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  • Writer's pictureRiya Bajpai

Editing Taylor Swift Lyrics Using Polyphony Guidelines

By Rishi Janakiraman

 

It’s 6th-period Trig class when I overhear a group of girls erupt in laughter, their chairs leaning back while our teacher lets out a sigh. 2020’s-pop-song hook hangs in the air while they hunch over their phones, fawning over the next TikTok singer on everyone’s feed. They’ll forget his name in a few months. On the board, sine, cosine, tangent are all erased as the bell dismisses us home. One of them asks, whatever happened to Taylor?, while the other snaps back, she’s overrated now, her songs are so basic! The rest giggle while they scroll to the next reel.


 I get home and start on the problem set my teacher assigned when an Instagram notification pops up on my phone. I’m swiping through everyone’s stories until I find my old friend from my old school. She’s with her friends at Homecoming and they’re all dancing together; I’ve become an afterthought in her mind. And it’s not like I think about her constantly either. It’s like I’ve forgotten her too. I think back to our whispers in the back of class, a teacher’s yell, how we talked anyways. 


After zoning out, I get back on my email. It reads: Polyphony Lit, one new submission. Unfortunately, for the last three weeks, I had been completely slacking with reviewing submissions. The new semester had just started, trig was already extra heavy on my workload, and I had lost the motivation to keep up with my commentary. I just wasn’t feeling it. 


However, this submission piques my interest. The title is “coney island”, with the name “Taylor Swift” written at the bottom. My first instinct isn’t to email the SE or add a note saying “Polyphony Lit doesn’t allow identifiable information!” Instead, my first instinct is to jump out of my chair and pace around my room in shock.


Taylor Swift, I think to myself, this has to be a joke, right? Some kind of coincidence? How common is that name? There could be other Taylor Swifts, right? Either way, my hand flies to my mouth, my eyes wide as I stand there for a solid ten seconds before I open the file. 


coney island

by Taylor Swift


[Verse 1]

Break my soul in two

Looking for you but you're right here

If I can't relate to you anymore

Then who am I related to?

And if this is the long haul

How'd we get here so soon?

Did I close my fist around something delicate?

Did I shatter you?


[Chorus]

And I'm sitting on a bench in Coney Island wondering where did my baby go?

The fast times, the bright lights, the merry go

Sorry for not making you my centerfold.

Over and over

Lost again with no surprises

Disappointments, close your eyes

And it gets colder and colder

When the sun goes down


[Verse 2]

The question pounds my head

"What's a lifetime of achievement?"

If I pushed you to the edge

But you were too polite to leave me

And do you miss the rogue

Who coaxed you into paradise and left you there?

Will you forgive my soul

When you're too wise to trust me and too old to care?


[Chorus]

Cause we were like the mall before the Internet

It was the one place to be

The mischief, the gift wrapped suburban dreams

Sorry for not winning you an arcade ring

Over and over

Lost again with no surprises

Disappointments, close your eyes

And it gets colder and colder

When the sun goes down


[Bridge]

Were you waiting at our old spot

In the tree line by the gold clock

Did I leave you hanging every single day?

Were you standing in the hallway

With a big cake, happy birthday

Did I paint your bluest skies the darkest gray?

A universe away

And when I got into the accident

The sight that flashed before me was your face

But when I walked up to the podium

I think that I forgot to say your name


[Chorus]

I'm on a bench in Coney Island wondering where did my baby go?

The fast times, the bright lights, the merry go

Sorry for not making you my centerfold

Over and over

Lost again with no surprises

Disappointments, close your eyes

And it gets colder and colder

When the sun goes down

When the sun goes down

The sight that flashed before me was your face

When the sun goes down

But I think that I forgot to say your name

Over and over

Sorry for not making you my

Making you my

Making you my centerfold


After reading through it just once, I don’t think the poem feels like purple prose; it wasn’t overly ornate that it disrupts the narrative flow of the story. No, the poem just felt authentic. As I read, I think about my old friend all those years ago, how we never argued, how we spent hours on calls together, how I had forgotten the sound of her voice. I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again. Maybe when she posts a cake with 15 candles, I’ll reply with a happy birthday! i miss uuuu and somehow, someday, we’ll start talking again. I started writing my commentary. 


