Leonard Cohen and his typewriter
But fuck Jim Morrison
Music has always had its fair share of poetry—them lyrics aren’t going to write themselves and evoke an emotional response on their own, dammit! In fact, many musicians are actually published poets in their own right. Here, we’ll round them up for you.
Patti Smith, the high priestess of rock, is a superb writer, and most of her music has poetic overtones or even flows like the best spoken-word you’ve ever heard. Her autobiographical account of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorp, Just Kids, is the most beautiful account of being broke and in love in New York that I’ve ever read. She’s also written a hearty handful of poetics, containing all the sincere beauty of her prose and lyrics. For further reading, try her collection, Babel.
You know him as the howling frontman of hardcore bands Black Flag and the Rollins Band, but did you know he is also a decent spoken-word poet? This isn’t at all surprising, considering his activist temperament and fondness for the stage. If you’re interested in some tru punxxx verses of a poetic persuasion, check out the Black Coffee Blues trilogy, which includes the namesake book, Black Coffee Blues, as well as Do I Come Here Often?, and Smile, You’re Traveling. Then for good measure, you should re-watch that episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race where Rollins was a guest judge. It’s magical.
The founder of Silver Jews and Pavement knows his way around some evocative metaphors. Berman’s foray into poetry just makes sense, with his insightful perspective on personal relationships, a sly, intense regard for the past, and a sprinkling of pop culture references (“I am not a Cub Scout seduced by Iron Maiden’s mirror worlds …”). For a great (read: “strange and witty”) read, pick up his collection, Actual Air.
Before he was a folk singer, writing songs about getting sexual favors from Janis Joplin, Cohen was a poet and novelist. Unlike most music superstars who begin writing poetry on the side because they had too many artistic feels for just one outlet, he did just the opposite by putting his already fantastic poems to song. This resulted in some of the most beautiful song lyrics of the century, ranging in content from lost (or outright weird) love to French Canadian history to religion, all with a sexual undertone that would be disjointed from any other musician. Find his collection, Let Us Compare Mythologies, and feel bad about your own writing skills forever. Read his novel, Beautiful Losers, for a great sad read with a lot of weird sex.
Because he’s Bob Dylan, that’s why. While his published poetry and prose might ramble a little (OK, a lot), look at his discography and tell me his songwriting isn’t poetry in disguise. Then read Tarantula. It’s not always coherent, but it’s not bad either.
Fuck Jim Morrison. He was a crappy poet with an ego the size of the moon. Read his book The Lords and the New Creatures at your own risk.