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Posted by on Oct 13, 2016 in Blogh | 0 comments

Nobel Prize!

When I heard Bob Dylan’s name on the news this morning I briefly thought he had died. What a relief and surprise and joy to learn that he had won the Nobel Prize in Literature! Only rarely do I give a damn about the winner. But Dylan deserves it and this is great for the poetry world, which has ignored Dylan, and Dylan’s lyrical, prophetic mode for decades. I have always thought and said that he is the greatest, and most important poet of the second half of the 20th century. This was in opposition to what I had been taught, that he was not a poet because his writing depended on the music to be good, that it doesn’t read well on the page. This is only true if free verse and various other types of modernist technique define what poetry is. Dylan fits in perfectly well, in fact, is a star, in the tradition of English poetry going back to the days of Chaucer. Wyatt and Campion both composed lyrics that are read silently today. Music, dance and poetry have always been closely linked. Dylan’s genius is wayward, antithetical and anti-authoritarian as so much genuine genius is. He has written hundreds of songs. But his songs were the first truly serious lyrics in pop music. Perhaps there were others who wrote sophisticated lyrics, and there were ballads and protest songs that poetically addressed the crisis of the soul on earth, but Dylan pulled it all together. Soul music, blues, tin pan alley, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, he knew it all. But he seems to be as steeped in the bible, TS Eliot, Allen Ginsberg, Rimbaud, Dante, Baudelaire, Shakespeare, Blake and Yeats as he was in roots music. It was the radio and the book shelf coming together in the mind and soul of an artist at a time when culture and society were in revolt. By combining the Romantic inward gaze, the prophetic tradition and the social he expresses a range of thought and feeling that are astonishing compared to the work of most if not all contemporary poets, who often seem more concerned with trivialities of aesthetics and careerism. Like all good American artists he is also part PT Barnum and part Lenny Bruce. His best work is harrowing because it plumbs paranoia, apocalyptic fear, and absurdist, surreal joking. He is a savage clown, he is a seer, he is a song and dance man. And he refuses to be pinned down to any of these. His work and his personality are famously protean and obscure and yet, at age 21 he wrote Blowing in the Wind, an anthem to the thirst for freedom, and quoted many years later by an American president (Jimmy Carter). Dylan deserves this award, yes. And so do the rest of us. In a day of shitty, horrifying news, a time that has exhausted absurdism and surrealism, when an evil asshole is running for President and a third of the people think that’s great, how wonderful to be reminded that in times even darker than these art could be entertaining, profound and relevant, and eventually, RECOGNIZED.

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