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Interviews with Songwriters on Songwriting and Poetry



The following interviews with singer-songwriters are the result of a suggestion made to me by poet and singer-songwriter Jake Berry who has for many years practised both arts. Jake supplied three of the six interview questions, and of the relationship between songs and poems writes:


Poetry, especially in the 20th century, became a victim of specialization. That was the trend – the notion that in order for someone to be good in a discipline one needed to devote all his or her time to a specific aspect of it. This makes sense in the sciences because the more we know the broader the area of study becomes and there is simply not enough time to know everything about all the sciences. Following the lead of the sciences, the whole of Western culture became specialized. This was not necessary. I think we are beginning to recover from that misstep. The sciences are discovering that it is beneficial if all the sciences collaborate to move toward a more comprehensive picture of what we know and don’t know. Specialization was essential as a way of moving away from the ancient centralizations like monarchy, a single dominant religion and so forth. And specialization should continue, but in conversation the arts can lead and are leading this development – not toward an elimination of specialties, but conversation and collaboration.


This specialisation may be responsible for what some see as poetry’s innate inability to elicit as deep an emotional response as song is able to do. This is reflected in some of the interviewees’ answers, where a common theme is that of the song as being a better delivery system for poetic content to have an effect on an audience emotionally than poetry is. Similarly, a possible reason as to why poetry is no longer popular is that song has replaced its function; this has been especially the case since the mid-1960s. What we now call “poetry” may one day come to be recognised as largely a specialised and hermetic form of language, discussed and valued within academia, but with little relevance (either emotionally or artistically) to the broader culture. Whether this is categorically the case or not cannot be debated here, but it is worth thinking about.


A discussion about song and poetry can be found at the British and Irish Poets List here.





 In alphabetical order:



Nancy Ames  


Jennifer Ann 


Rod Argent 


Perla Batalla 


Jake Berry 


Jeff Berry 


Elfin Bow 


Pete Brown 


Neil Campbell


Dave Cartwright  


Julie Christensen 


Judy Collins


Aurora D’Amico  


Barbara Dickson 


Chris Difford  


Carol Decker  


Van Eaton 


Julie Felix 


Jack Foley  


Kate Garner  


Heather Haley


Steve Harley


Hayley Hutchinson


Jennifer John


Jorma Kaukonen


Tam Lin


Charlotte Martin


Andy McCluskey


Natalie McCool


Gillian McCoy


Mike McNamara


Ralph McTell


Vanessa Murray


Lizzie Nunnery


Judith Owen


Rozi Plain


Eddi Reader


Keith Reid


Lucy Rose


Kate Rusby  


Willy Russell


Mike Score


Beck Siàn


Chris Stroffolino


Alison Sudol


Linda Thompson


Richard Thompson


Martha Tilston


Stuart Todd


Eric Unger


Marry Waterson


Pietra Wexstun 


Deborah Williams 


Rachael Wright