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Poetry: where songs come from. A review of “Ruling the Universe and Other Occupations”

Poetry is often where lyrics come from. Here is a book of poems by a musician and music executive crying out for notes

Over the many years I have been interviewing musicians and songwriters it has struck me how many of them started by writing  poetry, and how many continue as their music career blossoms.  As one songwriter tole me, “lyrics are poems edited to fit music”.  While this may be a little harsh, particularly for those songwriters who write lyrics first and then notes to carry them, or write lyrics for  specific songs and never go through the poem stage., I think the wisdom still holds: the line between lyrics and poems is drawn in the final delivery

So I occasionally dip into books of poetry, particularly by those who use words so much more mellifluously than I do, and for just the fun of reading lines with a beat and rhyme and allusions to things they don’t quite say – like lyrics.   I especially like poetry written by musicians or people connected to the music business. One recent discovery was Ruling the Universe and Other Occupations by Michael Chisholm, an occasional acoustic musician/poet of some repute, and publisher of the Artistic Echoes music site (one of my outlets – full disclosure).

It did not disappoint.  From wily  lines of loss and memory like…

I am not who I used to know

Forever changed in meeting you

Without it happening I would have no idea who I would be

To slipping inside of superheroes like Batman and still encountering reality…

I’m  Batman!

I’ll defeat the Joker, Harley, Two-Face and not break a sweat.

I’m Batman!

Well at least I made it to the end of the week without too much to regret.

I’m Batman!

…Chisholm takes us through  a slim 57 paperback pages of love, loss, nostalgia, conspiracy theories, music festivals, geology and the navigational skills required to live bi-polar.  The latter, which he does every day, was especially fascinating because I know a number of bi-polar musicians and follow their lyrics closely.  Chisholm showed me a new dimension to my observation…

Having bipolar on meds is like being on the coaster that doesn’t have a height requirement,

That you go on because you can’t quite get on the big rides yet

Which is fun the first few times , but damn if it doesn’t get monotonous,

Going round and round and round it again and again and again every day.

Then suddenly you realize that everyone else is in carriages and you are on roller skates.

Makes me think of one bipolar musician I know who is an expert on roller skates.

My favorite is “There are Three Types of Rock: Igneous, Sedimentary and Anthropomorphic”.  I won’t give away any of the verses  – stanzas as they now stand – but the chances are that wherever you are in the world, you have seen the rock featured in the poem and you will delight in knowing that it has found a new career. The poem is not lyrical like the others in this short book, but the rock in question has had a long life and been introduced by many songs.

So many of the poems in Ruling the Universe  are made for music that you will find yourself humming imaginary notes to the cadence of Chisholm’s words.  “House a Home” is a kind of gentle rap, and “Festival Rumors” is a not-so-subtle anthem from a young man “trying to cope with Bipolar Disorder, somehow trying to scrape together a love life, and contemplating how to save the world” while playing music and running a major music site in England. 

Yep.  Sounds like the beginning a song – actually many songs.

Ruling the Universe and Other Occupations by Michael Chisholm,  available at Amazon.com Follow Michael at  https://www.artisticechoes.co.uk/

Patrick O’Heffernan, Host Music Sin Fronteras



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About Patrick O'Heffernan, Music Sin Fronteras (470 Articles)
Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist based in Mexico, with a global following. He focuses on music in English and Spanish that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America, especially Mexico like cumbia, banda, son jarocho, and mariachi. He is also edits a local news website and is a subeditor of a local Spanish language newspaper. Check out his weekly column Music Sin Frontera on Sunday nights.

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