Poet’s Bookshelf – Cole Porter

cole porter at poems-and-poetry.comYou may be wondering what a book of Cole Porter lyrics is doing on a bookshelf devoted to poetry. Lyrics, after all, are often seen as the redheaded stepchild of legitimate poets – which is a darned shame. The best of song lyrics often outshine lyric poetry in their timeliness, artistry and piquancy – and Cole Porter was a consummate lyricist with a sharp, quick wit and a mind that twisted words into pretzels and left you wondering at the deftness of his handling. Which is why I was thoroughly delighted to run across this review of Cole Porter Selected Lyrics. The collection of Porter”s lyrics is selected from over 800 songs by Robert Kimball, an historian of the American theater, and is part of the American Poetry Project – which should say something about whether or not the lyrics can be considered poetry. Other poets in the series include John Berryman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Gwendolyn Brooks, Samuel Menashe, Theodore Roethke and William Carlos Williams – rarefied poetic company for one whose poetic form begs the question of whether or not it is actually poetry.

In truth, though, Porter”s lyrics are the epitome of light, satirical verse. He was the master of invoking depth through frivolity, and his verse compares favorably with that of such satiricists as Dorothy Parker and Lewis Carroll. Says reviewer David Barber,


Porter”s lyrics hold their own on page, though as Barber pointed out, they”re even better when they have the music. Still, just in case you start thinking that poetry is serious, dire stuff, a little Cole Porter on the bookshelf is a good thing to have. It”s de-lightful, it”s de-lovely, it”s de-licious and it”s totally poetry.

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