Taylor Swift has long been inspired by great poets. Will she make this the year of poetry? (2024)


Tick, tick, tick. Taylor Swift is dropping her highly anticipated 11th era album "The Tortured Poets Department" on Friday, giving fans just days to break out the quills and notebooks, brush up on cursive writing and spend hours fitting words and alliterative phrases together like a perfect poetic puzzle.

Swifties will listen to the album with a white, beige and black aesthetic for at least a "Fortnight" (the name of the first song), delving into the lyrics and instrument choices on 20 tracks (there are four versions of the album with 16 base tracks and one unique bonus song per version).

From the erudite fanatic to the dignified scholar, Swift's newest body of art will be celebrated and scrutinized profusely. TikToks will speculate why "Florida!!!" has three exclamation points and who "The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived" is about. Her album artwork will be recreated, painted, sketched and collaged. Her new hits will be covered by singers on YouTube. The album two years in the making will make way for poetry to shine as the main character in 2024.

At least that's what Delaney Atkins, an Austin Peay State University professor, believes will happen. Since 2021, Atkins has taught one of the first Taylor Swift themed classes at the university level.

"I'm being vindicated right now," Atkins says. "If anybody ever doubted my class, here you go. There is space in the academic sphere for Taylor Swift."

"The Tortured Poets Department" may be a new trademark filed by Swift's team, but Atkins points out the idea of writers being insulted and aggrieved by a cruel society is nothing new.

"Her album has songs like 'The Albatross,' which is a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that I teach in my class," she says, "and it has been on my syllabus since the beginning."

Coleridge wrote"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in 1834. The poem is about an albatross that is abused by sailors as a metaphor for poets abused by society. The sailors fail to understand the beautiful creature, similar to how society fails to understand writers. Atkins sees this as a window into the album.

"A tortured poet is somebody who is so ingrained in their feelings and their emotions, just the ability to take that kind of emotion and make it art," Atkins says. "I think what she's getting at with the department is symbolizing a group of people who all set out to do the same thing but have different ways of going about it. Anyone in the past, present or future can be a part of the department."

Swift has referenced the department of esteemed writers in numerous songs across her discography. She's drawn from Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" poem twice. The second line of "The Outside" from her debut album has the line "I tried to take the road less traveled by," and in "'Tis The Damn Season" from "Evermore" she says "and the road not taken looks real good now." Fans think she announced "Evermore" on Dec. 10, 2020, to intentionally coincide with Emily Dickinson's birthday, and an internet rabbit hole links Dickinson to its song "Ivy." In the "Folklore: Long Pond Studio Sessions" documentary, Swift says her song "The Lakes" relates to William Wordsworth and John Keats.

"There was a poet district; these artists who moved there were kind of heckled for it," Swift says, "and made fun of for it as being these eccentrics and these kind of odd artists who decided that they just wanted to live there."

Atkins teaches, at length, these examples and many others. She plans to incorporate the new "Tortured Poets" works in her fall class.

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"I'm amazed at Taylor's breadth of work, at her level of maturity," says Abigail George, a screenwriter, poet and author who has written 20 books and hundreds of poems and essays. "What Taylor's been given is a gift from God."

George lives in Gqeberha, South Africa. She's practiced and studied literature her entire life. Her mother bought her a typewriter when she was 12. She won her first national manuscript competition in 1995. Her younger brother Ambrose started a publishing company, a small independent press, to publish her first three books. In 2015, George wrote an essay titled "The Hypomanic, and Unquiet Mind of the Tortured Poet." The essay reads in part:

"What will become of me if I am not loved?" the physical body asks itself. The mirror becomes the looking glass. The reflection becomes a figment of the imagination when you can find nothing comforting in it. Yet the tortured poet finds beauty and elegance in everything.

Swift dubbed herself the "Chairman" when she announced the new album, and George credits the singer's innate ability to capture the human experience as what makes her worthy of the title. George puts Swift in the same realm as Dickinson, Sylvia Plath and Edgar Allan Poe.

"I've written a book about Emily Dickinson, and I'm going to say something controversial that Taylor Swift is in the same league as Emily Dickinson," George says. "There's such a purity about her work. There's a purity about Taylor Swift."

Swift's writing has matured over the years, but she has incorporated complex themes since the beginning. In "Fifteen," a wise Nashville teenager wrote: "I've found time can heal most anything / And you just might find who you're supposed to be / I didn't know who I was supposed to be / At fifteen."

In November 2017 as part of the Target-exclusive "Reputation" magazines, Swift published two poems: "If You're Anything Like Me" and "Why She Disappeared." The end of "Why She Disappeared" is almost a harbinger of her phoenix-like resiliency: "without your past, / you could never have arrived- / so wondrously and brutally, / By design or some violent, exquisite happenstance / …here. / And in the death of her reputation, / She felt truly alive."

Brace for impact. Swiftmania will make landfall, again, on April 19 with a ripple effect expected to wash over the world. George thinks the album will be healing and therapeutic. Atkins thinks it will inspire many to create art. Although only Swift and her close circle know what catchy hooks and heart-wrenching verses the album contains, one thing is for certain: "The Tortured Poets Department" will be an embodiment of an artist who studies, refines and perfects her craft.

"Taylor Swift doesn't just make history," George says. "It's like, it's an ongoing process. It's yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I think 20 years from now, 30 years from now, even 100 years from now, she will still be relevant. She'll still be topical. People will still be talking about her."

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Taylor Swift has long been inspired by great poets. Will she make this the year of poetry? (2024)
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