Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bob Dylan and His Poetic Lyrics

The following was originally posted by Edward Byrne at his blog, One Poet's Notes, on Sunday, November 16, 2008. His blog is serves as an adjunct to the Valparaiso Poetry Review. What I have here is the beginning of the essay only.

This weekend [November 15, 2008] an article appeared in
The Times discussing publication for the first time of nearly two-dozen poems written by Bob Dylan almost forty-five years ago. Apparently, the poetry had been handed to photographer Barry Feinstein in the 1960s by his friend, Bob Dylan. Feinstein, who often photographed Hollywood celebrities, also had followed Dylan on his European tour in 1966 and had taken a cover photo of the singer for The Times They Are A-Changin album.

Dylan’s poems had been stored along with Feinstein’s Hollywood pictures that inspired much of the material in the twenty-three poems. Recently rediscovered, the photographs and poems are now available in a new book,
Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric, published by Simon & Schuster. Some of the poems are reprinted in Times Online, which describes their appearance and content: “the lines are skinny, the rhythms abrupt, the language sparse and telegraphic and abbreviated, the situations jarring and dreamlike, the comebacks frequent and snappy. There are laments, complaints, musings, skits (a hilarious screen test, for one), parables (converting those wardrobe department shelves into a repository of human lives), nightmare scenarios (the lurching paranoid fantasy that begins ‘after crashin the sportscar / into the chandelier’ and sounds like a hellish rewrite of ‘Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream’), and plenty of dry tombstone epigraphs.”

Perhaps almost as interesting is the accompanying commentary by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, who is credited as contributing an introduction to the book. Collins addresses questions concerning Bob Dylan’s status as a “poet.” Initially, Collins explains why songwriters rarely produce lyrics that achieve the criteria to qualify as lines of poetry: “Whenever the question comes up—and it does nearly every term—of whether or nor rock lyrics qualify as poetry, I offer my students a simple but heartless test. Ask all the musicians to please leave the stage and take their instruments with them—yes, that goes for the backup singers in the tight satin dresses, and the drummer—and then have the lead singer stand alone by the microphone and read the lyrics from that piece of paper he is holding in his hand. What you will hear can leave only one impression: the lyrics in almost every case are not poetry, they are lyrics.”
for the full blog entry, go to One Poet's Notes.

Click here to visit Bob Dylan's website.


tanuj solanki said...

i am sure there is no debate on bob's poetic status anymore...

skeptics should read 'like a rolling stone'

Andrew Christ said...

Debate? No, I don't think so either. But Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, disagreed with Pope John Paul II when, in 1997, Dylan performed 'Knockin on Heaven's Door', 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall' and 'Forever Young' on a stage in front of the Pope and 300,000 other people in Bologna. Pope Benedict continues to doubt the value of that concert. See another Times article here for the details of Benedict's position.