Life is too short to live without poetry
(Poetry of the Deed ~ Frank Turner, 2009)
It was #WorldPoetryDay yesterday. I admit, I hadn’t heard of that day before, but I very much enjoyed people sharing their favourite poems on Twitter. I furthermore have to admit, that I don’t really read poetry. I remember some of the classics from having read them in school of course and even after school I did read poetry occasionally. I sometimes think I should broaden my knowledge and read some more and especially more contemporary poetry, but then… I never do. It’s a shame actually and maybe I should make distinct plans to remedy that.
But lyrics also are a form of poetry, right? At least, I always thought so. My blog, my rules ;-) And I had always wanted to write a more comprehensive – to some degree at least – post about why I love Frank Turner’s lyrics so much. Because it’s not just what he is singing about and it’s not just the amazing tunes accompanying his words, that have turned me into such a huge fan so fast. A big factor also was the sheer beauty of these words. On their own and strung together. Sometimes I’m a nerd about language – the English language anyway – to the extent, that reading or in this case hearing some words or expressions or combinations of those just make me happy. In that regard alone Frank’s lyrics for me really are a source of joy. Now add to that, how I can so often also relate on a very personal level to some of the emotions and experiences he is singing about and you might get an idea why I’m fangirling over his art (and him, let’s be honest) to the extent that I do.
So let’s talk about the various aspects I enjoy and admire about his lyrics: Rhythm, repetition (of which rhyme is just one part), imagery and his way to play with words. For which there probably also a technical term exists, but I have no clue how to describe it any better.
Let’s start with the rhythm, which of course has a lot to do with the music of the songs as such. I love that his words always seem to flow along so seamlessly. I love the variety of his rhythmical patterns; of course each time very much influenced by the melody of song. Or maybe vice versa? Nerd that I am, I am kind of curious about how this part of song writing comes together: Finding words to a tune? Finding a tune to some words? Anyway, I love the variety.
There are songs, which keep a very strict and even meter for the whole song like “Journey of the Magi”, one of my favourites in that regard. The way he draws out the one-syllable word “played” for instance. There are a few more songs, which are similar in this way, that each verse (and the chorus) has the same or at least very similar even rhythmical pattern. Often also with some sort of rhyme scheme for the end of the lines. “Rivers”, “The Road”, “1933”. But there are also quite a lot of great songs, which don’t have such a recurring rhythmical pattern. At least none I recognise ;-) Each verse of these songs is still rhythmical in it’s own right, in the way, that the words still flow smoothly. “Recovery” for instance or “Love, Ire & Song” and “I Knew Prufrock…” In these songs there are often so many words per minute, that when I try to sing along I often a) stumble over the words at some point and b) ask myself “When the fuck does Frank even take a breath?!?” :-)
Rhyme as such is just one of the many different ways of repetition of sounds. Frank uses repetition quite often; much to my delight, because I really like it as a linguistic device. Naturally there are a lot of rhymes, as that’s a basic element of poems / lyrics
take this stage – minimum wage – modern age
Alliteration are another pretty basic element
10.000 ten words tragedies
serotonin boosters, cider and some kind of smelling salts
The last girl I loved, she was a low and lusty liar
part of my patched-up patchwork taped-up tape-deck heart
But the repetitive element I enjoy even more is when Frank combines words that sound similar, but mean different things. Because the phonetic similarity of these words make these lyrics unique and beautiful my opinion.
Leave the mourning to the morning
I wrote a few songs and they wrought a few tears
As I reached that shore, I’m not sure how to feel
I could go on and on with more examples of those, but maybe I should continue with examples of Frank’s admirable “way with words” in general. I might not be able to describe comprehensibly what I mean with that. Here are a few examples:
What to say in my defense? I was imperfect, tense.
As not the grammatical “imperfect tense” in the sense of past progressive tense.
The neat use of the ambiguity of “sound” as in ‘ocean inlet’ versus ‘audio’:
I know I don’t break new ground, many have travelled this sound,
But I try to make it sound like home.
There is another even more clever and neat use of an ambiguous word in “Father’s Day” and I have to say it took me a few years to actually connect the dots between those lines…
A lifetime lying awake means you’ll never get to sleep
Twenty Years of waking sleep, of lying through your teeth
The use of rarer words also fall into the “way with words” category to me. Listening to Frank’s lyrics definitely enriched my vocabulary. Maybe that’s only valid for non-native English speakers like me, but I’ve learned so many new, interesting and nice sounding words. Not necessarily words for general everyday conversation, but still… Here is a random collection of words Frank has taught me:
jaded – insidious – brethren – habitually – infinitesimal – fractious
Another aspect of the unspecific “way with words” craft for me is Frank’s use of figure of speech or the images his words create in my mind.
These people are adjectives to your proper noun
It’s just some numbers tangled up in your sums:
the grass and snakes and spawning lakes and the different types of trees
“Substitute” is one of my favourite songs and I love the fire metaphors there
She smouldered with a will to save the world
She set my heart on fire, but she made me choke.
Her beauty was a sight to see, but she didn’t save it all for me;
I found other fires by following the smoke.
I could continue with many more examples, but I doubt anyone would want to read that. But there is one last aspect I need to touch upon. Two actually, but they are of similar nature. I love anything ocean / nautical related and I also love history. Thus I’m thrilled that both aspects (in their broadest sense) are often featured in Frank’s lyrics. There are a few neat references to history and/or mythology in quite a few songs
So come on old friends to the streets
Let’s be 1905 but not 1917
I’m Napoleon on Elba, and you’re a hundred days in 1815
Corinna rides like Boadicea tonight
But if I had an apple to give then it would be yours
And the others would rage as I turned them away
But you’d follow me down to the shore
And for you I’d start a war, so baby yes I’m sure.
Even more than my love for the historical references, I have a thing for the sea / anything nautical. Either as the topic or context of a song or as part of a figure of speech he uses. Not just in my favourite “Sailor’s Boots”, but also metaphors of ships (or people) lost at sea. Put like this, it sounds a bit depressing ;-)
I let slip my guard, let go of the rudder,
Now we’re drifting in the current away from one another
A navy coin and a broken plastic compass someone gave me
That can’t find north any more, just like me.
But there also is the wonderful
the ocean is still out there, magnificent and wide
and of course my current favourite
when you’re out there floundering, like a lighthouse I will shine
I really could go on and on and on and on about these so wonderful, rich, beautiful lyrics. And I haven’t even started to write extensively how these words make me feel. But that wasn’t supposed to be the topic of this post, so I’ll refrain from going there now.
If you really like songs with nautical references listen to the Waterboys albums This is the Sea and Fisherman’s Blues.