The Your Voice section of The Poet’s List showcases articles and blog posts written by poets. These pieces may or not be about poetry. Most often, they are on topics with which the poet finds passion. You can find more of these posts, here: Your Voice.
By James Dawson
Whenever Miss Walker, a somewhat embattled English teacher from West Yorkshire, used to announce her lesson would focus on poetry, a groan ran around the class. Poems were boring. Without exception, a photocopied sheet would be plonked in front of us. They were often about the first world war. I remember once our task was to illustrate such a poem with felt-tip poppies. I’d love to tell you the poets we studied back in the 1990s but I can’t remember a single name. I do, however, recall a lot of dead men, clouds, daffodils and tigers burning bright.
But here’s the interesting thing. At the same time that I was dreading poetry lessons at school I was actually writing poems. Only I didn’t know it. What I was actually writing were song lyrics. Inspired by the likes of Blur, Garbage, Pulp, Placebo and even the Spice Girls, I would jot down the odd chorus or verse and not for a second did I think of myself as a poet. There was a fundamental disconnect with the stuffy, fusty poems we studied in school and the poetry I was listening to on my twin-deck cassette player.
Perhaps it was the fact that so many of the poems were written decades, if not centuries, before I was born. Perhaps it was that so many of them were written by long dead poets or that the language was not of my era. Whatever the reason, the poems and the poets felt so far out of my reach that I was unable to relate to them in the way that I could to Kurt Cobain or Kate Bush. Maybe it was a matter of presentation – a sad photocopied A4 sheet simply isn’t as cool or inspiring as David Bowie, whatever the words printed on it.
During my 20s I was in an electro-pop garage band (oh who wasn’t?) and was responsible for the lyrics, but still failed to see myself as a poet.
It was around this time I started to use song lyrics in my poetry lessons when I was still teaching. As ludicrous as it sounds I got my Year 6 class to analyse Girls Aloud’s Love Machine. It’s gloriously bonkers with “gift-wrapped kitty cats, only turning into tigers when we gotta fight back” or “let’s go, eskimo, out into the blue.” Needless to say, Year 6 loved it in a way I’d never loved poetry lessons. The penny dropped: songs are poems. Imagery, personification, vocabulary, structure, repetition… it’s all there in every song and every poem.