by trying to express your message in a clear and concise way. The real masters of lyrical expression accomplish both of these feats, but the first one will always take priority. Just ask Bob Dylan.

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