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Diary 10-25-16

October 25, 2016

Dear Diary – Tom Hayden’s death reminded me of Dylan. I’m sure you’ve heard that he got the Nobel! You’ve probably also heard the objections that his stuff isn’t poetry. Since I was into that art for 50 years, I’ll share some thoughts.

When I was a little kid I often sang, at family parties, American pop songs from about 1890 forward. Then we focused on the “standards” of the “American Songbook,” recorded by Ella and Frank and so many others; so before rock n roll hit, in the fall of my junior year of high school, I knew the lyrics of a lot of songs. I always thought of them as poetic and, at their best, poems, in their rhythms and rhymes, similes and metaphors. Some of my personal faves: Cole Porter’s “or will this dream of mine/ fade out of sight/ like the moon growing dim/ on the rim of the hill/ in the chill, still of the night.” Or the deft touch of Hoagie Carmichael’s “now my consolation / is in the stardust of a song.” I knew that “a pretty girl is like a melody.” And then, around 1960, I learned the lyrics, by Lewis Allan (Abel Meeropol) of one of the most powerful metaphors that I’ve ever heard sung, the late ’30s protest poem, “Strange Fruit.”

So in the early ‘60’s, when I began teaching American poetry, and later teaching poetry writing, I slipped in those examples, and then easily introduced Morrison, Lennon, Dylan, and others as poets, along with Sappho, Catullus, the troubadours, and Pound.

I also realized that if someone tells you, “I’m writing poetry,” then what that person is writing is poetry. If you want to, you can assess its craft, its effectiveness, and whether it appeals to you. In “I Shall Be Free #10,” Dylan sang, with satiric self-irony about all of us, “I’m a poet, and I know it.” Best take his word for it (and write).

People certainly can argue about whether his work is worthy of such a grand Prize. I think it is. And people can name many other excellent poets of our time whose work is worthy. For years I’ve been surprised that Robert Bly hasn’t received it. He’d be my nominee. I think his artistry plunges deeper into the psyche than Dylan’s does (on a scale of, say, Edgar A. Guest to Emily Dickinson). But now, what’s the chance they’ll award it to a Minnesota poet, two years in a row?

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  1. Another Reflection of Dylan | tomkoontz

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