Taylor Swift is a fine songwriter, but according to a Harvard English professor, poetry is where Swift struggles. Swift recently released her album Reputation and if you bought a physical copy of the album, it came with a magazine. The magazine included several handwritten poems, penned by Swift. Harvard professor Stephanie Burt, who has written books on the subject of poetry, analyzed Swift’s poems like she would any other work. The verdict: Well…let’s let Burt explain.
“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,” Burt shared in an interview with Cosmopolitan.com. “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.”
Burt took apart specific phrases in the poems and really dissected the words.
“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.”
Here are Swift’s two poems.
Why She Disappeared - poem by Taylor Swift pic.twitter.com/KRIZJizUgT— SlayerSwift13 (@SlayerSwift13) November 10, 2017
Burt explains that songwriting and poetry and not the same, although they may seem like similar art forms. Poetry is meant to be read, and reread, while songwriting is ultimately meant to be heard.
Overall, it feels like this professor would file Swift’s poems in the ~not very good~ pile. Ouch.
“Many people who don’t read poetry a lot write poetry themselves and show the poetry perhaps to their friends, because it’s a way of expressing a feeling or figuring out how they feel, and there’s nothing wrong with using verse that way,” Burt adds. “It’s okay to write poetry that you yourself think probably won’t be very good — if ‘good’ means that people like me will love it or strangers will read it in 50 years.”
However, despite the critical read on Swift’s poetry skills, Burt doesn’t want to discourage Swift (or anyone) from putting pen to paper if they feel the urge to express themselves.
“And I would hate to have the ‘these poems aren’t very good as poems’ reaction to Taylor Swift’s poems prevent people who want to try writing poetry or who have been writing poetry for reasons of self expression [from doing so]. I’d hate to discourage anyone from writing poetry. I do want to encourage people to read poetry and to read poetry by people who aren’t like them.”
From what we learned from this interview, poetry is a difficult art form to crack — the fact that Swift even tried is cool with us.