Plenty of poets who only learned English later Have plenty of English to tell, Which makes their poems all the greater – Using their step-mother tongue so well. But usually, only in free verse, it must be said, Not often in rhyme – (Unless they are writing in pop instead, Cos that happens all the time !)
I asked for a poem from the algorithm – It took the simple prompt it was given, And after thinking a second or so, The words began to flow…
And they were bad, man, Really bad – The scribbling of a mixed-up lad. Cos the thing with greenhorns, They lack know-how, But think the world must hear them now… Till one day, we’ll all look back and laugh, At AI’s opening paragraph.
Sure, they had rhyme and they had rhythm, Verse by verse, the cursor driven, Never knowing when it said enough, Just filled the screen with stuff…
But this was bad, man, Really bad – The first draft of an undergrad. Cos the thing with students, Is that they learn, Just practicing until their turn… Till one day, a beautiful work of art From a Turing Test will break our heart.
I learned so much of what I know of poetry From the joys of pop – I soaked it up, subconscious, in no hurry, Drop by golden drop. The verse, the chorus, the linking-bit inbetween, And the bridge that would soar – The words were the fuel in the polished machine, In structures as old as lore.
I never knew how I knew it at all, But I knew it all, When I heard the chorus call –
And the songs remained the same, That’s how they’re made, For any old hit you can name – A-B-A-B, occasional C, It’s all a game, Repeat to fade.
I learned so much, I even learned surprise When the form was messed about – I loved it when they threw me, played me wise, From frustration or mischief, no doubt. From starting with the chorus before the verse, Or adding a verse when it ought to end – It felt illicit, and I longed to immerse, In my iconoclastic, mixed-up friend
I never knew how I knew it was wrong, But I knew so strong When I heard that rebel song –
Cos the songs can’t stay the same – We need new tricks Not more of what the past became – A-B-A-B, you’re boring me – Let’s change the game, Let’s re- the mix !
Come on, pop, I’m looking to you For something new, To change your key. So come on, pop, don’t let it be, Let’s tear on through This boogaloo ! I need you, pop, to shake the tree, Rejecting their authority, A-one, a-two, A-set-me-free, That’s what you do – So do it for me !
Are you ready, Ready to leap right off this ridge ? Into the space beyond the dials ? Into our hungry ears ? To see what’s at other end of this bridge, In the unfamiliar miles Of the pregnant years ? Just because we’ve played three minutes, Who says that it’s time to stop ? To push things past the social limits, Isn’t that the point of pop ?
Examples of unusual song structures that struck me over the years:
OMD often used an instrumental hook as a chorus, as does Seven Nation Army. Del Shannon’s Runaway used an instrumental in place of the second verse. The Byrds’ version of Mr Tambourine Man has a chorus, a verse, a chorus…and that’s it ! Does that make the verse more of a bridge…? Except it feels it lasts too long for that… This feels like a cut-down version of AABA (many ‘Great American Songbook’ tunes, like Somewhere Over the Rainbow), where the verses are doing all the heavy lifting with just a single bridge coming in the latter half.
Speaking of verses, repeating the opening stanza at the end of the song is quite common (Nights In White Satin, Annie’s Song), but Paper Planes by MIA repeats all of its four verses as soon as it sings them, so we hear the first verse twice before moving onto the second, which then repeats before the third etc. Killing In The Name uses the same verse (and of course the same chorus) before it’s extended bridge section that you’ll never hear on the radio, and Mr Brightside effectively repeats the entire song in the second half. Not to mention I’m Henery the Eighth I Am…
Sometimes an instrumental would come early, after the first chorus instead of the second (Pipes of Peace, The Importance of Being Idle), followed by a repeat of the chorus which we perceive as the climax, but then proceed with the second unexpected verse while not actually being any longer.
Some songs reduce the chorus to a single line, like The Sound of Silence. Perhaps this is less ‘chorus’ and more ‘refrain’. Conversely, songs that could be thought of as all chorus Love Me Do and There She Goes. Other songs, like many by Def Leppard, deny us the chorus the first time through, moving from pre-chorus straight into the second verse.
