I guess some people would be surprised that I enjoy the music and writing of Alicia Keys.  I am a crusty old Deadhead and curmudgeon in waiting. My tastes tend to have a bit of an edge to them. I am also a very cynical person. That cynicism does get tested when dealing with verse like this. There are some moments of beauty but there are some verses that are overwrought.


I picked up a copy of Tears For Water: Songbook of Poems and Lyrics recently. This is a collection of poems and lyrics from Keys. She does acknowledge that many of the poems written were for her own personal use and not intended for public consumption. Of course, once you become famous there is a premium for anything you have written.


That acknowledgment actually makes the review harder. Some material may be lower in quality because it was not meant to be read by the public at large. My view is that once you choose to put the work out there it becomes fair game for criticism. There are a few poems here that probably don't deserve to be included in a major poetry release.


In her defense it should be noted that many major poets have included questionable material in their publications. Is every poem in the Ginsberg ouvre or Bukowski ouvre necessary? Probably not. So to get that out of the way, we can analyze the verse. Some of the poems and lyrics are very poignant and expressive.


 Lilly of the Valley is about a stripper who must sell herself to survive:


Lilly/ Please don't let them / Crush your petals /And throw them to the Wind /Scattered / Leaving the residue of worthlessness on your lips/ Forever lost/ From what once was within.


This is a poignant plea to not be defeated by the world. It's also an effort to make one recognize their own inner beauty. This is effective use of language that is very accessible to the average reader. Keys has a really genuine ability for putting things down in a very direct manner. This is something that I do appreciate as I have always held that poetry should be populist and not written for the elite.


Some of the poems are really good. Still Water is a reflection on seeing women dying of AIDS in an African clinic. Everywhere Is Nowhere is about missing a loved one through one's travels to exotic places. There are several poems that reveal a mastery of the poetic form. This is a very gifted young woman expressing herself on these pages.


Fans of Keys music will appreciate that this book includes the lyrics from her two albums: Songs in A Minor and The Diary of Alicia Keys. Here one can learn the words for their favorite Keys songs. They can learn the words for Girlfriend,  A Woman's Worth,  and Caged Bird.


I have always appreciated being able to read the lyrics to songs I like. I have also espoused the notion that the best songwriters are also poets. Keys does prove that with this effort. There is a fine poetic flair with her lyrics. It is hard to dislike her after reading this book. Even when I feel she's being overwrought (i.e. the notion that all these words are written from tears of joy, of pain, of sorrow, of depression, even of questions” seems a bit much.


This is still a fine collection of verse and lyrics. I am more impressed with Keys as an artist after reading this book than I was before. I look forward to her development as both a musician and poet. I recommend this one for those who like emotionally honest verse and who want to read the words of a young woman seeking to find herself and express it in poetic form.

View georgeschaefer's Full Portfolio
allets's picture


Not a fan, but based on the exerpt of poetry, not a fan. I read the announcment/ad for it, never moved on it. - May check out copy in library. Maybe Tears For Water - nice title - slc



georgeschaefer's picture

definitely a worthwhile read

definitely a worthwhile read