Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bob Dylan's Beginning

A few years ago when Bob Dylan wrote his book of memoirs, Chronicles (Simon & Schuster, 2004), he recalled hospital visits he had made to meet with his musical role model, Woody Guthrie. He also had met Guthrie at the home of Bob Gleason, a friend with whom Woody would be on weekends before his illness had become too severe to travel. Many have spoken of these contacts as symbolic of Guthrie’s passing the torch of folk music to this young singer representing another generation, as if a mentor were conferring approval upon his protégé. Some even claim Guthrie expressed admiration for Dylan’s singing. Although, as Howard Sounes suggests in Down the Highway, his biography of Dylan, Guthrie’s health had deteriorated because of Huntington’s chorea to the point that he could not really respond with language to visitors, and some even doubted whether he recognized those who came to see him: “The truth was that the meetings were much more significant to Bob than they were to Guthrie, who was very sick indeed. He may have laughed and twinkled when Bob sang for him . . . but that did not mean he recognized the boy.”

No matter what the extent of Guthrie’s recognition or the relationship between the two may have been, in retrospect critics sometimes consider this crossing of singing careers as a grand passage in American music and culture, a transition to be treasured. However, in his description of the moments spent with Guthrie, Dylan seems to equally emphasize a blended sense of frustration and emotional exhaustion felt at the time because the most notable voice in American folk music had faded away into silence without much notice by those in the nation that had shaped his song lyrics.

Bob Dylan relates his memory: “I had tried to visit Woody regularly, but now it was getting harder to do. Woody had been confined to Greystone Hospital in Morristown, New Jersey, and I would usually take the bus there from the Port Authority terminal, make the hour-and-a-half ride and then walk the rest of the half mile up the hill to the hospital, a gloomy and threatening granite building—looked like a medieval fortress. Woody always asked me to bring him cigarettes, Raleigh cigarettes. Usually I’d play him his songs during the afternoon. Sometimes he’d ask for specific ones—‘Rangers Command,’ ‘Do Re Me,’ ‘Dust Bowl Blues,’ ‘Pretty Boy Floyd,’ ‘Tom Joad,’ the song he’d written after seeing the movie The Grapes of Wrath. I knew all those songs and many more. Woody was not celebrated at this place, and it was a strange environment to meet anybody, least of all the true voice of the American spirit.”

A bit further into his book of memoirs, Dylan confides his state of mind when he observed the depressing conditions in which Guthrie found himself confined in that psychiatric institution: “The scene was frightful, but Woody Guthrie was oblivious to all of it. A male nurse would usually bring him out to see me and then after I’d been there a while, would lead him away. The experience was sobering and psychologically draining.”

Considering this situation, one may not be surprised that Bob Dylan’s initial self-titled album, released on March 19, 1962, which consisted almost totally of covers for classic folk songs or traditional blues numbers, offers an original Dylan tune, “Song to Woody,” included as a tribute and a toast to his hero. Dylan apparently had played the song for Woody during his visits, and he believed it pleased his hero. The lyrics of this piece clearly exhibit Woody Guthrie’s influence and even echo the rhythm or distinct words from his well-known songs.


I’m out here a thousand miles from my home,
Walkin’ a road other men have gone down.
I'm seein’ your world of people and things,
Your paupers and peasants and princes and kings.

Hey, hey Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
’Bout a funny ol’ world that’s a-comin’ along.
Seems sick an’ it’s hungry, it’s tired an’ it’s torn,
It looks like it’s a-dyin’ an’ it’s hardly been born.

Hey, Woody Guthrie, but I know that you know
All the things that I’m a-sayin’ an’ a-many times more.
I’m a-singin’ you the song, but I can’t sing enough,
’Cause there’s not many men that done the things that you’ve done.

Here’s to Cisco an’ Sonny an’ Leadbelly too,
An’ to all the good people that traveled with you.
Here’s to the hearts and the hands of the men
That come with the dust and are gone with the wind.

I’m a-leavin’ tomorrow, but I could leave today,
Somewhere down the road someday.
The very last thing that I’d want to do
Is to say I’ve been hittin’ some hard travelin’ too.

With his first album and this particular song Bob Dylan began traveling his own musical road, a path that has involved a number of interesting twists and turns. Along his evolving journey the past half-century, Bob Dylan has proven to be an enduring and formidable figure in American culture, perhaps the most influential singer-songwriter in the nation’s musical history. Indeed, I frequently have heard fellow poets remark upon the subtle way in which language or rhythm in Dylan’s lyrics has swayed them somewhat in their own writings.

