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I'm new to the forum and new to writing lyrics.  I apologize if this has been posted before.  I did not find it just now in a forum search.

 

I'm wondering if anyone could shed light on what you consider the difference between a poem and lyric?  I've received a comment that one of my lyrics sounded more like beat poetry and I've seen other comments on people's lyrics that they resemble more of a poem.  

 

As a follow up question, I've read these observations (that a piece of writing looks more like a poem than a lyric) as almost as though the comment is implying music shouldn't be put towards a poem because its a poem.  I'm not sure that this is really the sentiment that commenters are trying to convey, or is it?     

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I tend to say out of the lyric feedback forum because for me it is very difficult to determine if a lyric works well as a song with out having a melody in mind. If I put a melody to those lyrics it is almost certain that it will not be what the writer had in mind.

That being said I think that a written poem has good meter and rhyme where as a good lyric does not necessarily need those things. Melody goes a long way in making the words work for the overall sound of a song. Some songs don't need to rhyme at all and will still sound good. So, when a written lyric reads like poetry (which in my opinion can still work well as a song) I think some people feel like there could be more effort made to break free of any standard poem structure so that a melody can mold the lyrics into a sound the will stand on its own.

 

 

Edited by The Nameless Untold
typos

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I'll let the musicians be more specific but the most obvious answer is that lyrics have to fit in with the music or they have to be written so that music can be adapted to them in a way that we all would recognize as a song -- and the music of songs almost always has patterns that repeat (verses and choruses or refrains). So the rhythm of songs usually dictates what you can and cannot get away with as a lyric writer -- the words have to fit or create musical patterns. If not, the words will be going one way while the music goes another. And that wouldn't be singable.

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Personally, I think if you are not a musician, you should never say something is more a poem than a lyric.

How could you possibly know?

And if you ARE a musician you should use that comment very sparingly.

Chances are there is someone out there that could blow your mind putting music to what you deemed a "poem".

 

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4 minutes ago, PaulCanuck said:

Personally, I think if you are not a musician, you should never say something is more a poem than a lyric.

How could you possibly know?

And if you ARE a musician you should use that comment very sparingly.

Chances are there is someone out there that could blow your mind putting music to what you deemed a "poem".

 

 

Well said.

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I tend to think of poetry as more free with less structure. Song lyrics generally follow a structure of some sort. Verses with a repeatable chorus at the highest level. If I read something without those trappings I think of it as more of a poem. That doesn't mean it wouldn't be great in a song. I think it does mean that it is a harder road to travel to get it there. You can take a poem and convert it to a more song like structure. If you lean more towards poetry writing that might be a great strategy for creating lyrics. Create your poem and think about migrating that to a song structure. I kind of like that idea for myself as I've been in a song writing funk lately. 

 

At the end of the day all of these rules beg to be broken. When it doesn't work it is obvious of course but when it does work it is usually pretty great.  

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This is one of those “academic” questions that may or may not have any bearing whatsoever on your lyric writing.

 

I’m one of those “I know a poem when I read one” people. But I’m wrong just as often as I’m right. Generally, I have to respond in a visceral and emotional way to the written word in a lyric. I read a lot of well written lyrics on the site but don’t respond at all, in any manner. Sure, they’re cute and well written but they don’t engage me or move me or, most importantly, give me insight into the “human condition.” There are a lot of “well written” lyrics that are totally forgettable, and for me that is the ultimate definition of mediocrity... it’s like looking at a roomful of completely bland, boring and empty faces...big yawn.

 

I think an answer to this may depend on the genre you write or aspire to write. Do you aspire to write personal or confessional songs drawn from your own experiences? Perhaps your passion is silly, fluffy inoffensive songs about trite subjects that get weighed down by their own irrelevance and cuteness. Maybe you’re one of the countless “Dylan, Beatles, Young, etc., fans who aspire to emulate their dead or ageing idols. Or perhaps you’re devoted to more contemporary and current songs and are fully aware of how lyrics, production and music has changed over the past 60+ years.

 

EDM lyrics differ from Country lyrics. Confessional lyrics differ from Death Metal lyrics. Pop lyrics differ from Rap lyrics. I think a lot depends on what you hope to accomplish. Do you write for “yourself”? Do you write for a “career” in music?

 

If it’s the latter, I would suggest that you pick some of today’s most influential writers (Lorde, Adele, Angel Olsen, Ed Sheeran, Sia, etc.) and read their lyrics. See how they tell a story, incorporate a chorus and a bridge. Study what elevates their lyrics to move past simple rhyme schemes and how they present old subjects in new and memorable ways.

 

Poems or lyrics? Maybe it doesn’t matter at all how you identify or evaluate the differences or similarities. Memorable writing is memorable writing, regardless of how you choose to identify it or what camp you choose to place it in. Develop your craft. Give your readers something to hold on to, to remember, to be moved by. And ultimately, at least for me, be true to yourself, trust your feelings and take advice from people who know more than you do and whose work backs up their critiques and suggestions. The biggest mistake I ever made was taking advice from jealous and resentful people who masqueraded as friends, lovers and mentors.

