“Poets in the modern world don’t enjoy the elevated social status they did a century or two ago. Wordsworth, Byron, Keats and Shelley were the rock stars of their time. Their poetic skills earned them adulation, celebrity and even a touch of wealth.
These days, poems and poetry are sadly relegated to sparsely attended coffeehouse readings or the obscure pages of tiny literary magazines.
On the other side of the proverbial coin, there are wonderful opportunities available in today’s music industry for talented poets who successfully adapt their writing style to song lyric writing. Songs are the popular lyrical medium of our time. That’s where the status is. That’s where the money is.”
The above quote is from the introduction to “Poetry and Song Lyrics” by Carla Starrett. She goes on to describe the similarities and differences between poetry and song lyrics. Both use potent language, engage readers and listeners on an emotional level and require skilled use of words and rhyming. Beyond the basic contrast of reading a poem and listening to a song, Starrett observes that a poem can be more complex (re-read for understanding) and can be any length, and can be read silently standing alone without voice or accompaniment.
In the lesson Seeing Poetry Through Song Lyrics, on Outta Ray’s Head’s Poetry Page, former teacher librarian Ray Saitz explains how he taught his students that modern poetry can often be seen or heard through song lyrics. Some poetic devices as applied to lyrics are discussed in this post on Pardon My Ducks.
Bob Woodward explores the origins of poetry and asks if poetry and song lyrics have diverged into to completely different forms of expression in the article Lyrics Poetry?.
“Long before the written word there was poetry, and it was through this oral tradition that much of the form and feel of today’s verse was developed; its melodies and rhythms, and the rhymes which until recently were such an integral part of the discipline, all have their roots in a poetry that, in some sense, was meant to be sung. Though I’m not daring enough to attempt a definition of poetry here, I’d argue that the feature that sets it apart most definitely from prose is this musicality. However, since the advent of writing, a poetry that is written primarily for the printed page has evolved down some very different paths from its oral counterpart. “
Perhaps, considering the challenge in inspiring a connection in our students to poetry, the form has simply begun to revert to its origins. Our students identify with song lyrics, many of them can recite (or sing) the words to multiple songs without effort. I suspect that for most, we could identify poetic devices used and appreciated deliberately or instinctively by writer and listener.
Therefore, I have decided to employ their connection to song lyrics to engage my students in thinking about poetry for Poetry Month.
I took this decision, without any other specific plans to my Library Advisors Group and asked for their ideas. Within minutes they had decided to create a poetry poster contest adjusted slightly by grade division. Students will be asked to create a poster with their favourite and most poetic (in their own opinion) song lyrics: individually from Grades 7-9 and as a class in Grades 1-6. The winning posters in Division 1 (Grades 1-3) and Division 2 (Grades 4-6) will win dance parties for their class. One poster in Junior High and one in Senior High will each win for their maker a $25.00 gift certificate from a music store.
The advisor’s group is going to make an example/contest announcement poster and record announcements with music to promote the contest. I am very proud of how they have embraced this project.
Teachers who want to embrace this project can get more ideas from the sites linked above and the Song Analysis Webquest, which, after the lesson, encourages students to ” …take some time to be aware of the poetry in the music you hear every day. The next time you turn on the radio, listen closely! You’ll hear similes, metaphors, alliteration, and all of the devices we’ve been learning about during our unit. Imagine that!”