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Is Taylor Swift Actually A Member Of The (Tortured) Poets Department?


Is Taylor Swift Actually A Member Of The (Tortured) Poets Department?


HOST, MARINE SAINT:

Two months ago, as Taylor Swift received her 13th Grammy award, she had a special announcement:


SWIFT: So I want to say thank you to the fans by telling you a secret: my brand new album comes out April 19th…it’s called the Tortured Poets Department.


HOST, CECILIA BLOTTO: April 19th is tomorrow, and that means…at midnight tonight…Swifties everywhere will be obsessively listening for easter eggs, narrative threads, and allusions hidden in the lyrics. After all, Swift has declared herself the chair of the tortured poets department. 


HOST, MARINE SAINT: But Giulia Leo, a devoted Swiftie herself, started to wonder: Does this mean Taylor Swift’s music is actually poetry? 


LEO 1

Ava Heatley remembers her first Taylor Swift song -- in middle school computer class…


HEATLEY 1

…and this girl next to me was like, have you heard of Taylor Swift? And I was like, no. And she showed me the “Teardrops On My Guitar” music video and I was like, oh my God, this is amazing. 


LEO 2

Heatley has been a devoted Swiftie ever since. Now, at 29, she is a songwriter herself and in a Taylor Swift cover band – the Anti-heroes – with her friend Sara Donnellan. 


Sara says she and Ava analyze Swift’s lyrics for hours.


DONNELLAN 1

We'll dissect every song and, like, you know the meaning behind everything, and it's so much fun. And it's just kind of like an inexhaustible well of things to say.


LEO 3:

As the English majors say, textual analysis is the key to entering the world of great writers …and Taylor Swift. Her lyrics are a direct line of communication to her fans. They look for deeper meanings. Or trace the underlying narrative that connects different songs.


Which is not all that different from analyzing a poem for, say, an English class. 

 

DONNELLAN 2

Take a song like “ivy,” which to me has some of the most, like beautiful, stand out poetic lyrics like “the old widow goes to the stone every day, but I don't. I just sit here and wait. Grieving for the living.” 


Like to me that’s poetry.


LEO 4:

But is that enough to make Taylor Swift a poet? Thomas Kitts teaches English Literature and Popular Music at St. John's University in Queens. He embraces the definition of a poet established by one the best-known Romantic poets…Percy Bysshe Shelley


KITTS 1

Poet meant more than just somebody who wrote poems, in the sense that it was any kind of really creative artist.


LEO 5

So, sure, Taylor Swift by Shelly’s standards is a poet.


But Kitts says there’s a distinction between songwriters and poets. 


KITTS 2

Look, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. For Literature, not poetry.


LEO 6

Kitts says people are too quick to see lyrics as poetry.


KITTS 3

Lyrics operate within the context of sound, of music, and To isolate the lyrics of a song is not fair to the composer or the lyricist, because they work together. 


LEO 7

But Sarai Brinker – who teaches Taylor Swift at Texas Tech University – says Swift’s lyrics stand on their own. And here’s how she knows…she runs a test on students, colleagues and unsuspecting reporters. She starts by reading…  Emily Dickinson’s “I cannot live with you”


BRINKER 1

I could not die – with You – 

For One must wait

To shut the Other’s Gaze down – 

You – could not – 


And I – could I stand by

And see You – freeze – 

Without my Right of Frost – 

Death’s Privilege.


LEO 8

Then, she hits ‘em with the lyrics from Taylor Swift’s “ivy.” 


BRINKER 2 

How's one to know?

I'd meet you where the spirit meets the bones

In a faith-forgotten land

In from the snow

Your touch brought forth an incandescent glow

Tarnished but so grand


LEO 9

That’s when she asks people to guess which is which…


BRINKER 3

…I have found that they can't.


LEO 10

Whether Taylor Swift’s lyrics will become part of  the poetry canon or not, Swifites will once again meet her at midnight, pen and paper in hand, ready to listen between the lines of each and every new lyric by the chairman… of The Tortured Poets Department.


Giulia Leo

Columbia Radio News


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