Welcome to The International Association for the Study of Popular Music UK and Ireland Branch

Probing the Borderland: Between Popular Music and Literature

Posted: February 5th, 2023 | Filed under: Calls for Papers | No Comments »
1-Day Symposium, Friday 9th June 2023 
Hosted by the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne (France)
(Hybrid event)
Abstracts of 200 words should be sent, along with a short biography of no more than 100 words, to Catherine Girodet ([email protected]) and Sylvie Mikowski ([email protected]) by 15th March 2023. Messages of acceptance will be sent by March 29th 2023.

Keywords: popular music, popular song, literature, song-writing, intertextuality, interartistry, aesthetic resonance, intermediality, hybridity, transformative space 

From the troubadour tradition to contemporary folk-blues and rock music, popular music and literature have long intermingled, notably because the popular song combines a musical line and a narrative songtext, hence Antoine Hennion’s formulation of the popular song as a “three minute novel” (Hennion 1983)

In particular, the rock and blues song, as an offshoot of the seminal Anglo-American ballad (Laws 1950:2), relies on narrative-based lyrics and therefore structurally intersects with literary orality in its reliance upon story-telling.

A cursory glance at contemporary popular music testifies to the potent cross-pollination between popular music and the literary mode, whether as musical translations of literary classics, or as innovative forms of song-writing which use literature as an aesthetic source.

The former category involves transmuting literary classics into popular songs: Marianne Faithfull turns John Keats’s and Lord Byron’s poems into songs, as do John Cale with Dylan Thomas’s, the Waterboys with Yeats’, or Jah Wobble with William Blake’s.

The latter category encompasses experimentalists and literary musicians who hybridise their music with literary imagery and motifs, whilst weaving poetic and narrative techniques into their song-writing. This hybrid craft underpins Leonard Cohen’s poetic songwriting, Nick Cave’s mid to late nineties Southern Gothic and Romantic ballads, the Doors’ and Patti Smith’s Blakean flights of lyricism, Lou Reed’s 2003 art rock experimentations with Edgar Allan Poe’s writings, and Van Morrison’s co-writing lyrics with Irish poet Paul Durcan[1].

In drawing upon the literary reservoir as an aesthetic source, these experimentalists have blazed a trail for experimental musical bricolage, as exemplified by hip hop artist Kae Tempest’s endeavours in spoken word poetry, play-writing, and poetry-writing (Tempest 2013 and 2014).

Recent academic criticism has also laid a greater emphasis on intermediality, hence popular music is increasingly probed by literary conceptual frameworks ( and by means of aesthetic resonance. This has given rise to a wealth of critical works relating such literary aesthetics as Gothic and Romanticism to rock music, Goth, or Heavy Metal.

The interartistic overlap between popular music and literature was brought to global consciousness and acclaim in 2016 when the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to singer songwriter Bob Dylan, and in 2013 when the Ted Hughes Poetry Prize was awarded to Kae Tempest. These two instances point to a meltdown of conventional generic boundaries, whereby the two art forms are embraced for their hybrid potential and their intermingling is perceived as a creative source.

This symposium invites contemporary research into the interplay between popular music (rock, blues, hip hop…) and literature. What innovative art forms erupt from the borderland between literature and popular music? To what extent do popular musicians rejuvenate literary modes? What does literature bring to popular music and vice-versa? How do sound and word feed off each other to create fresh artistic idioms? What does the alchemy between popular music and literature bring to the listening experience?

The purpose of this symposium is to probe the confluence zone between popular music and literature as a transformative space where the two media alchemise into fresh artistic idioms.

 We invite submissions on topics that include, but are not limited to:

  • Intertextuality in popular music
  • Popular music and literature
  • Blues, rock music, and literary orality
  • Popular Music, Literature, and Interartistic Experimentalism
  • Popular music and poetry
  • Popular music and life-writing
  • Popular music and story-telling
  • Intermediality and aesthetic resonance in contemporary popular music
  • Innovative forms of literature-inspired songwriting

ASHCROFT, Bill. “Toward a postcolonial aesthetics.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 51:4 (2015): 410-421.

BANNISTER, Matthew. “Loaded: Indie Guitar Rock, Canonism, white Masculinities.” Popular Music 25.1 (2006): 77-95.

– – -, White Men, White Noise: Masculinities And 1980s Indie Guitar Rock. Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, US: Ashgate, 2006.

BARRY, Phillips. “The Music of the Ballads” (1929). The Anglo-American Ballad: A Folklore Casebook. Ed. Dianne DUGAW. London and New York: Routledge, 2016. 111-128.

BARTHES, Roland. Image, Music, Text. Comp. and trans. Stephen Heath. London: Fontana Press, 1977.

– – -, The Pleasure of Text. Trans. Richard Miller. London: Cape, 1976.

FRITH, Simon. Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

– – -, “Why do songs have words?” Taking Popular Music Seriously. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007. 210-238.

HANQUART-TURNER, Evelyne, ed. L’hybridité. Ivry sur Seine: Ed. A3, 2001.

HARRIS, Joseph, ed. The Ballad and Oral Literature. Cambridge, MA; and London, England: Harvard University Press, 1991.

HEBDIGE, Dick. “Style as Homology and Signifying Practice” (1979). On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word. Ed. Simon FRITH and Andrew GOODWIN. London and New York: Routledge, 1990. 57-65.

HENNION, Antoine. “The Production of Success: An Anti-Musicology of the Pop Song.” Popular Music 3 (1983): 159-193.

LAWS, George. Native American Balladry: a Descriptive Study and a Bibliographical Syllabus. Philadelphia: The American Folklore Society, Bibliographical Series I, 1950.

MOORE, Allan. Song Means: Analysing and Interpreting Popular Songs. Farnham, Great Britain; and Burlington, US: Ashgate, 2012.

ROVIRA, James, ed. Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 – For the Record: Lexington Studies in Rock and Popular Music. US: Lexington Books, 2019.

– – -, Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms. US: Palgrave Mac Millan, 2018.
TEMPEST, Kae. Hold your own. London: Picador, 2014.
– – – Brand New Ancients. London: Picador, 2013.
– – – Everything Speaks in its Own Way. Depford and London: Zingaro Books, 2012.


[1] Van Morrison and Paul Durcan. “In the days before Rock and roll”, Enlightenment. 1990. CD.

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