Sunday, May 24, 2009

"Morrissey" does not rhyme with "poetry"

Is Morrissey a poet akin to Philip Larkin? Um, no. And why are we even discussing this?

Because of academic freedom, damn it! According to, "Dr. Gavin Hopps, a lecturer at St Andrews University, has written a book called Morrissey: The Pageant of His Bleeding Heart, which he says is 'the first academic study' of the ex-Smiths singer."

Hopps says Morrissey is quite the wordsmith (get it?), on par with poets like Sir John Betjeman and Philip Larkin.

Uh, not so fast says's Michael Deacon. Morrissey is no poet.

"Poetry is written to fit metre, song lyrics to fit melody. This is why poems look good on paper, and song lyrics almost invariably do not," he writes. "Even a poet who writes free verse, the stuff that ignores traditional verse forms, has to keep his ear open for his lines' rhythms. A singer doesn't; he just has to follow the tune," Deacon writes.

And in the case of Morrissey, it's always the same tune.

Hopps is right that Morrissey's lyrics tend to be more high-brow than most, but poetry it isn't.

"Why these academics make such lofty claims for pop stars, I don't know. Perhaps doing so makes them feel younger and cooler, in the same way that non-academics of their age might suddenly acquire a taste for leather jackets. Or perhaps they're secretly ashamed of enjoying pop, and so try to persuade both themselves and others that it's 'high' art," Deacon writes.

Deacon also mentions Bob Dylan as a pop star who has been given poet status unjustifiably. I am with him there. I don't think Dylan is a great poet. Great songwriter, sure. And it's not because I think of poetry as a higher art. It's just that they are different arts.

It's like how my sister Laura and I are twins, yet completely different people. One of us thinks Morrissey is way overrated and the other wants to have Morrissey's babies and lick the sweat off of his bare 50-year-old chest. (Confidential to Laura: that is gross).


Anonymous said...

In the eighth grade, I saw Morrissey in concert.

The kindly older gentleman who was able to get me the tickets and back stage passes, couldn't attend the show.

Even then, I detested autographs, but I appreciated the tickets, so I promised I'd get him a special one.

Backstage, I dutifully made my way through the sweaty sycophants, in order to procure the pledged John Hancock.

Morrissey gave a good natured laugh at my "special autograph" request, and dutifully began writing on a publicity photo.

"I was down on the docks by the shipyard the other day, when two burly sailors approached me. They told me to give them my wallet. Upon my hesitation, they laughed threateningly and said that I could either give them my wallet, or pull my pants down and bend over. So, as I pulled my pants down...Be Well, Morrissey"

Is that not poetry? Do you have a degree that gives you the right to be the arbiter of what can be considered poetry?

There were rumors about my benefactor, and he moved away shortly after the concert, leaving me with the aforementioned autograph.

Be Well

D'Anne Witkowski said...

Thanks, Anonymous. That's a really cool story. For reals. And while I will definitely say that his autograph message was poetic, I don't think I'd go so far as to call it poetry. And yes, I DO in fact have a degree in poetry (MFA, holla!). It is not that I don't recognize Morrissey's talent. He is a fantastic lyricist and many of his lyrics are quite poetic and clever and most definitely smart. But if I seem especially snarky towards Morrissey, it's because my sister loves him so and I have for years, and will continue for years, to tease her about this.

Anonymous said...

I know about your degree. I read your blog. I didn't come across this post by google-stalking Moz haters.

I was being facetious, regarding the rights that degree conferred.

I'm not arguing that he's a poet akin to Philip Larkin. I'm just saying that I don't think his lyrics can be labeled unpoetical, just because they don't reach a certain (somewhat arbitrary) standard.

Now,teasing your sister, I'm all for that. :-)

I do enjoy your posts, by the way.

Laura said...

Why is everybody always on HER side?? Thanks for nothing Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Hi Laura,

Chuck Klosterman is way overrated. I'm anonymous, so I can say that. I assume you've seen it, especially noting your occupation, but I recommend you check out his Morrissey article.


D'Anne Witkowski said...

Hey Anonymous,
Glad you dig my posts. I never took you for a Moz-hater stalker (that would probably be my sister). When I made mention of my MFA it was in a joking way. The "holla" part was supposed to convey a sort of "for what that's worth" sort of self-effacement. I in no way think I have a degree to decree what is and isn't poetry. I agree the standards can be really arbitrary. As far as writing lyrics versus writing poems, they're two different animals. I don't think either one is better than the other (poetry is not, in my opinion, a "higher art" than songwriting). So to say that Moz is a songwriter with poetic tendencies is not to disparage him at all. But as my sister pointed out, his autograph would have made a really good limerick had he gone that route.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure we were quite arguing, but if we were, perhaps you kinda won. :)

I can now see what Laura is dealing with. You must drive her crazy.

I did get a laugh from your "MFA, holla!", it wasn't entirely lost on me.

Assuming he'd incorporated the autograph into his lyrical repertoire, it may have been a little too ghey, for all the bubbas I went to school with. They might not have been able to pretend he was singing about women.

It's almost unrelated, but I got in a fight for explaining George Michael lyrics to some guys in high school.

I wonder sometimes if they remember that and know how right I was.

D'Anne Witkowski said...

Anonymous! Why are you awake? I hope that for your health and safety you are in a different time zone. And thank you for sticking up for Laura. Someone has to.

Anonymous said...

I don't reside in your time zone, but it's very sweet of you to worry about me.

Why were you awake? You should take care of yourself. Sleep deprivation can cause dementia. Society doesn't need some half-crazed poet out running amok. For goodness sakes, you'll destroy the economy!

The people that make this country strong are sleeping, while you're still up oscillating wildly. ;-)

Anonymous said...

This was building to my Morrissey/Monkey connection. Perhaps you've covered it, and I just missed it.

Morrissey, The Consumer Monkey:

The skit:

That Eagle is fantastic.