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A Look at the Poems of Louis Reed in an Old Issue of The Harvard Advocate

By Harriet Staff

Check this out, from the Harvard Advocate blog. Lou Reed poems! Published as Louis Reed.

Here’s the intro. Make the jump to see the facsimilies!

Having swapped out his usual moniker “Lou” for “Louis,” Lou Reed might just have passed unrecognized in the Fall 1971 issue of The Harvard Advocate. Luckily, in his contributor’s note, he tersely reassures us that yes, “Louis Reed…formerly of the Velvet Underground, writes poetry now.”

The finality of that description belies the twenty-four solo albums, forty years of performance, and reversion to “Lou” that Reed will undergo in the decades following this publication. But this issue of the Advocate seems to have caught him in a unique transitional moment between career phases, recuperating in his parents’ Long Island home, producing work that combines past and future song lyrics with free verse.

Lou Reed was born in Brooklyn in 1942 and raised in Freeport, Long Island, where he was once prescribed electroshock therapy for homosexual behavior. He attended Syracuse from 1960-1964, during which he studied with the poet Delmore Schwartz, who would become a friend and lifelong inspiration. After several unsuccessful New York garage band stints, Reed finally put together the Velvet Underground in November of 1965, serving as lead singer and songwriter. As the band’s stardom rose, it was co-opted, along with the other worthy musicians of 1965 New York, into the galaxy of Andy Warhol. Under the direction of the artist’s Factory studio, the Velvet Underground toured the country with Warhol’s roadshow the Exploding Plastic Inevitable and recorded their legendary 1967 debut with German singer Nico.

But after making four albums in four years, and after losing both Warhol and Nico, Reed “retired” from the band in 1970. In his parents’ home, he recovered from the disillusionment of the commercial music market and began to reinvent himself as a poet.

Reed published eight pieces in The Harvard Advocate, two of which are Velvet Underground lyrics. The song “Candy Says,” the opening track on the band’s self-titled 1969 album and a melancholy tribute to Factory girl Candy Darling, reappears in the Advocate in poem form. The case of Reed’s poem “The Coach and Glory of Love” is more interesting. With its prominent refrain, the poem seems to be a musical lyric as well—though, puzzlingly, not to any Velvet Underground song as of 1971. The words, in fact, turn up on an album only in 1975, when they’re slightly reworked as lyrics for the title track of Reed’s solo effort Coney Island Baby. Here we have a rare insight into Reed’s creative process, the opportunity to see how the poet-songwriter conceives of poetry versus song. We can ask ourselves: If “Coney Island Baby” was at least four years in the making, how long did his other songs ferment in his mind before reaching our ears?

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, November 15th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.