The Whanganui Literary Festival has broadened its scope this year to include songwriting as another of the many ways that words are hammered into meaningful shapes.

Songsmiths, like poets and novelists, take the raw material of emotions, ideas and stories and forge them into melodies that carry the lyrics out into the world to be sung, performed and answered.

On October 5, the Lucky Bar, in Whanganui's Wilson Street, together with the literary festival, is hosting a night of local singers and songwriters to celebrate the place of lyrics in the realm of literature.

Starting at 7pm, the songwriters evening will bring attention to the art of writing lyrics, while the performers will be telling the back stories that illuminate their own songs.


As well as performing their own material, each singer will do a version of a song from a lyricist they feel has captured the art of writing a great song. This will include the work of artists such as Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Paul Kelly, Sam Cooke and, of course, Bob Dylan.

While the dust kicked up over awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature to Dylan still has not settled, with people taking sides around the notion of what constitutes Literature (with a capital "L"), it has placed the idea of songs alongside poetry and novels as a legitimate member of the family.

Prior to this recognition of Dylan's contribution to both the written and sung word, songwriting had often been treated like the bastard child, born outside the defined notions of what is art - despite the fact that most people have songs that figure significantly in their lives in some way.

It may be the song that was on the radio or in the headphones at a particular moment that always takes you back. It might be a song you relate to a time, a feeling, person or place. Whether laden with heavy serious lyrics or light as air, songs have a profound impact on how we feel.

It might be a bit of "Well, be-bop-a-lula, she's my baby" or No Woman, No Cry from Bob Marley; The Hissing of Summer Lawns by Joni Mitchell or Sam Cooke on how a Change is Gonna Come; or Don't Dream It's Over from Neil Finn with the opening lines of Like a Rolling Stone thrown in for good measure (I doff my hat to anyone who knows all the words to that song as Dylan certainly liked to cram them in).

There are hundreds of songs embedded in our memory and often we do actually know all the words and can sing them with gusto in the shower, the kitchen ... even at work.

Dylan is but one of the many great songwriters who have found rhyme in the reason to write.

The list is long, and I am sure to have missed some that readers think should be included: Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Paul Kelly, Neil Finn, Neko Case, Lennon/McCartney, Paul Simon, Carole King, Otis Blackwell, John Prine, Sam Cooke, Bjork, Lucinda Williams, Allen Toussaint, Chrissie Hyde, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Ray Davies (for Waterloo Sunset if nothing else), Holland /Dozier/ Holland for Motown, Bob Marley, Kate Bush, PJ Harvey - plus the recent addition of Taylor Swift.

I recently had a delightful encounter with a work colleague who was singing in the corridor (it has particular good acoustics). We paused for second, smiled and noted that singing is good for the soul before heading of in different directions, each singing our own little tune.

*Terry Sarten (aka Tel) is a musician, writer and social worker - feedback: