The Poetry of Punk : The Meaning Behind Punk Rock and Hardcore Lyrics book cover
1st Edition

The Poetry of Punk
The Meaning Behind Punk Rock and Hardcore Lyrics

ISBN 9781138502345
Published May 14, 2018 by Routledge
196 Pages

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Book Description

Punk bands have produced an abundance of poetic texts, some crude, some elaborate, in the form of song lyrics. These lyrics are an ideal means by which to trace the developments and explain the conflicts and schisms that have shaped, and continue to shape, punk culture. They can be described as the community’s collective ‘poetic voice,’ and they come in many different forms. Their themes range from romantic love to emotional distress to radical politics. Some songs are intended to entertain, some to express strong feelings, some to provoke, some to spread awareness, and some to foment unrest. Most have an element of confrontation, of kicking against the pricks. Socially and epistemologically, they play a central role in the scene’s internal discourse, shaping communities and individual identities.

The Poetry of Punk is an investigation into the Anglophone punk culture, specifically in the UK and the US, where punk originated in the mid-1970s, its focus being on the song lyrics written and performed by punk rock and hardcore artists.

Table of Contents

List of Figures

Foreword: On Punk Lyrics

Greg Bennick

Introduction: ‘Three Chords and the Truth’

Chapter 1: Definitions


Defining Punk

Defining Poetry

Chapter 2: Punk Lyrics in Form, Function, and Delivery

The Meaning of Punk Vocalization

The Economy of Punk Songs: Text-Music Reciprocity

Text and Paratext


Intertextuality in Punk Songs

The Levels of Communication in Punk Songs

The Functions of Punk Lyrics

The Anatomy of Punk Lyrics

Chapter 3: The ‘Punk Ideology’: The Language of Politics in Punk’s Poetry


Anticapitalism and DIY


Gender and Sexuality

Race and Ethnicity

Vegetarianism and Animal Rights

Chapter 4: "Anarchy in the UK": Genealogies of British Punk and Post-Punk

Sex Pistols: A Crudely Poetic Revolution

Anarcho-Punk: A Crass Threat to the Establishment

‘UK 82’: The Austere Poetics of Thatcher-Era Punk

Eclecticism and Diversification: British Punk in the Twenty-First Century

"The Queen Is Dead": From Punk to Post-Punk

Chapter 5: "Rise Above": A History of North American Punk and Hardcore

The Ramones: Punk as Pastiche

Dead Kennedys

The Harsh Poetics of Reagan-Era Hardcore

Straight Edge: A Sober Revolution?

‘Neo-Punk’: Between Underground Credibility and Mainstream Appropriation

The 1990s and Early 2000s: Modern Hardcore’s Defining Years


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Gerfried Ambrosch holds a PhD in English and American Studies from the University of Graz. He spent several years working and researching in London. He currently lives in Vienna, where he works for an international NGO. As a touring musician, he has intimate knowledge of the goings-on in international punk communities.


"Gerfried Ambrosch’s book is a pioneering, comprehensive study of punk culture and music, with a special focus on punk lyrics, that is likely to hold its ground for a long time. It is highly convincing, indeed unique both methodologically and in terms of the wide range of contents and themes it offers. It is academically well-founded, but still accessible to a broader readership in the innovative ways it maps out a tremendously complex, dynamic, and still developing field with consistent reference to a host of original interviews with leading figures of punk, as well as to the lyrics of punk as an essential expression of the (sub)culture’s ideologies."
– Hugo Keiper, Department of English Studies, University of Graz, Austria