23 August 2010

21st Century Wordsworths

Recently, my English Professor at college held a lively discussion that focused on the theme, ‘The World Outside’. He began by asking us the simple question: When you think of a poet, what comes to your mind?
A smart classmate responded, describing an image of someone sitting under a tree, drawing inspiration from the world around him.

I wanted to raise my hand and say: “Eminem, anyone?”

That class made me realize something that I’ve suspected for a long while. Ever noticed how all our discussions about poetry revolve around the legends such as William Wordsworth, Alfred Tennyson, T.S. Elliot and so on? Now, why don’t we mention the names of Eminem, B.O.B or Mike Shinoda in the same breath?

The answer may come easy to some of you. They’re rappers right? They’re merely hip hop stars that release songs to earn a living, and nothing more. All they’re about is record deals, world tours and sold out concerts.

But put on a pair of headphones, and try listening to the words that they’re rapping. Believe it or not, those words that accompany the fancy beats and funky music, actually mean something. Who’d have thought!

And what do they talk about? Listen to the song Airplanes by B.O.B Featuring Hayley Williams:

I could use a dream or a genie or a wish,
To go back to a time much simpler than this,
Cuz after all the partying and smashing and crashing,
And all the glitz and the glam and the fashion,
And all the pandemonium and all the madness,
There comes a time when you fade to the blackness.
And when you’re staring at the phone in your lap,
And you’re hoping but them people never call you back.
But that’s just how the story unfolds.
You get another hand soon after you fold.
And when your plans unravel in the sand,
What would you wish for,
If you had one chance?

I loved the way B.O.B narrated about how things were when he was still struggling to be a rapper. He draws vivid imagery of an aspiring rapper, alone in a room staring at the phone, pinning all of his hopes on that one call he’s yearning for. ‘You get another hand soon after you fold’. I’m not a poet, but wasn’t that a metaphorical usage?

The more I thought about it, the more it all became clear. Poetry is present today, in a way that connects with your deepest and most heartfelt emotions. Breakeven by The Script is just one of many examples:

I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing,
Just prayed to a God that I don’t believe in,
Cuz I’ve got time while she’s got freedom,
Cuz when a heart breaks, no it don’t break even,
Her best days will be some of my worst,
She’s finally met a man whose gonna put her first,
While I’m wide awake, she’s got no trouble sleeping

Ask a guy whose girl friend has left him and moved on with life while he’s still struggling. Odds are, this is the song he listens to every night.

I’m convinced that today’s rappers and rock artists produce fine poetry. Sure, you could argue that the grammar isn’t always right, and the words used aren’t always proper. But when you’re supposed to fit all those lyrics into a melody, what more can you expect?

It’s too much to ask for, but how would it be if you strolled into your next English class, expecting to understand poetry about the beauty of golden beams of sunlight bouncing off the leaves of a tree, and instead heard this:

Do you ever feel like breaking down,
Do you ever feel out of place,
Like somehow you just don’t belong,
And no one understands you,
Do you ever wanna run away,
Do you ever lock yourself in your room,
With the radio on turned up so loud,
That no one hears you screaming,
No you don’t know what its like,
When nothing feels alright,
No you don’t know what its like,
To be like me....

These are the lyrics of Welcome to My Life by Simple Plan. It’s a song that’s become the teenager’s anthem, and for good reason too, if you ask me.

If you’re still not convinced about the merits of poetry today, listen to Right Now by Fort Minor.

...Right across the street, there’s somebody on the curb,
Who really needs a jacket, spent half his rent at a bar getting plastered,
Now he’s gotta walk, fourteen blocks,
Just to work at a shop where he’s about to get fired,
Someone right now, is looking pretty tired, staring at a laptop,
Trying to get inspired,
Somebody, living right across the street,
Just wrote the best thing she’s written all week,
But her best friend’s coughing up blood in the sink...
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,
One man’s pain is another man’s pleasure...

I do not know what the official meaning of poetry is. But for me, poetry lies in describing as much in as few words as possible. It’s about painting a picture, depicting an emotion, capturing a snapshot. It’s about using words to craft a story or an idea that connects with us.

If you get a little time to spare, listen to the songs of Eminem and Tupac Shakur. They’re songs of men who live in the world that we live today. They narrate stories that take place all around you. Sure, that won’t include describing the beauty of a river, or the warmth of a summer morning. But their words talk about love, success, pain and suffering we all face at some point in our lives. And isn’t that what matters the most?

So the next time you turn to the library to search for poetry, I’ll be doing the same, in the most unlikely of places – the Billboard charts.

My best friend gave me the best advice,
He said each day’s a gift and not a given right,
Leave no stone unturned, leave your fears behind,
And try to take the path less travelled by –
From ‘If Today Was Your Last Day’

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  1. Ok, admittedly, I'm more of an old-school person myself. When I think of poets I do think of Wordsworth and Elliot.

    But this post was actually quite an eye-opener. I do think now that its time to change our regular perceptions on poetry. (And maybe this way less people will find poetry 'boring'). Great post, and the lyrics that you chose really added to it.

  2. Glad the post served its purpose! And the songs were just off the top of my head...you should listen to "Beautiful" by Eminem. If you know his life story...the song will be excellent! Welcome to Laptop Diary:D

  3. wat a comparison never thought in such an angle thanx

  4. i guess we've had a few discussions on lyrics ourselves!:D
    and when you say, "They’re songs of men who live in the world that we live today" ; minor correction: Tupac Shakur died 14 years ago!
    other than that..perfect! :P
    this brings back memories of the days when we used to exchange songss! i got a few now btw!:P

  5. Well Musthafa, I partly agree with you and partly dont...some of the lyrics are great but something about poets like wordsworth that reaches deep within and tickles ones senses in the most desirable way...something that Eminem I agree could never do for me...tho I like his work :)Thanks for a different post, it doers make one think....maybe we all have a different way with words :))

  6. Truth be told, those dead poets also wrote about suffering and joy and a bajillion other human emotions, apart from the blooming flowers and the sun that shone upon the river. Even their poems centring on nature metaphorically imply human emotions.

    There are alive poets as well, who touch a similar chord as Simple Plan and Eminem. Their works are called poems comprising of verses, and what singers sing are called songs made of lyrics.

    Songwriting and poetry are entirely different. It depends on what the writer/artist want their work to be known as. And either way, they all get rewarded for their efforts. (There are even songwriting classes.)

    However, poetry is only an unappreciated and boring course these days. People follow up lyrics and watch award shows where best songwriters get nominated and awarded.

  7. I completely agree with you. Your post here gave me a little inspiration. Actually an idea.

    And I disagree with you when you say that you're not a poet. You won the first prize at that competition. I hardly even made it to consolation prize. I still consider myself a poet(and nothing else). I've tagged you in a note. Obviously now it's on the Equilibrium Blog too. It's my opinion on your perception. Let's say... just the same things, different format.