19 renowned lyricists who also do ‘proper’ poetry

Happy World Poetry Day! A whole load of your favourite songwriters profess to being poets as well as musicians. Here are 20 musicians who’ve revealed themselves to be budding Burns, Yeats and Poes, from James Blake to Tupac via the tortured poetic scribbles of Kurt Cobain.


1John Lennon

John Lennon
John Lennon: Published in Liverpool music mag Mersey Beat on the 27 Feb 1964, ‘The Tales of Hermit Fred’ and ‘The Land of Lunapots’ are two poems which exemplify Lennon’s talent for surrealism and verse.
Sample: “T’was Wilburs graftiens graffen Bing/ That makes black pudding want to sing/ For them in music can be heard/ Like the dying cough of a humming bird.”

2James Blake

James Blake: Electronica’s golden boy James Blake is the latest musician turned poet, having including a poem titled ‘Words That We Both Know’ on his ‘200 Press’ EP. Like his music, it's at once scatter-brained and heart-breakingly intimate.
Sample: "And youth is a loveless furrowed brow."

3PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey: Polly Jean released her first volume of poetry in October 2015, based on her travels in war-torn countries. It featured the tender, descriptive ‘The Guest Room’. A talented songwriter and from what we’ve seen so far, an equally impressive poet.
Sample line: "One grey dove circles the ruins/A jet heads to the base."

4Tom Waits

Tom Waits: Tom had previously cast himself as Charles Bukowski with a piano, but it wasn’t until 2011 that he actually released a book of poetry. ‘Hard Ground’ tackled the subject of homelessness and was typically evocative.
Sample line: "The cars thunder past / As I stick out my thumb / I am just waiting for / My good luck to come."

5Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain: Published in 2002, Kurt Cobain’s ‘Journals’ collected together the late Nirvana frontman’s personal writings and sketches. The scribbled poetry was unsurprisingly bleak. Definitely not ones to copy out into your Valentine’s Day card and pretend you wrote them yourself. Go to Leonard Cohen for that…
Sample line: "I hope I die before I become Pete Townshend."

6Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen: Speaking of which… The king of the musical poets, Cohen’s poems deal with love and religion. ‘Let Us Compare Mythologies’, his brilliant first volume, was written in 1956. Seek it out and devour it lustily, just like Leo would want.
Sample: “Dear friend, I have searched all night/through each burnt paper/but I fear I will never find/the formula to let you die.”

7Patti Smith

Patti Smith: Like Leonard, Patti Smith was writing poems and plays before she turned her hand to proto-punk bangers. Smith’s work is direct, confrontational and full of life. If Leonard’s the king, then Patti’s most definitely the queen.
Sample: "Do animals make a human cry/when their loved one staggers/fowled dragged down/the blue veined river."

8Tupac Shakur

Tupac Shakur A man of many talents, from ballet dancer to rapper, Tupac was also a dab hand with a pen, writing radical poetry that tackled poverty, racism and romance. Perfect if you want your words with a social conscience.
Sample: "Did you hear about the rose that grew/from a crack in the concrete?/Proving nature's law is wrong it/learned to walk with out having feet.”

9Pete Doherty

Jordan Curtis Hughes
Pete Doherty: The Libertines man’s poetry is a hazy look at an England long-gone, full of foggy Victorian language and Mary Poppins worthy cockney sayings.
Sample: "“I watch the world, its tower blocks headbutting the skyline/So stitch that/That slit in the sky like a knife gash and a fallen sixties leather jacket."

10Art Garfunkel

3rd October 1975: American singer and actor Art Garfunkel relaxes on a park bench in the Embankment Gardens, London. (Photo by Sydney O'Meara/Evening Standard/Getty Images) Getty
Art Garfunkel: Paul Simon’s former collaborator wrote a poem for him on his 70th birthday, which was so adorable and also just a tiny bit cheeky: “He connected my voice to the world/I made him tall,” wrote Art of his 5” 3’ collaborator.

11Lou Reed

NETHERLANDS - MAY 01: ROTTERDAM Photo of Lou REED (Photo by Paul Bergen/Redferns) Getty
Lou Reed: Lou Reed’s 1970s poetry is an acquired taste. However, if bloody, graphic violence on the grubby streets of New York City is your thing, then dive in!
Sample: "Hey Man, what's your style/How you get kicks for living/What do you do/To get the adrenaline flowing."

12Jim Morrison

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Morrison_Jim_007_c_Michael_Montfort- (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images) Getty
Jim Morrison: The Doors’ frontman’s poetry is often fairly mocked for its grandiose illusions. When set to swirling psychedelic music, the Venice Beach bum’s far-out writings are entrancing, but without it, they’re too much like a bad trip.
Sample: “I slept on a roof/At night the moon became/a woman's face./I met the Spirit of Music."

13Billy Corgan

Billy Corgan: 'Blinking Fists', the debut book of poetry from Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan, was released in 2004. Called both pretentious and ‘confoundingly esoteric’ by critics, his complex and frankly infuriating poems are best skipped in favour of his tunes.
Sample: “Pulling from you what little I need/Freeze the moment, make it last/What you have can never rush past."

14Serj Tankian

INGLEWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 13: Musician Serj Tankian performs onstage during day one of the 25th annual KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas at The Forum on December 13, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for CBS Radio) Getty
Serj Tankian: System of a Down’s Serj Tankian released his ‘Cool Gardens’ poetry book in 2002. It was filled with impassioned, philosophical musings on socio-political issues and received rave reviews. One for the intellectual in your life.
Sample: "You will live death, in your life/If all you do with your life, is avoid death.”

15Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell: The foremost female folk singer’s lyrics have always been gorgeous, haunting and insightful, so it’s no surprise that Joni also writes poetry and paints.
Sample: “I met you on a midway at a fair last year/ And you stood out like a ruby in a black man's ear."

16Henry Rollins

Dan Dennison/NME
Henry Rollins: Outspoken former Black Flag frontman and social campaigner Henry Rollins has released a number of spoken word albums over the years. If you want impassioned, blackly comic and brutal poetry – Rollins is your man.
Sample: “I see walking bombs on the street/Hearts not beating, but ticking/I am talking about Detonation!”

17Till Lindemann

The German industrial metal band Rammstein performs a live concert at Forum in Copenhagen. Here the band?s characteristic vocalist Till Lindemann is pictured live on stage. Denmark 15/12 2009. Getty
Till Lindemann: When frontman of German industrialists Rammstein Till Lindemann isn’t creating promotional dildos moulded on his own member, he’s writing poetry. A translation we read was all about death. Which seems apt. Only doomy metal fans need apply.
Sample: "And when the sun shines in my night/there is no one there/to weep with me."

18Roger Waters

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 09: Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, performs on stage at the Perth leg of his 'Dark Side Of The Moon Tour' at the Members Equity Stadium on February 9, 2007 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images) Getty
Roger Waters: In 2013 Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters wrote ‘One River’, a tender poem about his father, who went missing in action during the Second World War. When a 93-year-old vet discovered where Water’s father died, he dedicated the poem to him. Sob.
Sample: "My father, distant now but live and warm and strong / In uniform tobacco haze."

19David Berman

Silver Jews performing at Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona in Spain. Getty
David Berman: The former Silver Jews man is regarded by many as one of American’s foremost living poets. If you want to make your bookshelf infinitely more impressive, get some of his brilliant works on it.
Sample: "I can't trust the accuracy of my own memories/many of them having blended with sentimental telephone and margarine commercials."