Prose from Poetry Magazine

Learning to Fly

On writing songs—and singing poems.
Black and white image of Bob Dylan performing in 1965.
I learned to write
I learned to write
what might be read
on nights like this
by one like me

— From The Only Poem by Leonard Cohen

Long before I was writing songs, I was writing poems. I filled notebooks with short stories, rhymes, and thoughts. Sometimes 
I journaled what happened during the day. Other times I made up my own stories from deep within my imagination. For years I was scared to show my work to anyone for fear they would laugh. Poetry felt like a lost or dead language. People were aware it was there, but it was rarely spoken.

Growing up, I immersed myself in the works of Anne Sexton, William S. Burroughs, Patti Smith, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Dylan Thomas, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I loved T.S. Eliot’s tender yet cruel depiction of spring in The Waste Land. I was turned on to Arthur Rimbaud’s masterpiece “Le Bateau Ivre” (“The Drunken Boat”) and felt equally drawn to his writing style as I was to the tales of the adventurous life that he led. I pored over Sylvia Plath’s works — taking in Ariel, The Colossus, and her novel The Bell Jar repeatedly during my late teens and early twenties. I came to love the sardonic wit of Mark Twain. I adored Charles Bukowski’s dirty sense of humor, his dark-leaning subjects, and his plainspoken grit. Allen Ginsberg made me weep when I read “America” for the first time. I was as influenced by Walt Whitman’s concise and structured Leaves of Grass as I was by Bob Dylan’s nonsensical, run-on word vomit in Tarantula. My favorite poem, to this day, remains one by Bob Dylan entitled “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie.” He read it aloud on his album The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1–3: Rare and Unreleased. It encompassed every topic under the sun: life, death, greed, humanity, religion,
intelligence, gentrification, vanity, freedom, nature, love, spirituality    ...    it was all there. I’ve spent my entire life trying to create a piece of work that comes close to making me feel the way that poem does.

When I sit down to write, sometimes it’s with a pen and paper, or perhaps a typewriter — sometimes it’s with a guitar and only my memory. I have many poems that were never meant to be songs but the words seemed to jump off the paper into my lungs, insisting I sing them. And other times I set out with the intent to write a song and it is never sung. It stays on the page content to be a poem.

I’ve never limited myself to one style. I wanted to experiment with different structures — sonnet, haiku, free verse — nothing was out of bounds. Poetry has shaped my art in a profound way. Without the influence of these great poets, my work would be as shallow as the billboards that line our highways and the advertisements that fill our television sets.

Originally Published: October 2nd, 2017

Margo Price moved to Nashville in 2003 and met bassist Jeremy Ivey. The pair would write songs, perform together, and marry. In 2016 Third Man Records released Price’s debut album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter.

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