Poetry News

Stephanie Burt Gives Taylor Swift's Poetry a Critical Eye

By Harriet Staff

In Tuesday-afternoon-worthy news, Taylor Swift writes poems, and Stephanie Burt critiques them! At Cosmopolitan, Patti Greco has more: "On November 10, Taylor Swift released two magazines along with her sixth studio album, Reputation, each of which features an original poem by Swift ('Why She Disappeared' and 'If You're Anything Like Me')," she writes. Burt's take, as explained to Greco:

What’s your overall critique of Taylor's poetry?

The Taylor Swift poems are emotionally interesting ways to think about her life and her self-image and her emotions — I don’t think they really work for me as poems. They speak to what she’s doing as a songwriter. They show her ear for just the sounds of words, but they don’t do some other things that poems do that make me want to re-read them. They should mean a lot to people who care about what she’s doing. I just don’t think they stand up on their own in the way that my favorite poets do.

What doesn’t work?

They have bits that are clichés, that just really don’t work. The "chink in the armor she never knew she needed”? That’s not working. “Avoiding old haunts and sidestepping shiny pennies” — why do the pennies need to be shiny? Does Taylor step on pennies that are dulled with time? There’s not really a lot of thinking about the way the words fit together.

What works?

There are bits that would totally work as lyrics for pop songs, including the kind that she’s so good at writing and co-writing. “When she fell, she fell apart” is quite a good opening for a song. And rhyming “apart” with “sidewalk chalk,” which emphasizes the vowel sounds, is the kind of rhyme you could really get across if you have the right kind of singer. “If you’re anything like me, you’ve grown to hate your pride / to love your thight / and no amount of friends at 25” — look at the long “i” [use] there. That’s the songwriting talent for putting vowel sounds together.

“Blew away with the winds that took all of her fair-weather friends” — that would be a great lyric. This is a talented pop lyricist working in a form that doesn’t feel like the form for her.

It’s kind of cool that she encourages people to write poetry by example. I don’t know that she’s encouraging people to read a lot of poetry that is old or that is challenging or that is not by white girls.

Images of the poems, and more, at Cosmo.

Originally Published: November 14th, 2017