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The Chimps of Song and the Bonobo Poets.


While song may share 99% of poetry’s DNA, it isn’t poetry, any more than, say, a chimpanzee is a bonobo.

This, from Adam Newey reviewing Hard Ground, poems by Tom Waits, photographs by Michael O’Brien, in yesterday’s Guardian Review, strikes me as a shrewd snippet on the difference between song and poetry. (Newey has a wee bit to say about the history of the distinction.) If this interests you, listen to Mike Scott of the Waterboys discuss the topic with Ryan Van Winkle on this SPL podcast for Let’s Get Lyrical. He’s excellent on the division.

I guess Newey’s genetic parallel could also be applied to the difference between poetry and prose, except there the percentage may be, say, 98% or 97%. Really, at the end of the day, they’re different beasts and we learn to identify them by getting acquent with their distinguishing features. That takes time and exposure. (How many of you would instantly know how to tell a bonobo and a chimpanzee apart? Not I.)

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