Metal has often seen songs as more of a symphony, and not just in terms of guitar solos – they often have more lyrics and parts than three-minute pop – for instance, Metallica’s One develops midway into almost a different song, and doesn’t even circling back to its origins. Even more medley-esque is Happiness is a Warm Gun, where the parts only feel loosely related. Another song which wanders yet finds its way back home is Bohemian Rhapsody, yet keeping us on our toes through the journey (or at least it did when first we heard it, way back when).
Some songs seem to introduce the bridge for the first time, but then forget to repeat the chorus, so we have an outro instead, like Immigrant Song, Flash, or What Do You Want From Me.
But best of all wae the songs which refuse to keep under five minutes, and not just by repeating the chorus too many times. Some like Suede’s The Asphalt World make us think they’re winding down, but the coda turns into an intermission as they kick themselves up again and regain their momentum. I get this sense from I Feel Love as well, as long as you don’t have the bastardised cut-down radio version.
Of course, not every song can have a bizarre structure, nor should it, but neither should we feel compelled to follow the formula when the song wants to go somewhere different. If only, following AAB, the Rainbow had led us to a C instead…?
There’s a poem that I meant to write, Back when I wrote them ev’ry day, Back when I still had things to say – I should have said it then. And now, I don’t remember quite, Except it would have been a hit – Before it faded, bit by bit, And stayed within my pen.
But humour me and let me quote to you Some lines I almost wrote – Some lines I never got to know, Yet knew were quite the best I’d ever show. Ah well, no point lamenting, Or resenting one that floated off instead – Although, I sometimes wonder At the hundred things that moment might have said.
There’s a poem that I meant to write, Back when the poems wrote themselves, As passionate as magic spells – I should have cast it then. And now, the page is far too white, And now my metre’s far too slow. I had my chance, and let it go – It won’t come round agen.
But sit with me and let me read A few more lines I never freed, Some lines I never knew I knew – Adieu – into the ether with god-speed. Ah well, no point regretting, Or forgetting all the other ones that stay – I wrote too many verses To waste curses on the one that got away.
Once you had the finest actors Reading the finest verse. These days, all you have are poets – Humourless, or ever worse…- Picking po-faced prosy poems With not a single rhyme, So self-important now, And yet won’t stand the test of time.
What happened to the punk sensibility Of doing-it-yourself, and damn the rules ? Now it’s a lit-fest for middle-class luvvies With their tortured trochees taught in schools. Your audience is tiny and shrinking, With afternoon Sundays such a bore – But you tick the boxes and fill the quotas, And isn’t that what poetry’s for ?
Once you had the finest actors Reading the finest verse, But now your budget is slashed, And your ambition must fit your purse. They read them out in lilting whinges, Full of I Me Mine – Come on, Roger, cheer us up, With a quick and witty line !
Is anyone more self-obsessed than a poet ? Raging and swooning and preaching out loud – These lilting doom-mongers and told-you-so know-it-alls, Playing their ev’ry stray thought to the crowd.
Smugger than columnists, vainer than vloggers, Oblivious pedants and bleeding-heart pseuds – Even the Northerns are middle-class floggers Who castigate readers for wrong attitudes.
With relevance dwindled and audience bored, With their meanings obscured and their verbiage enlarged, They choose to ignore how the world has ignored them – They’re people like me, infact – guilty as charged.
Ogden Nash, a curious beast, A sentiment-famine and sarcasm-feast, A mem’rable name from another age, A cynical-eyed bespectacled sage. A clutter of couplets, a strenuous rhyme, A rapid-fire rhythm in Brooklyn time. And puns by the plenty, both groaners and snorters – Whicj when we try to quote, we forget three-quarters.
What’s that ? This is a sonnet, you say ? Are you sure ? It seems all at sevens-and-nines… A sonnet, I thought, is an interplay, And not just four quatrains missing two lines ? And honestly, this is a mess, all the way, With less imag’ry and more warning signs – It just about holds to its rhythm okay, Though that cannot be said of its half-arsed rhymes. Regarding its volta…I guess that it has one, Though hardly a good one, it’s barely defined – And when it resolves, well, at least there’s no pun ! So, C+ for effort…and that’s being kind…! If this is a sonnet, there’s loads for the taking… Then…oh no !…is that all the point that it’s making…?