Poems Songs has been an ongoing, occasional project over the past decade, in which I’ve been setting to music a range of twentieth-century poems as an alternative reading practice. In some cases, this means filling in the legibly song-like shapes of these verses. In others, it requires more playful reconstructions, using melodic principles and song structure to draw out latent patterns in less formal poetry. As a whole, the project has been a way to rethink performative and embodied aspects of lyric and voice, while exploring the musical coding of some well-known and less well-known poems. It has also been a means for exploring an alternative history of lyrical setting. Looking beyond more typical jazz or classical modes of interpretation to the folk practices sustained by Joni Mitchell, Kris Delmhorst, and countless traditional musicians has been helpful for revisiting questions around poetry’s audience and popular contexts.
JT Welsch is a lecturer in English and Creative Industries and director of the Centre for Modern Studies at the University of York. He has published variously on twentieth-century poetry and the contemporary poetry industry, along with collections of his own poetry. The Selling and Self- Regulation of Contemporary Poetry will be published by Anthem in April 2020.