As I have written previously, when I offered in 1999 an “Inaugural Lecture” at my university, a presentation traditionally delivered to the community upon attaining full academic rank (and later published as an article titled “Writing Poetry: Art, Artifacts, and Articles of Faith”), I commented in one excerpt: “three writers who have greatly influenced my writing of poetry are Robert Frost, Robert Penn Warren, and Robert Lowell—my literary trinity. The three ‘Bobs’ I like to call them. (My wife insists that if I were complete in my list, I would add Bob Dylan as well.)”

I remember how Bob Dylan’s presence, musically and physically, could be felt during his early years in New York City. Indeed, when in high school, a few friends and I spent much of our time in Greenwich Village, often sitting in a diner on one corner of the block where Dylan lived, watching for him on days he might walk by our window table. Later, as a graduate student and apprentice poet I would sometimes attend parties, book signings, or gallery openings where literary celebrities or visual artists and musicians could be found, at times including folks like Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, and even Bob Dylan.

Certainly, Dylan regarded poets as significant reflections of the American voice and some seemed to exert influence on the texture in his voice. In fact, Allen Ginsberg occasionally accompanied Dylan on stage during touring and famously appeared in the “Subterranean Homesick Blues” music video. In Chronicles Dylan begins one of his chapters with the following observations: “I had just returned to Woodstock from the Midwest—from my father’s funeral. There was a letter from Archibald MacLeish waiting for me on the table. MacLeish, Poet Laureate of America—one of them. Carl Sandburg, poet of the prairie and the city, and Robert Frost, the poet of dark meditations were the others. MacLeish was the poet of night stones and the quick earth. These three, the Yeats, Browning and Shelley of the New World, were gigantic figures, had defined the landscape of twentieth-century America. They put everything in perspective.”

Some have suggested Bob Dylan should be regarded as a poet as well. In fact, as British Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion expressed his fondness for Dylan’s poetic language, with “Visions of Johanna” containing his favorite lyrics. Dylan is quoted as considering himself “a poet first and a musician second.” I don’t go so far as to label Dylan a poet because I consider the words in his lyrics already as valuable as any poems when regarded simply as sensational songs, each one existing just as Dylan designed it for his listeners. Moreover, since he often changes the ways he presents the songs in concert and sometimes alters the lyrics, one might contend the songs are meant to be experienced differently every time they are performed, and the static words on a page would not fully represent them. The power and the persuasion of his language can best be experienced with the rhythm and melody contributed by his music, as well as the unique cadence and phrasing placed upon the words by Dylan’s singing.

Supposedly, Bob Dylan’s first album was taped in a few hours on a cold day in November of 1961, and the recording cost less than $500 for Columbia producer John Hammond. Over the decades since that album was released on March 19, 1962, Bob Dylan has continually produced music that has transformed much of American music and had an impact on other areas of American culture, as many were reminded recently with the release of I’m Not There, the Academy Award-nominated film inspired by Dylan’s life and the various stages during his ever-developing career.

Now nearly 67, eighteen years older than the age of Woody when they first met, Dylan also has engaged in some hard traveling down the roads almost constantly in his “never-ending tour” that usually includes concerts worldwide throughout most of every year. One could not have known how appropriate, perhaps prophetic, the words in that first lyric written to Woody Guthrie by a young and enthusiastic beginning singer-songwriter named Bob Dylan would appear to be so many years later.


Justin Evans said...

I am and always will be in love with Dylan's first album. As a child of hippies (I was born in 1969) Bob Dylan was always there, but my real discovery of him, the one which came to independently, was while I was a young guy in the army, trying to find some lace for my writing. I took a lot of cues from Dylan, and continue to find new things every time I listen.

A marvelous post. Thank ou for sharing it.

H. Palmer Hall said...

Thanks for writing this. Sometimes, I feel very old as I look back on those days when Bob Dylan was just starting out and then I listen to some of his early music and even those later albums and I feel very young. Good music and good poetry can do that for us: transport us back in time. I enjoyed this blog post very much: from the retelling of the meetings with Woody Guthrie to the discussion of Dylan’s responses to poetry. Again, thanks for writing and for posting it.

Anonymous said...

In 1974 I saw Bob Dylan and The Band in Washington, D.C. I had given up my young adulthood to motherhood and I was out of the loop about resistance. The day after the concert I went and bought every Bob Dylan album I could find. Thus began my appreciation for Dyland and yes, The Band, an adoring adultation which continues to this day. Perhaps the only concert that equals it was seeing Luciano Pavarotti and the National Symphony Orchestra in l992 with my father who was then 82 years old. Nothing beats witnessing live performance, it lives on and on, except perhaps poetry.

Tad Richards said...

Somewhere in the middle of this blog post is a song I wrote about Bob Dylan sometime in the 70s.

Anonymous said...

