Tag Archives: english literature

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, 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.

Trigger Warnings

“Universities are accused of ‘mollycoddling’ and ‘patronising’ students as books are removed from reading lists over ‘challenging’ content and trigger warnings are slapped on 1,000 texts including works by Dickens, Shakespeare, and Chaucer”.

I won’t comment other than to say that treating adults as children is patronising in the extreme. If someone is going to be “triggered” by a book they should seriously consider whether English Literature is the right course for them.

Real life is often unpleasant and there are, obviously no “trigger warnings” on the real world. Part of growing up entails becoming exposed to the world (warts and all) whether via interactions with living beings, or through reading works of fiction, watching films Etc.

Meet Robert Galbraith err I mean JK Rowling!

The Daily Mail reports that the crime novel, A Cuckoo’s Calling, by the first time author Robert Galbraith wasn’t selling well until it was discovered that it had, in fact been written by one JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame! The book is now selling like hot cakes. I must be one of the few people who has never read any of the Harry Potter novels, however being a lover of crime fiction I’m tempted to head over to Amazon and purchase Robert’s (sorry Rowling’s) latest offering! For the article please visit http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2362812/Harry-Potter-author-JK-Rowlings-crime-thriller-A-Cuckoos-Calling-rejected-publisher-sales-soared-revealed-writer.html

emotionally cold?

An interesting article in The Daily Mail caught my attention, “Read it and weep! Modern day books contain 14% less emotional content than books published 100 years ago”, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2296585/Read-weep-Modern-day-books-contain-14-emotional-content-books-published-100-years-ago.html

Change for Change’s Sake

Yesterday evening as I browsed through the books on my bookshelves I was struck by the beauty of the hard back titles. The Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) used to provide books either in soft paper covers or, alternatively in what they described as cloth . boards. I am of the view that books are long term friends so purchased the hard back versions. Sadly RNIB no longer offer cloth bound volumes so the blind person wishing to purchase titles has Hobsons choice (they must like or lump the soft cover books sold by the Institute).

The hard cover books feel permanent and possess a wonderful scent wholly lacking in their soft bound alternatives. It is a real pleasure to take down Wuthering Heights in it’s cloth boards not only because it is a marvellous story but also due to the volumes being a pleasure to handle. They feel as though they where made to last and the braille protected as it is by the robust covers remains easy to read unlike some of my paper bound books. Where I to be a sighted person I would purchase hard backs in preference to paperbacks as they exude a sense of permanence and dare one say it stability.

As I browsed my books my mind wandered and I began to ponder the issue of permanence more generally. On occasions it seems as though we are, as a society obsessed with the ephemeral. Next time you are on public transport witness the number of people who are engrossed in madly texting rather than reading a book. Some of these texts are no doubt important, however especially with teenagers one suspects that many are wholly inane and are being sent to people whom the teen has only just left. Again the constant checking of Facebook fosters a view of the world in which nothing is permanent, things change constantly and one must always be moving forward on a roller coaster from one exciting post to another.

To sit down with a book is in contrast an experience to be savoured. With a good book one must concentrate and yes sometimes struggle. However the pleasure to be derived from comprehending a complicated plot or a difficult subject does (in my view) outweigh the shallow pleasures which eminate from the obsessive use of social media. In time (a very short time) most of the posts on Facebook will be forgotten, however Emily Brontae, Charles Dickens and other great writers will remain as proof that there is more to the world than a vapid ever shifting obsession with change for change’s sake.

I hope that I am not turning into an old fogey before my time!





Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night Dylan Thomas

I am not a huge fan of Dylan Thomas. I do, however love his poem Do Not Go Gentle and I was pleased to come across the poet reading his own poem on Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2cgcx-GJTQ&feature=em-subs_digest-vrecs.