"Music declines the further it gets from dance: poetry declines the further it gets from song." We're not sure who coined this apothegm, but it's probably true. And both poetry and music have been much on our minds here at Snakeskin Towers this month.

We were discussing Auden's definition of poetry as "memorable speech", and how well the definition fits Auden's poetry, and Eliot's too. Cadences so identified with their meaning that you can't forget them. Once read, they're there in your mind. Larkin too. Whole stanzas have declared squatters rights in the brains of every literate English reader, and we'll never get them out. There are lines of Hughes that stick like toffee, and images by Plath that you'd like to get rid of if only you could...

But the living? The name of dear potato-faced Seamus arose, of course, and we all remembered poems by him - or at least we sort of remembered what they were sort of about - there's the one about his dad's spade, for example (notably mocked by Wayne Carvosso in the Snakeskin archive) and there are the ones about Bog People... but the words weren't engraved on the linings of our skulls. We remembered the ideas, but not the poems.

Other British contemporaries performed rather dimly too. James Fenton was the grand exception (one of our number could recite the whole of "Every girl has four vaginas/Boys are one vagina minus" with notable panache). Tony Harrison scored reasonably, too. But the rest... Well, someone sort of knew a bit of Carol Anne Duffy, but falteringly, falteringly.

With Americans we fared even worse. After Eliot, and the Pound of Cathay and Mauberley, and Frost, of course, and Stevens, and cummings, all of whom pass the memory test effortlessly, there are just fragments. Some bits of W C Williams everyone knows, because they're famous for being famous.

And then - Plath we've mentioned - but otherwise a few patches of Lowell and Berryman and Ginsberg. Patches only. For the rest - well, we were appalled that we had collectively read so many slim volumes by our contemporaries, and could recall so little of it with any precision. Is the fault ours, or have the poets not managed to meet the "memorable speech" criterion?

What we noticed was that the poets we found memorable used a pretty full battery of prosodic techniques. Rhyme, metre (regular, free or idiosyncratic), assonance, alliteration, and so on. These had the effect of concentrating meaning, charging the words. And the less memorable - well, they maybe aimed for speech, but maybe more often achieved a sort of prosiness.

And then we faced the extraodinary contradiction. While American poets seemed to have been in a retreat from memorability, American songwriters had triumphed. The phrases coming in triumph through from the twentieth century to the twenty-first, the phrases that have entered the language, as few poets' phrases have since the heyday of Eliot, are those of the twentieth-century American songwriters, from Irving Berlin to Randy newman to whoever your current favourite is.

Anthologies of Elizabethan verse put the songwriters next to the sonneteers and metaphysicals. When will an editor of twentieth-century verse do the same? To get a sense of the magic that has been created with words during the century, we need a collection that places Lorenz Hart next to Wallace Stevens, Johnny Mercer next to Robert Frost, Bob Dylan next to John Berryman, Stephen Sondheim next to John Ashbury. And finds room for Lieber and Stoller, and Hoagy Carmichael, and...

It might put quite a few things into perspective. And help us to see what good poems have in common with good songs. And to see that words can do plenty of things undreamt of in the deadening academic-modernist tradition that stretches from late Pound to Olson to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E to whatever is next on the fashionable agenda.