S1, L1: Great use of in media res: there’s no lead-up into this, and the reader is placed directly at the heart of your emotions. This piece as a whole is very internal, so starting it from within really sets the stage for the following stanzas. One suggestion I have is to switch up the syntax so it parallels the lines after it. Rather than saying “break my soul in two,” you can frame it as a question, “did you / break my soul in two?”, to parallel that structure you’ve got going.


S1, L7-8: Not much criticism here, just wanted to say I love the line length variation. In the fallout of a relationship, we often try to explain and justify everything, so the use of a longer line (L7) juxtaposed with a point-blank question (L8) reflects the emotions of these two characters. 


S2, L1: I love this whole chorus – the metaphor of Coney Island represents a larger theme of waiting for someone, perhaps the memory of someone long gone. One thing: for this first line, it’s often overwhelming to put it all in one, so line breaks could help your reader process the metaphor you have right now.


S4, L1-2: Though I see what you’re trying to do with this comparison, I feel that it’s a bit lengthy and could be condensed or a new metaphor could be written. Love the idea of the mall before the internet, yet I think it’s a tad unfitting — how can a relationship, two people be compared to a “place”? I’d suggest rephrasing, condensing, or otherwise reworking this section to better communicate this relationship to the reader.


S4, L3: I do, however, adore the line “gift wrapped suburban dreams” — it perfectly sets the suburban scene where this relationship took place. The idea of a wrapped gift, too, adds an element of selflessness to the piece, a genuine desire for repairing the relationship, a love that’s now waned. 


S5, L9-11: Got chills reading this line; how a person’s memory still lingers even after their loss. People say that in near-death experiences, you see your own life flashing before your eyes. What if that life includes memories long gone, locked somewhere in a forgotten safe? Beautiful line, beautiful message.


S6, L1: The omission of “and” in the final chorus is sublime. Rather than a mourning that’s murky and vague, the speaker comes to their own conclusion and clearly establishes their emotions. Coney Island became a pool of loss, its wind, its trees, its benches. Wonderfully done!


It takes way too long to write those comments, but I’m glad I do. In perfect procrastinator fashion, I immediately start scrolling after finishing my Specific Commentary. A new story pops up from my old friend; she’s having fun at a party, has on her sequin dress and everything. I send her a DM: hey, how are you? haven’t talked in a while. I put my phone down, waiting and waiting, hoping for a notification. I open my computer back up and write a paragraph of General Commentary. 


Thank you so much for submitting to Polyphony Lit. Reading your piece really made me reflect on my own relationships, whether platonic or romantic. Your writing, in one word, is evocative. You have a gift to make people feel, draw out some emotion hidden deep inside, a yearning, a want. I think “coney island” represents this perfectly — from its carefully picked metaphors to a swinging, rhyming chorus, its loss bundled into the lines of a poem. My favorite element of your style is its rampant symbolism at every corner of the piece. First of all, the Coney Island bench recurring in every chorus holds deep meaning, as discussed in Specific Commentary. The final transition that omits the “And” holds so much power: from a nebulous cloud of mixed feelings to something clear and true, the acceptance of grief. Alternatively, something that’s unchanging in this poem is time, the refrain “when the sun goes down” repeated over and over. In estrangement, the “gold clock” still ticks in a relationship’s fallout. Even if you experience your own emotions, they aren’t always translated to the other involved. The only thing that unites the two characters is “the sun,” in any corner of the Earth, the sun will always rise and fall. From the symbols to the language (“gift-wrapped suburban dreams,” “bluest skies the darkest gray” “I think that I forgot to say your name”), you carry emotion in every line.


I’m really honored to read this piece. It’s made me feel so many emotions, it’s made me reflect on my past, and most of all, it’s made me soak in all the memories I’ve buried deep inside. You’re immensely gifted, and I hope to read your work in the future. Again, thank you so much for submitting, and keep on writing!


Rationale on Acceptance:


To whoever’s reading this, “coney island” got me in my FEELS. From the language to the symbols, this author knows her stuff. It’s poetry with emotion tucked behind every line, and the metaphors are exquisite. Thank you to the author for blessing us with her words. By the way, let her know in the future that it’s best not to include personal info in the submission itself :).


And after I click on the submit button for my commentary, I look down at my phone.


Instagram — 1 new message.


I smile back at it.


 

Rishi Janakiraman is a blogger at Voices and Junior Editor at Polyphony.

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