Two of the oldest artforms used for connecting with other people and expressing our emotions are poetry and music. Music has always been an integral part of human society, taking its place in rituals, celebrations and moments of pure expression. Poetry has existed for as long as we have had words (perhaps longer) and formed one of the earliest versions of storytelling.
The reason both have stuck around for so long is that they resonate with people; even if we don’t always understand the intention behind a piece of music or a poem, it can still make us feel something.
The most traditional, and at one time most immediate, way of accessing music and poetry is through live performance. Whereas once upon a time this would have been restricted to local gatherings within communities, the practice has expanded as the human race has expanded. Poetry and songs were once unique to the small groups of people that developed them, only travelling further afield to larger groups if individuals physically carried them across the distance. Examples of this range from Gaelic folk songs, to Norse mythology, to oral African storytelling. You can still find some of the motifs from these works around today in New Year’s Eve song ‘Auld Lang Syne’, tales told of Thor and Odin, and the stories of Anansi.
Modern slam poets and other spoken word poets also use live performance to connect with their audience, though more often than not this takes place in specialist venues or at particular events rather than solely in their own community. Musicians, also, will often start out performing for friends and family or at a local community hub, before going on to play larger venues filled with paying audiences in order to hone their craft and promote their work.
Printing and Pressing
The next step after live performance is recording the work so that it can be accessed even when the artist isn’t there to perform it. For poets, this usually comes in the form of the written word, though there are also those who record audio or video versions of their work. For musicians, it is much more common for a sound or video recording to be their first choice, although there is also much demand for written musical scores and books of lyrics.
The ability to record artists’ work not only gives those of us in the 21st century the opportunity to experience a piece whenever we feel like it, but also gives future generations the ability to access music and poetry that was created long before they were born. The reason modern listeners can still hear Mozart’s masterpieces from the 18th century is because the scores were written down and preserved. The reason that we are able to read the work of Shakespeare or, going even further back, the word of Greek poet Sappho who was writing around 600BC, is because they wrote down their work and these documents were safeguarded for the future.
These days, connections happen quicker than ever before. Rather than having to wait for a publisher to print their work, or for readers to pick up on their talent, artists can use the internet. So-called ‘Instagram poets’ have enjoyed enormous success in recent years by publishing their poetry straight to their social media pages and letting the internet do the rest of the work. Many of these poets, like Rupi Kaur and Nayyirah Waheed, have gone on to publish physical volumes of poetry but only after their initial success online.
In my everyday life I know that, when I want to access something, I turn to the internet first. This could be anything from the latest music news on Vanguard, to a fun game for the train ride home on PokerStarsCasino, to information about an exhibition I’m interested in seeing at the Tate Modern. The same goes for both music and poetry. Free and accessible online resources exist for both of these art forms, meaning that we can now enjoy them from wherever we are in the world. This has been an enormous step forward in closing the gap between artist and audience.
Wherever you prefer to get your poetry fix, be it paper book or smart phone screen, the point is that the artform is still popular. The same goes for music; it’s hard to imagine a world without music, or one where music didn’t play such a vital part in our lives. These are perhaps the two most enduring forms of human art, alongside visual art like paintings and other mark making. The perpetual need to connect with one another and express what we are feeling suggests that both poetry and music will never go out of style.