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This review is taken from PN Review 212, Volume 39 Number 6, July - August 2013.

Songs for the Asking paul muldoon, The Word on the Street: Rock Lyrics (Faber and Faber) £12.99

Glyn Maxwell observes in On Poetry (2012) that great song lyrics lose more than their accompaniment when printed. They lose their verbal force, muffled by the white space of the page; their blackness ‘doesn’t have the blood the sung words have’. Lyrics need not create exciting rhythms under their own steam, and the line end, key to the pitch and pace of a poem’s voice, is in printed lyrics a matter of transcriptional convenience rather than temporal dynamics or even representational accuracy. Does Bob Dylan really sing ‘Johnny’s in the basement / Mixing up the medicine’ as two ‘lines’?
    
There are additional difficulties in The Word on the Street, Paul Muldoon’s third collection of song lyrics. The dustjacket declares that these ‘words … double as rock songs’, are essentially poems seeking a lyre’s accompaniment. As such, the existence of Muldoon’s band Wayside Shrines notwithstanding, these are primarily lyrics for, not lyrics to, songs. A reader in 2013 is probably not listening to a Muldoon song and consulting the book to double-check that the singer did rhyme ‘Elizabeth Bowen’ with ‘Leonard Cohen’ or ‘genius’ with ‘lenient’. Instead she approaches it as raw material. The songs are arranged in alphabetical, and yet not ludically abecedarian, order: this book is a speculative reference tool, or a supplier’s catalogue.
    
Yet if The Word on the Street is a career footnote, the larger project to which it refers remains significant. Muldoon’s poetry is musically aware, and his authorship ...


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