 

Enjoy. Embrace. Entertain.

 

 

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I've looked at this as subjective...so it's a matter of the eye of the beholder....but when I see highly literate, descriptive language with words that do not often come up in converstation, I associate that with a poem. When read a lyric meant to stand out more as "literature", I associate that with a poem.

 

Lyrics are almost like everyday conversations that can be put to music. Lyrics are also generally structured around music, so you get your classic a a b a c a b b structure, and as a whole, are written "to the structure"

 

Having said that, nothing is cast in stone. As pointed out, a poem can be put to music and a lyric can be read as a poem.

 

Bottom line, both are forms of art. Both are  created with words that convey meaning, emotion, setting etc, both are created so that the words "move" ...so the boundaries are not clear.

 

I like what Emily said. I know it when I se it , but I could be wrong.

 

 

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An interesting question and referring to a dictionary isn't a great help. Here's how the Oxford Dictionary describes these terms:

 

Poem: 'A piece of writing in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by particular attention to diction (sometimes involving rhyme), rhythm, and imagery.'

 

Lyric: '(of poetry) expressing the writer's emotions, usually briefly and in stanzas or recognized forms.'

 

There have been some good points made already by others which I'll not repeat. However, here are a few additional comments

 

One thing that I think has been missed so far is that poems are generally intended to be spoken and lyrics are generally intended to be sung. If you can imagine the words being sung then it's probably a lyric. If you can't imagine the words being sung, then it may be a poem or it may be just that you have not been able to identify the melody that the writer had in mind.

 

The simplicity or sophistication of the words does NOT determine whether it's a poem or song. Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave are no less lyric writers than the people who write simplistic pop lyrics just because they include words that you may not immediately be familiar with.

 

Although poetry can include repetition, songs are often more dependent on repetition, particularly where songs include a chorus. If you tried to read the lyrics to some of your favourite songs as poems, you might well find that you start to get embarrassed at how often the same thing is repeated. Or at the number of times 'oh yeah' or similar appears! :)

 

I think it's clear though that the lines between lyrics and poems can be blurred. My view is if you can write good poems, you're pretty well placed to also be able to turn your hand to lyrics

 

 

 

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Lots to think about here.  Thank you everyone.

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I personally think it boils down to the intent of the author.

 

SongWolfe gives the definition for lyric used as an adjective. 

 

The Noun definition is simply

 

Taken from the same dictionary.

1.

a lyric poem or verse.

2.

the words of a song.

 

Song is defined as,

 

short poem or other set of words set to music or meant to be sung.

‘a pop song’

(from the same dictionary)

 

And for s-n-g

 

Poetic (poem doesn't have an adjective definition)

 

Having an imaginative or sensitively emotional style of expression.

 

 

 

10 hours ago, EmilyEmily said:

EDM lyrics differ from Country lyrics. Confessional lyrics differ from Death Metal lyrics. Pop lyrics differ from Rap lyrics

 

 They are still built from the same building blocks and possess the same musical qualities.

Rhythm, rhyme and structure being the basics.

 

Peace

 

 

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My 2 cents/my point of view: A poem speaks for itself and stands on it´s own. A Song lyric works best in combination with music.

But even "Poetry" on itself can be music - when you sound it out loud, there might be a rhythm, a metre and the sound of words...
Myself I think, a poem needs to have a "higher standard" in words.

Lyrics on the other hand have to be singable. So the choice of words is the most important thing. Every word delivers an own melody... so I still think, that people with a background as singer write way better lyrics ...

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20 hours ago, EmilyEmily said:

take advice from people who know more than you do and whose work backs up their critiques and suggestions. The biggest mistake I ever made was taking advice from jealous and resentful people who masqueraded as friends, lovers and mentors.

 

Good advice whatever one pursues.

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My "definition"...

 

poem doesn't have to try and be memorable [although, it can be -- but it is not a fundamental 'thing' it's trying to be]. A poem is trying to be about language ... But song lyrics strive for memorability. They repeat phrases, for that memorable effect. 
A lyric can often be a bit simple, or a bit corny, and the music can rescue it from how it looks on the page. The lyric needs to work with the song's phrasing ... 
A poem leaves phrasing up to the reader.

A lyric, by its very nature, is not trying to be a poem: it's trying to be part of a SONG. Song writing is trying to be memorable, trying to be catchy, trying to say something powerfully, that ties into human emotion in a very short span of time.

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I'm not a huge reader of poetry, but what I think is:

A poem relies only on what you see written on the page.  The rhythm has to be apparent to anyone reading it.  It can follow the same structure straight through from beginning to end; in other words, it can and often does contain only verses.  But the words of each verse should be different.  The words can be ambiguous, but they have to convey the poem's meaning all on their own.  Often the words in a poem feel different from the lyrics of a song, more flowery and such.  A poem should look pretty and well-written on the page.

