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, https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/taylor-swift-university-degree-texas-b2151492.html.
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, https://www.waterstones.com/book/violet-bent-backwards-over-the-grass/lana-del-rey/9781471199660.
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, https://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk/song/4407. 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.