Skip to content

Thursday prompt #2: Singer, Sing Me a Song

May 13, 2010

This week’s prompt comes to us from Nicole Nicholson. But before we get to the prompt, some quick reminders about how we work:

  1. You have from now until next Wednesday to work on your poem. Wait to post it until Wednesday, when the “Post Your Poems” call goes up. That way you’ll get the most readers. Just comment on that post, and leave a link to your poem on your blog. If you don’t have a blog, you can leave your poem in its entirety.
  2. Remember to give credit if you use a quote or photos in your post.

…And now, our prompt!

Many songwriters have been heavily interested in and influenced by poetry, and some lyrics have a heavy poetic bent to them. A few come to mind: Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Gordon Downie (of the Canadian band The Tragically Hip), and Jim Morrison (late lead singer and songwriter of The Doors). What’s interesting is that all five of these songwriters have also published poetry.

There are other songwriters who, while not so deeply involved in poetry, display poetic tendencies in their lyrics. One good example is the lyrics written by Michael Stipe of the U.S. rock band R.E.M. (you might recognize the title of this week’s prompt from the lyrics of “King of Birds”). In addition to his songwriting, he has also written haiku for part of a poetry project called The Haiku Year.

Here is the first verse of “King of Birds:”

A thumbnail sketch, a jeweler’s stone,
a mean idea to call my own.
Old man, don’t lie so still. You’re not yet young, there’s time to teach –
point to point, point observation (children carry reservations).
Standing on the shoulders of giants leaves me cold, leaves me cold.
A mean idea to call my own, a hundred million birds fly.

And then there’s the crossover between the spoken word and rap/hip-hop genres. Taalam Acey comes to mind as a spoken word artist who incorporates poetic elements in his performances. And when I attend open mics, I hear hip-hop influence in the work of a lot of poets on the mic, namely in style, rhyming techniques, and rhythm.

Opposite to poetry influencing songwriting, as a poet I find that many of my poems have been inspired by songs. Sometimes entire albums have inspired me, or even a misheard lyric (for example, one of my recent poems, Crucify, was written based on a misheard Dave Matthews Band lyric).

For this week’s prompt, write a poem after listening to some music. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • When listening, tap into whatever images the song evokes for you in your mind and heart. Use those to write your poem. (You could even try this with an entire album).
  • Write a poem that retells the narrative in a song, if it has one (with your own creative spin, of course).
  • Use some of the lyrics as a framework to write your poem. You could quote them as an epigraph before the poem or even use them in the poem itself (be sure to credit the original artist).

You could do this with any kind of music – don’t limit yourself. You could do this with instrumental or classical music as well as those with spoken or sung lyrics.

Have fun…and let the music be your special friend this week.

  1. May 13, 2010 8:40 pm

    Ironically Nicole, I began writing poetry because I was the lyricist for the rock bands I was a member of soooooo many years ago — and nearly every poem I’ve ever written, essentially all my writing, poetry or not, is written to the influence of music. In recent years that music is jazz — a most potent stimulant for my muse… 😉

    • May 13, 2010 8:49 pm

      Nicole, I have just decided how I will approach your prompt. It is a musical version of Russian roulette. I first flipped a coin to determine if I would access my vinyl albums or my CD’s. Vinyl won, so I went to my bookshelf where they are stored, closed my eyes, turned around a few times to disorient myself — then reached out and pulled an album. I will be writing my poem, in response to your prompt, under the influence of “Mysterious Traveler” by Weather Report — should be interesting…

  2. May 14, 2010 6:32 am

    Cool prompt. I’ve written a few poems in response to Hip songs over the years. So I might try that again this time. So much to work with. Have you seen them live? Downie improvises new lyrics into his songs the way guitarists take solos. The guy is amazing.

  3. May 14, 2010 8:49 am

    Cool prompt Nicole. This should be fun.

  4. May 16, 2010 3:29 pm

    @Rob: Interesting that you have the experience writing lyrics. I’ve written a few songs in my life, but 90% of my non-prose writing is poetry. Since I tend to have music on a lot, and since I worked years ago as a disc jockey for one of campus radio stations where I did my undergrad, music is kind of a natural part of my consciousness.

    @James: I have never seen the Hip live, but would love to. Downie’s lyrics strike me as well constructed, very aware of their own meanings and sonic qualities, and almost erudite at times.

    @Pamela: Thank you. I tried to come up with something that was interesting but yet reachable…I believe that music taps heavily into our unconscious minds so the results of this prompt should be very interesting. 🙂

  5. May 17, 2010 6:32 am

    Oops! My alter ego posted that last comment. That was me.


  6. May 19, 2010 4:21 pm

    Inspired by a song from Willy Wonka:
    Impure Imagination

  7. Druckyexecy permalink
    March 6, 2011 9:26 am

    good start


  1. WWP Poem #2: Meridians « Raven's Wing Poetry
  2. Writer’s Island #3: The Key « Raven's Wing Poetry
  3. You keep me from falling apart « lost in translation
  4. Inspired by Philip Glass « My Poetic License
  5. My Garden - Uma Gowrishankar :: Haven: A Tanka :: May :: 2010
  6. Leaky Lyrics, Keep Me Dry...

Comments are closed.