The Perils of Songwriting

And one of my errors.

Songwriting may not seem a perilous activity, but you are forever on the edge, a couplet away from cliché, a stanza away from self-importance.

There is so little difference between ordinary and original, perceptive and pompous, dull and delightful. And yet, when a writer gets it right, it is so obviously right. Good writing grabs you by the shoulders, gleefully; nods at you, knowingly. Like this from Bella Pollen’s Meet Me in the In-Between, which is beguiling my nights:

My sister, my brother, and I begin at the beginning, our ID cards clean and unstamped, three little pastas waiting for sauces’  

Three little pastas waiting for sauces – a unique, bulls-eye evocation of young siblings, created from universal acts in everyday words. Simple and magical.

Poetry and song

The constraints of songwriting help maintain focus – every syllable counts – but heighten the dangers. You have so little time to make a connection, to say something worth saying, worth hearing.

Poetry walks a similar cliff-top and several of my songs are inspired by poems, particularly my early songs when I didn’t know what to write about1.

The first song I released is an interpretation of this poem by Brian Patten.

The lyrics this poem birthed.

You ask me for a present
I offer you a song
You say that that’s too easy
Cos it won’t take me long.

You ask me for a token
I offer words of love
You say that that’s too simple
And no more than you deserve.

But it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok
That there’s nothing I can give you.
It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok
Cos there’s nothing you will take.

I ask you for an answer
You offer me denial
You flinch beneath my fingers
You bridle at my smile.

I ask you for a grievance
You’re happy to provide
You ice it with resentment
I don’t even care, just it let slide.

But it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok
That there’s nothing you will give me.
It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok
Cos there’s nothing that I want.

But I remember when you coaxed the buttons from my blouse
You traced the lifelines in our palms
You walked for miles to reach my house.
And I remember when I had no fear
If you were near and
Everything in life seemed clear.

Now we’re a mess of contradictions
We’re a sump of futures gone
We’re the shards of broken ceasefires
And everything we do is wrong.
Everything we had is gone
You and I, we don’t belong
You and I, we’re just wrong.

But it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok
That your keys are on the table.
It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok
Cos I’ve already changed the locks.

It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok
That we’ve nothing left to fight for now.
It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok
Cos the bed’s already warm.

And here is the song

I was going for a Zero 7 vibe, for reasons I no longer remember.

Never try to be too clever

Reading these lyrics, after many years, I am content. I like ‘shards of broken ceasefires’, ‘you flinch beneath my fingers’,I ask you for a grievance, you’re happy to provide, you ice it with resentment’. I like that the last line makes you reassess the whole story.

This song was called ‘Token for many months. For no strong reason, mostly because I love ‘Start by The Jam, and how the title only appears once in the song, as does ‘Token’ in my song.

But then I changed it to ‘Constructive Dismissal. I won’t try to justify this heavy-handed, overwrought analogy that manages to be too opaque and too literal. What was I thinking 🙄?

External evidence of my misjudgement is not necessary but is provided by the oft used title – ‘the one that used be called Token’!

I fear this won’t be my last crime. I am a lover of wordplay, an extreme sport that sometimes leads to injury.

I apologise in advance and thank you for your tolerance.

Yours hopefully,

Nazneen xxx

Yours Hopefully is an experiment in living hopefully. With music and musings, from a singer-songwriter-scientist. Why not subscribe and get a post every Sunday in your inbox?


It is not that I know what to write about now, it is that it no longer seems necessary to know.