A letter to Bob Dylan:
You're the band-aid baby on a open wound
You're the gum in the dam hole fix
You're the one for sorrow last, can now pass
You're the one
You're the one
Bob Dylan, you're the one
My four year old grandson, climbs up the stool, to the music making tunes
His grandmother says from across the room "who you going with Benny Biscut who you going to play, which tune"?
"Bob Dylan" pause once, pause twice, takes a deep breath, "Love Bob Dylan" he says letting out his breath.
Love Bob Dylan
Bob is love
Benny said it best
Love Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Just love Bob Dylan

first poem to Bob
from Nancy Bjork


Wow, what a thoughtful and provocative essay.

Since you are clearly a fan, I thought I'd introduce you to my new novel, BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, which I think you'd enjoy.

It's a murder-mystery. But not just any rock superstar is knocking on heaven's door. The murdered rock legend is none other than Bob Dorian, an enigmatic, obtuse, inscrutable, well, you get the picture...

Suspects? Tons of them. The only problem is they're all characters in Bob's songs.

You can get a copy on Amazon.com or go "behind the tracks" at www.bloodonthetracksnovel.com to learn more about the book.

Edward Byrne said...

Dear Edward Byrne,

I want to thank you for the thoughtfulness of your Bob Dylan blog entry and send this response.

Dylan has been important to me for at least forty-five years. I have heard him perform some thirty-four times, the first time in 1981 in Basel, Switzerland, just before my family and I returned from a Fulbright year in Germany, in Freiburg. One of my first poems, “Song for Bob Dylan,” written in 1971 in the New York area, not long after the Anthony Scaduto biography appeared, was published in Western Humanities Review and finally made it into a collection of mine, The Country I Come From (2002), which many VPR readers will recognize as a phrase from “With God on Our Side.” This short poem was reprinted in fiction writer Ben Hedin’s highly readable and stimulating Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader, which contains work by a number of poets, fiction writers, and playwrights (incl. Allen Ginsberg, Rick Moody, Sam Shepard, Anne Waldman, Michael McLure, David Wojahn, Joyce Carol Oates), and also appears in my new retrospective collection Bloodroot: Indiana Poems (2009).

Over the years, through the release of the excellent songs in his last three CDs of new material, as well as the new Tell Tale Signs in the bootleg series, Bob Dylan’s work has continued to sustain interest and provide inspiration. As you say, his career has had many twists and turns, the 1980s were a low point; but what an important model for anyone who believes in the need to constantly renew yourself as an artist and start off in new directions, even in your sixties, despite the expectations of your audience. Also, he’s quite a model for anyone committed to re-uniting poetry and music. The jazz and poetry CD I released with Indiana Univ. instructor Monika Herzig includes “Girl of the Hill Country,” a response to “Girl of the North Country,” which was Dylan’s response to the folksong “Scarborough Fair.” My poem inspired Monika, a native of the Swabian hill country, to compose the beautiful piece “Hill Country,” which on Imagine – Indiana in Music and Poetry, we pair with my poem.

Readers of VPR who live in Indiana might like to know that folksinger-actor Tim Grimm has produced a very successful show titled “Hoosier Dylan,” which includes performances of Bob Dylan songs by Hoosiers Tim Grimm, Jennie DeVoe, The Gordon Bonham Blues Band, Jason Wilber (a fine singer-songwriter who plays guitar for John Prine, Iris Dement, Greg Brown, and others), Stella and Jane, and The White Lightning Boys. I am honored that Tim invited me as Indiana Poet Laureate to read Dylan-related poems between sets. We played to an audience of 350 at the Crump Theatre in Columbus and a sellout crowd of 220 at the Royal Theatre in Danville on Nov. 7 and 8, 2008, and will be at the Ricks Art Center in Greenfield on Jan. 9, 2009. We hope to bring the show to Bloomington in Sept. and to the American Cabaret Theatre in the Athenaeum, Indianapolis, in Oct. as part of my Together Again: Music & Poetry series (http://www.krapfpoetry.com/music_poetry_together.htm).

Thanks again for the stimulating commentary on the work of Bob Dylan.


Norbert Krapf
Indiana Poet Laureate

Jeff Gold said...

Dylan spent time with Guthrie at the NJ home of Bob and Sidsell Gleason, not Ralph J. Gleason, who was a Berkeley based syndicated music critic. Ralph Gleason befrended and supported Dylan a few years later, but never played a part in the Dylan-Guthrie saga. Jeff Gold/Recordmecca.com

Edward Byrne said...

I appreciate your note, Jeff. Sounes does write in his book about both Bob Gleason and Ralph Gleason, and they appear in Dylan's biography in the roles you describe. I have made the correction to my typo. Thanks very much.