Sister Morphine and Notes

(Last night) I sat and thumbed
down a Lou Reed songbook.
Most of the songs he hadn’t written
yet. I was by a tree

in a parking lot waiting
for him to play a 7-11 rooftop:
(Allen) Ginsberg was there, and (Susan)
Sontag. I played a Brown

acoustic for them (last
night): Graceland, Diamonds,
The Cool, Cool River.
They smiled, annoyed, and pointed
to the roof where no one was singing anything:


1. This is not a Jagger/Richards/Faithful song;
2. Reed, Ginsberg, and Sontag are dead (now);
3. Brown is a tiny, custom-order guitar maker;
4. I don’t think Brown makes acoustics;
5. The songs are by Paul Simon;
6. Reed, Ginsberg, Sontag, and Simon are (were) Jewish;
7. I didn’t think of The Beatles until just now:
8. Note 7 ends on a colon and so does this poem:



  1. Hiya Andy,

    I enjoyed the verse – I Iiked “the notes” – and we’re all recalling Lou.

    If I remember rightly, you live on the wrong side of “The Pond”, so you may/not get the reference, but Morrissey (The Smiths) said that Lou Reed was “the WH Auden of the modern world.”

    Do you agree or disagree?



    1. Thanks for the kind words. This piece is not typical of me, but it seemed fun to share.

      I love the Smiths, and have loved them since Meat is Murder =)

      I think in spirit Morrissey is on to something, in that Reed’s work was hugely influential on following generation of songwriters … but note I didn’t say “poets.”

      I think Reed and Auden were at different work, and Reed has had zero influence on contemporary poetry.

      In terms of a music audience, particularly other songwriters, Reed was huge. Also, he basically
      enabled punk and all that followed, so yeah, he is of the stature Auden holds in poetry, in my opinion.

      Or to put it another way, I think Reed is one of those artists who crossed the line between being a practitioner of his art and being a shaper of his art, as Auden did.


  2. >>I love the Smiths

    I’d guessed you were an Anglophile. 🙂

    >>but note I didn’t say “poets.”

    We agree on influence and originality, but there’s the rub; the murky gulf between the lyric and the verse (my between domain).

    To take a different tack, do you think Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”, originally published as a poem, ranks as good verse or is it just a song?


    1. I love Cohen, and I think Suzanne is a masterpiece … as a song. Without the music and Cohen’s performance (that voice!) the words don’t do much … the language is just not alive in the way great poems are alive.

      But as a song … I’d kill to write anything like that.

      As to Plath and Hughes, I’m not sure I follow the connection exactly.


  3. P.S. Apropos of Lou’s demise, a friend mailed me yesterday, that Lou Reed married Laurie Anderson (I’m a big fan) in 2008. I find that both strange and lovely. I hope they enjoyed the time that they had – I’d love to be a fly on their wall!


  4. Hiya Andy,

    I received your good reply via email, but it doesn’t appear in this online thread. I’d composed a lengthy oldstylee: “>>”, reply, but then my 5y/o Acer died and I can’t be ars*d to type it all again – it’s 11pm here, I guess it’s 6pm where you are?

    Onyway, to cut to the chase, I am and, I suspect will always be, baffled by the boundary between song and poetry – I think of good poems as songs which imply their own tune so need no orchestration. To me it’s all music.

    You said “the language is just not alive in the way great poems are alive.”

    You may be right, but it begs the question what defines a great poem/poet. I’m not that bothered by metaphors. I seek sounds that satisfy the inner ear.

    Leading question: who are your four favourite poets. It’s a toughy, so I’ll go first. Mine are Eliot, Kipling, Ginsberg and Thomas.

    You don’t have to reply… 😉


    1. That’s odd, I can see both my replies on here.

      I love so many poets … Shakespeare, Keats, Dickinson, Eliot, and Stevens are probably my “classics”

      but there’s tons more, tons more. Of later poets, Adrianne Rich, John Ashbery, Geoffrey Hill, and Seamus Heaney seem to me to have done very interesting work.

      1. Hiya Andy,

        FYI.: I can see that comment online – strange why I still can’t see the previous one. Go figure…

        >>I love so many poets … Shakespeare, Keats, Dickinson, Eliot, and Stevens are probably my “classics”

        Well, clearly we can agree on Eliot – in my book he da man. Shakespeare was so obvious I didn’t even think to mention him. Come to that, I’d also cite the King James vs of the bible.

        Question: Re Eliot if you could only save one single verse from a metaphorical fire would it be: “The Wasteland”, or the “Four Quartets”, and, if the latter, which Quartet?


  5. >>The Waste Land in my book.

    It’s the Quartets for me; maybe East Coker.

    I love that TS was born in Missouri (did I spell that right?) then returned to his grandfathers land, worked for Lloyds of London, wrote the most authentically “English” poems of the 20th Century (in terms of sensibility) and made Faber & Faber what they were. He sounds so English when you hear him online. A true anglophile (we like to be loved)

    I think we may have had the debate before, but I can’t agree with the Catholic interpretation of the Quartets. It sounds Hindu to my blind ear.


    P.S. I love that WordPress lets me press Return without expressing unfinished words (unlike FB, which I hate)

  6. P.P.S. Perhaps you need to be English to get to grips with Kipling, but I’m not the least bit embarassed that “If” is the nations favourite poem. I take the liberty of including it below (it’s good advice):

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

    If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

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