Lines & Lyrics: The Poetry of Penny & Sparrow

This was our obligatory concert selfie. Too bad we forgot to take one afterwards with our new Penny & Sparrow shirts!

In December of 2014, my boyfriend/concert buddy Derrick and I went to a Delta Rae show*, fell in love with the two-man opening act, and somehow found ourselves driving home holding two t-shirts for a band we’d never heard of before while listening to their entire album. Those two men were Andy and Kyle of Penny & Sparrow, a folk/Americana duo whose songs hit you right in the feels.

Andy and Kyle have the most basic instruments: two voices and one guitar — and yet somehow their sound fills whatever space they occupy so completely and unapologetically. Their combination of stage presence and intricate lyrics was enough to cause two broke millennials to spend all their dollars on t-shirts without a second thought. (In our defense, they are pretty comfy and soft.)

Our Penny & Sparrow enthusiasm has only grown with time, and for me at least that has a lot to do with the lyrics. The music, of course, is captivating and haunting — without that element they wouldn’t be who they are. But the lyrics are so close to poetry that they keep me coming back and finding something new every time I listen — the same way I return to a favorite poem or poet. The song “Gold” from their album Let a Lover Drown You is a great example.

Andy and Kyle singing “Gold” during an Audiotree Live Session

Covered in gold, forgetting my skin
 I recall you, I recall when

Pulling your shirt, up over your head
 You laugh and get stuck, we get stuck in bed
 All that I do is a shadow of you in the light you make
 I’m turning my face away from the shade

Swaying on cue I’ll be mimicking you and the way you shake

You’re a difficult love, I’m a narrow escape
 All of my clothes, none of which fit
 Bringing back us, meeting as kids
 Covered up red, I figured out fame
 I’ll honor your death, by making my name
 With all of my guilt and the way that I’m built

I don’t sleep so well
 With all of that hope, the end of a rope

Swinging on cue, I’ll be mimicking you and the way you felt

When I know what you know it’s an easy let go
 All that I do is a shadow of you and the light you make
 I’m turning my face away from the shade

Swaying on cue I’ll be mimicking you and the way you shake

You’re a difficult love, I’m a narrow escape
 Covered in gold, forgetting my skin
 I recall you, I recall when

See what I mean? Lines like “All that I do is a shadow of you in the light you make” are captivating, even with just 14 simple words. The song itself is reflecting on the idea of love and how it changes us- a pretty familiar theme in both poetry and music. An All Eyes Media article explains “Gold” and its literary inspiration:

A favorite novel, Red Rising, where the protagonist loses his wife and turns toward darkness inspired the quietly arresting “Gold”. “It was a vehicle to discuss our willingness to change because of love,” says Andy. “Will we like what we’re made into? Will the process be painful? Am I being made better? These questions are fascinating to us.”

So, what you’re saying, Andy, is that “Gold” is born out of a novel (hello there, poetry!) and navigates a series of questions about love. Sarah Kay often talks about the process of writing poetry as a ritual of question-making — working something out on a page and either finding answers or more questions along the way.

If you ask poetry critic David Orr, he might tell you that poetry and music are two different art forms and the categories get too murky when you start assigning the title “poet” to a musical artist. His article responding to Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature pretty much sums up his skepticism toward the blurring of the line between music and poetry.

While Orr’s concerns have their place, the kinship of poetry and music is an ancient one — poetry began as an oral tradition with occasional musical accompaniment. Poets and songwriters reach into the same toolkit to find rhythm, alliteration, rhyme and tone. For both forms, the expression is in the sound of each line and the spacing of each word— what is present and what is not. London’s Poetry and Lyrics Festival speaks exactly to this bridge between the two. The event, according to Guardian writer Cerys Matthews, highlights the idea that “poetry and music are not, and have never really been, separate.” Matthews 2016 article describing the festival offers this thought:

However you view it, whether listening to a song or poem, there is an endless fascination in the power of words, in the impact of a perfect turn of phrase.

This power of words is what has always intrigued me about both of these art forms — the way that using one word instead of its synonym can change the way a lyric or a line falls on your ears or flows across the page.

I’m certainly not suggesting that poetry and music are exactly the same — they, of course, have their differences. But what I do know is that recognizing their similarity invites us into appreciating both songs and poems in a new way. Poetry and lyrics can each provide their own entry point into the creativity and wonder (dare I say whimsy...) of words — and how we as humans put them together to make something meaningful and enduring. Look no further than Andy & Kyle’s “music songs,” as they call them** and you’ll notice that poetry can’t be so far away.

Penny & Sparrow Singing “Double Heart” with folk trio Joseph

Perhaps the next time you think that you might not like poetry, think of a song you love and consider that maybe you already do.

*Side Note: We still do love you Delta Rae! We’ll always be ready to belt out “If I Loved You” at a moment’s notice.

**Side Side Note: did I mention that Andy and Kyle are super funny? Don’t take my word for it — watch their whole Audiotree live session and see for yourself.