A lyric works hand in hand with its melody.  The structure often does, and is encouraged to, change up between verse and chorus, and then again for the bridge.  The words, on the other hand, can repeat as often as you like.  Lines don't have to look good on paper as long as they sound good when sung.  You don't need every word to contribute to the story.  "La la la" and "yeah, yeah, yeah" would never work in a poem, but in a song lyric, they do.  The melody augments the lyrics and adds in that all-important part of the story - how we're supposed to be feeling about it.  A sheet of song lyrics won't give you the complete picture.

Of course, above all, you can often read a poem or a lyric, and just know which one it is because it would never work as the other.  For example, Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter" is a great poem, but it could never be a song.  It's far too long and the verse never changes structure.  It doesn't need a melody to tell us what's going on, because the story is all in the words.  I can't even picture a tune that would go with it.

On the other hand, the Beatles' "Love Me Do" is an incredible song, but it would never work as a poem.  You never see a poem with the same verse repeating four times.  There's no new information being given to us, so you might as well just end after the first verse.  But in a song, no one cares, because the melody works with the lyrics to pull us in and makes us want to hear the verse four times.  Also, the music between verses adds contrast, so it doesn't matter whether the lyrics ever change or not.

So, basically, I'd say the main difference between a poem and a song lyric is: a poem has to stand on its own, a lyric does not.

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The difference between a poem and a lyric is a bit like the difference between an ultra-short film and a music video.  One relies on having music behind it in order to be a complete artwork, and should be experienced with this in mind if experienced without that music.  The other doesn't, and can stand on its own merits.  The confusions arise being as an ultra-short-film or a poem could have music played behind them and still be what they are without automatically counting now as a music video or a set of lyrics.  The distinction to be made is whether or not the music is key to the artwork - does it merely accompany?  Or is it an essential, central piece?

That's the difference, in my mind.  To take a famous track off a famous album as an example, consider Radiohead's "Fitter, Happier" from their album OK Computer.  I quite like the music behind it, but it isn't the focus of the track at all.  To me, this is much more of a poem than a song.  On the album's original release, it is listed in smaller font on the tracklisting and if I remember correctly, not counted for track numbering purposes.  I'd assume the point of that being to seperate it and in some way indicate that although a part of the album, it isn't one of the songs, but rather a poem that functions as an interlude.

The way I write lyrics, I always write them to fit to vocals I already came up with.  My poems have a stark contrast in creation process in this way, in that I never write them to fit to music.  However the creative norms of people vary a lot, so other creative types mightn't enjoy the same clear seperation as me in this respect.  I have converted a piece from poem to lyric or vice versa a handful of times before, but I find it's always a drastic change and very rarely actually works.  I don't think poems and lyrics are as similar or interchangeable as people sometimes make them out to be.  I think the essential distinction of relying or not relying on a piece of music as an essential part of the artwork is very affecting.  Some disagree.  It's certainly a disputed topic.

The lyrics to one of my rare comedic songs, "Principled Ambition of Today's Business Professional", are simply the phrase "I wan' it!" repeated over and over again.  It works as lyrics behind the equally-tantrumlike crashy music, but it would certainly not work as a poem.

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Interesting thread. Without getting too technical, song lyrics are almost always written to go with a musical arrangement. There is always some basic melody in the writer’s head that helps to shape and restrict the words to suit its form and rhythm. On the other hand, a poem is more about just getting out what needs to be said. As such, it doesn’t need a refrain like the chorus of a song (although one can be included). Yes, it might follow a format too, but it has nothing to do with music. With that being said, many poems can easily be turned into song lyrics, with or without minor adjustments. Maybe it’s then fair to say that poems might be more versatile than lyrics.

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The difference between a poem and song lyrics is the end result you're looking for. Therefore, if you're writing a song, of course, you'll be trying to make the lyrics work with the chords and other elements of making music. On the other hand, a poem is more about saying something. With that said, some poems make the best song lyrics due to the words used often having a deeper meaning or being more mysterious.

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Of course there is overlap.      A poem (to my mind) is meant to be *read* and not necessarily spoken.   You hear it in your mind.   The words collide and hopefully the scraping they make on each other brings forth the emotional response the poet wanted.     A poem can rhyme, can have structure, but doesn't have to.     You are not going to set "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" to music.  (OK, you might, but it will be an "art song" and it's not going to be played on Spotify).

 

The words in a lyric are thought of as notes, and the layout of the lyric must lend itself to musical structure.     So many beats to a measure, so many measures to a line.   If you can map a musical structure of some sort onto the words, it functions as a lyric.     If you sit down to write "a lyric" and you are not thinking in terms of how many beats to a line, you will have trouble setting it, or finding a collaborator for it.   (Advanced:    Some single words can be whole notes, and held, or even contain more than one note.    Please see me after class)

 

A poem that is highly structured and rhythmic might do very well as a lyric.    It starts with intent, when the author meant to write; but something written as a poem can be repurposed as a lyric, like driftwood art.

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