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

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bob Dylan on Poets and Poets on Bob Dylan

Last night my wife reminded me that today is Bob Dylan’s birth date (born May 24, 1941), and I thought of Bob Dylan Revisited, the recent book containing graphic interpretations of some Bob Dylan lyrics that was included on the recommended reading list in the last post at “One Poet’s Notes.” However, I also felt this would be an opportunity to revisit the following excerpts from posts I’d presented about Dylan as a songwriter and as a poet.

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 in the past remark upon the subtle way in which language or rhythm in Dylan’s lyrics has swayed them somewhat in their own writings.

Furthermore, as I have written previously, when I offered in 1999 an “Inaugural Lecture” at my university, a speech 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 part of my presentation: “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 café on one corner of the block where Dylan lived, watching for him on days he might step inside or just 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’s book of memoirs, he 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.” Literary critic and scholar Christopher Ricks has written that he considers Bob Dylan one of the finest poets of all time, even placing him alongside such great figures as Milton and Keats.

I don’t go so far as to label Dylan a poet because of his song writing. 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.

In the introduction to Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric, a book containing some of Dylan’s poetry, Billy Collins, a former Poet Laureate of the United States, 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 not 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.”

Nevertheless, Collins continues his commentary to suggest Bob Dylan could be categorized among “the few exceptions”; indeed, Collins reports, “the top spot on that short list is perennially reserved for Bob Dylan.” Billy Collins characterizes Dylan’s poetry in the book as works that “sound familiar because of the ways in which they resemble his lyrics.” Collins writes about the appearance of Bob Dylan’s poems on the page: “printed words marked by Dylan’s quirky abbreviations as well as the shape of the poems, usually as skinny as a teetering column of poker chips stacked on the page in tightly sawed-off lines.”

The Academy of American Poets includes Bob Dylan among its listed authors: “Bob Dylan: ‘I’m a poet and I know It.’” This piece once again raises a familiar issue: “While Dylan's place in the pantheon of American musicians is cemented, there is one question that has confounded music and literary critics for the entirety of Dylan's career: Should Bob Dylan be considered a songwriter or a poet? Dylan was asked that very question at a press conference in 1965, when he famously said, ‘I think of myself more as a song-and-dance man.’”

Nevertheless, the article concludes with an apt suggestion: “the best, most straightforward answer may have appeared in the liner notes of his second album, 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, where Dylan said, simply: ‘Anything I can sing, I call a song. Anything I can't sing, I call a poem.’”


HMR said...

I enjoyed these comments and will encourage students in my freshman seminar on Dylan to read them.

Maureen said...

I, too, enjoyed this essay very much. The concluding quote is great.

I can think of one other musician who is a musician but also poet, memorist, and more: Patti Smith.

Gerry Boyd said...

Great post. Thanks. In my uninformed and non-professional opinion, Dylan should be the Poet Laureate. The fact that he morphs his lyrics does not seem to detract from their power. "He not busy revising is busy dying."

Joelle Biele said...

Thanks so much for this--

Catherine said...

Ann Lauterbach is another poet who is a big Dylan fan.

Though I'm not sure she's as big a fan as I am... though I'm certainly ahead in Dylan quotes in poems.

Anonymous said...

Just do not get the Dylan thing... I mean compare the worst of Dylan Thomas to the best of Bob Dylan. The latter seems so sophomoric, embarrassingly so, by comparison. Maybe I just don't have the aesthetic muscle to understand. I'm certainly aware of his (Dylan's) popularity. Enjoy!