Is Pop Poetry?

The media recently carried a story concerning the singer Taylor Swift and how her music is to be studied at the University of Texas alongside the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Keats. An example of the coverage can be found here,

I am no musical snob. The music of Oasis, the Beatles, REM, Dido, Edele and Lana Del Rey all give me pleasure, and I frequently listen to the forgoing artists (along with many others) whilst relaxing at home.

Much pop music uses rhyme to great effect and the poet in me responds to the use of rhyme and rhythm in popular music. Some artists have produced works of poetry. See, for example Lana Del Ray’s Violet Bent Over the Grass Backwards,

Despite my enjoyment of pop music, it is, on the whole distinct from poetry and should not be conflated with it. The University of Texas has decided to offer a course on Taylor Swift’s work alongside that of some of the literary greats, including John Keats and William Shakespeare. On this logic why are not the Beatles or Lana Del Ray’s music being offered? One has to have in place some objective criteria for determining what constitutes literature (of the poetic variety) as distinct from music. If one does not, then Pandora’s Box is opened and all music can (potentially) be studied as poetry.

The distinctions between poetry and music are, of course fluid and many poems have been set to music. See, for example A. E. Housman’s Bredon Hill, However, whilst music is often poetic (or frequently contains poetic elements), it is not poetry, it is music.

Let me confess that I am not a fan of Taylor Swift’s music. I accept she is a talented singer/musician, however her lyrics do not uplift and/or inspire me. I could, of course say the same as regards certain poets. However, whilst their work leaves me cold, I do recognise it as falling under the category of poetry. In the case of Taylor Swift I do not.

From my own admittedly highly subjective perspective, I do not see the music of Swift being widely listened to in 50-100 years time, whilst the poetry of Philip Larkin, T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden will, I feel sure continue to be read and appreciated.

There are those who argue that funding for higher education should be directed only (or primarily) to those courses that constitute “value for money”. On this view business and management courses should be prioritised over arts courses as the earning power of graduates taking business courses is (on the whole) greater than those who graduate with a degree in fine art or English Literature. I do not share this view. However, I do worry that studying Taylor Swift alongside the literary greats plays into the hands of those who see little (if any value) in English Literature as a degree.

As always, I would appreciate the views of my readers.


12 thoughts on “Is Pop Poetry?

  1. OIKOS™- Art, Books & more

    I think there are many interests want to mix up and change all we got told about culture, history and other things more. I am not sure, but if this should create a new and more free community this will end up in full crazyness. Best wishes, Michael

    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Change is inevitable in life, but it should be measured change and sensible. I’m sceptical as to whether putting Taylor Swift alongside some of the literary greats is a good idea. Your comment made me smile, Michael. Kevin

  2. Victoria Zigler

    I’m a big fan of music, and I can appreciate the similarities between it and poetry. I mean, in many ways songs are poetry accompanied by a melody. However, I don’t feel modern poetry of any kind can be compared to the classical works. Same goes for novels. By all means study the songs using some of the techniques used when studying poetry. In fact, I expect that would be a fascinating course to take. By all means compare modern pop songs to modern poetry, and discuss the similarities and differences between poetry and music. Again, I’m sure that would be a fascinating class. But don’t compare these things to poets of the 19th century or earlier.

    That’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.

    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Tori. I always appreciate your comments. You make some interesting points and (as I say in my post) there exist similaraties between poetry and music, and many poems have been turned into songs. However, there is a danger of a “free for all” where Taylor Swift is joined by other pop artists and students are left pursuing courses containing a mishmash of popular music and poetry. This would, I believe play into the hands of those who contend that English Literature and other arts courses are a waste of time/money. Best wishes. Kevin

  3. Liz Gauffreau

    I think the Independent’s headline and story are a bit misleading to stir up controversy. In the US, special topics courses in popular culture have long been offered by colleges.They’re often interdisciplinary and can be offered by English, Sociology, or Humanities departments. I don’t think anyone is making the case that Taylor Swift’s popular music is an a par with Shakespeare or Chaucer’s work.

    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Many thanks for your comment Liz, which helps to shed a potentially new light on the story carried by the Independent and other news outlets here in the UK. I am still not convinced that studying the music of Taylor Swift alongside the works of Keats and other literary masters is particularly worthwhile, but perhaps I am turning into an old reactionary. Best wishes. Kevin


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