In the June 1849 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger, Edgar Allan Poe wrote an essay titled "Song-Writing" in which he asserted, "For my own part, I would much rather have written the best song of a nation than its noblest epic."
Pulitzer Boards took a long time to see Poe's point. On April 7th, Bob Dylan won a Special Citation "for his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power." This award is not comparable to an honorary doctorate. It's a genuine Pulitzer Prize.
Dylan unquestionably is one of America's greatest songwriters. He was able, at one time at least, to take young people on a guided tour of the national subconscious. He could conjure arresting images that were projections of hidden but recognizable feelings. He invented new language for members of a generation, providing aphorisms and maxims that seasoned their conversations and affected their lives. He decoded the spirit of the time with a unique clarity and later re-encoded it into cryptic but resonant songs that sounded like dispatches from the front lines in the war between reason and madness.
The principal claim supporting Dylan as poet is that Dylan is on the most intimate terms with the English language, that his use of rhyme, assonance, alliteration, imager, simile, metaphor, meter, and other poetic devices reveals someone who uses words and sounds as well as poets.
Dylan prompts the thought that instead of maintaining a sharp demarcation between poetry and lyrics, we might expand the definition of poetry to include songs that provide the same pleasures as poetry.
Still, printing songs as though they were reducible to lyrics and meant to be read as poets is sometimes adequate, but the songs are never accurately represented on the the page even though all of us who are writers continue to present them that way. Dylan's musical achievements are those of a performance artist. Separated from the music and the nasal twang and the startling cadences of Dylan's voice, the written lyrics can seem desiccated.
Maybe if readers decide that a sufficient number of songs do provide the pleasures of poetry, the books we write in the future will have both pages with poems meant to be read privately and an accompanying CD with poems meant to be heard and those meant to be sung.
Such books would have pleased Poe.