Jolie Holland doesn’t see the need for poetry. Well, she doesn’t see the need for reading poetry.
Writing of her early creative life, Holland says she was inspired by Dylan Thomas, William Blake, and William Butler Yeats. Somewhere along the way, though, Holland stopped consuming poetry on the page and instead started letting it come to her “through her ears.”
In the January 2011 issue of Poetry the songwriter writes, “Just as dinosaurs didn’t really disappear but became birds, poems have become songs.”
I don’t know how to talk about what poetry is, except to talk about the experience. It’s good to have your hand on the rudder, and know when the current is moving powerfully. One thing I’ve enjoyed noticing is that both classical Zen haiku and my favorite American music have at least one little trick in common. I’d describe the way that classic Zen haiku works in this way: The poet describes the world, and describes his own mind, in one deft and beautiful stroke. It’s like a report of what’s in front of and behind the eyes.
Holland sees no distinction between the poetry she loves and the music she listens to: Morrissey and The Smiths introduced her to the work of Oscar Wilde, and she keeps Emily Dickinson’s description of poetry in mind when she’s writing songs. “I remember Emily Dickinson’s very useful definition of poetry: that which makes one feel as though the top of one’s head has been taken off…That same sort of physical cue is exactly the kind of meter I check when I’m deciding about music.”
It may be cliché to claim songs are poems, but in this short essay for Poetry, Holland makes the claim convincingly.