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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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!”
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.”
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.”
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.”