Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly sets poetry in musical motion with new compilation for National Poetry Month

While it’s rather commonplace for musicians to do an album of cover tunes, celebrated Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly, however, is no ordinary musician. Over the past decade, he has turned to a diverse selection of literary titans to act as his “collaborative” lyricist. On Poetry, the fifth in his series of themed “mixtapes,” Kelly has collected two dozen tracks where he sets music to words penned by legendary writers such as William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes, William Butler Yeats, Thomas Hardy, and Dylan Thomas. Poetry will be available on all digital platforms on April 28, 2023 via Gawd Aggie/Cooking Vinyl. As an added bonus, Poetry debuts two previously unreleased Kelly recordings: “Quarantine” and “Sonnet 147.” Written by the late Irish poet Eavan Boland, “Quarantine” is based on a tragic true story of a couple who died during Ireland’s great famine in the 1800s, and Kelly believes that it is “one of the greatest love poems ever written.” Kelly opens the album with a spare but stirring rendition of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 147,” a work that previously inspired his lyrics for “Keep On Coming Back For More.” Poetry also provides the digital debut of “Eurydice and the Tawny Frogmouth,” (written by the highly regarded Australian poet Robert Adamson), which has only been available on the vinyl version of 2019’s Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds.





While Kelly has earned worldwide acclaim for his incisive, insightful lyrics, he readily admits that “writing words is the slowest and hardest part of songwriting.” For the first 35 years of his storied career, he always began songs with a musical idea with the words trailing afterward. “I had the idea that starting with a complete set of words would somehow constrain the music, make it run on too rigid a rail.” A turning point arrived in 2012 when Kelly and composer James Ledger were asked to write a song-cycle for students at the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM). Because of time constraints, the two wound up adapting poems. Working with poems, Kelly reveals, “gave me a key to new rooms. A key I’ve been using ever since.”  The ANAM project resulted in the album Conversations With Ghosts, and Poetry contains two Ghost tracks, “Sailing To Byzantium” and “Once In A Lifetime Snow.” Kelly subsequently adapted eight Shakespeare works for his 2016 release Seven Sonnets and A Song. His late 2010s albums, Nature and Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds, feature interpretations of poems by Dylan Thomas (“And Death Shall Have No Dominion”); Walt Whitman (“With Animals”); Sylvia Plath (“Mushrooms”); Thomas Hardy (“The Darkling Thrush”); Philip Larkin (“The Tree”) and Gerald Manley Hopkins (“God’s Grandeur” and “The Windhover”) – all of which appear on Poetry too.



                                                                                               PAUL KELLY – POETRY                                                                                                       Tracklisting
  1. “Sonnet 147” (William Shakespeare & Paul Kelly) – previously unreleased
  2. “Quarantine” (Eavan Boland & Paul Kelly) – previously unreleased
  3. “Eurydice and the Tawny Frogmouth (Robert Adamson & Paul Kelly) – Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds
  4. “Sailing to Byzantium” (William Butler Yeats & Paul Kelly) – Conversations With Ghosts
  5. “Sonnet 60” (William Shakespeare & Paul Kelly) – Seven Sonnets & A Song
  6. “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” (Dylan Thomas & Paul Kelly) – Nature
  7. “The Windhover” (Gerard Manley Hopkins & Paul Kelly) – Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds
  8. “Surely God Is A Lover” (John Shaw Neilson & Paul Kelly) – Foggy Highway
  9. “O Mistress Mine” [“Clown’s Song” From Twelfth Night] (William Shakespeare & Paul Kelly) – Seven Sonnets & A Song          
  10. “With Animals” (Walt Whitman & Paul Kelly) – Nature
  11. “Mushrooms” (Sylvia Plath & Paul Kelly) – Nature 
  12. “The Darkling Thrush” (Thomas Hardy & Paul Kelly) – Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds
  13. “God’s Grandeur (Gerard Manley Hopkins & Paul Kelly) – Nature
  14. “Sonnet 138” (William Shakespeare & Paul Kelly) – Seven Sonnets & A Song 
  15. “The Oxen” (Thomas Hardy & Paul Kelly) – Paul Kelly’s Christmas Train
  16. “Sonnet 18” (William Shakespeare & Paul Kelly) – Seven Sonnets & A Song 
  17. “Life Is Fine” (Langston Hughes & Paul Kelly) – Life Is Fine
  18. “Barn Owl” (Gwen Harwood & Paul Kelly) – Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds
  19. “Once In A Lifetime, Snow” (Les Murray & Paul Kelly) – Conversations With Ghosts
  20. “My True Love Hath My Heart” (William Shakespeare & Paul Kelly) – Seven Sonnets & A Song
  21. “Sonnets 44 And 45” (William Shakespeare & Paul Kelly) – Seven Sonnets & A Song 
  22. “A Barred Owl” (Richard Wilbur & Paul Kelly) – Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds
  23. “The Trees” (Philip Larkin & Paul Kelly) – Nature
  24. “The Magpies” (Denis Glover & Paul Kelly) – Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds


The music on Poetry presents a subtle, sophisticated range of styles. “Life Is Fine” (based on the Langston Hughes poem) suggests Kelly in his singer/songwriter mode. A little Christmas twang flavors Thomas Hardy’s “The Oxen” (from Paul Kelly’s Christmas Train), while Kelly’s love for bluegrass surfaces in “Surely God Is A Lover” (from Paul Kelly and the Stormwater Boys’ Foggy Highway). A particularly imaginative pairing of words and music is the stark jazz piano arrangement for Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 138.” It is no accident that sonnets are the basis for several tracks on Poetry. Kelly views sonnets’ structure of 14 lines with regular rhyming patterns as well-suited to adapting into songs. Additionally, according to Kelly, the 9th-12th lines in a sonnet operate “like a bridge in a pop song, and the last two lines, a rhyming couplet, act as a kind of summing up.” Utilizing poems for lyrics has brought a sea change to Kelly’s songwriting. “Writers tend to fall into habits and often struggle to break them, so it was exciting for me to find a new way to write songs,” he explains. “It was like finding another arrow in the quiver, a new tool in the toolkit.” All the songs on Poetry feature poems included in Love Is Strong As Death, an anthology of Paul Kelly’s 300 favorite poems that he published in 2019.  Poems Chosen By Paul Kelly: Love Is Strong As Death (Penguin/Hamish Hamilton 2019); the hardcover sold over 30k units in Australia alone, it’s available now as a paperback. You can connect with paul Kelly via the following links. Bio taken from press release.


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