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August 09, 2008


like many very talented people bob seems able to channel many voices and express them in a really pure way. he's not a deep thinker. he can just get into a vein. his song "joey," about the mafioso joey gallo, has no soprano-style irony. there's humor in that song, but it's not "knowing" humor. as is clear from his book entitled chronicles, bob can see what's good in so many different kinds of acts, from the royal teens to frank sinatra. there's nothing snobbish about him. yardbird parker had something of that too. if there was somebody really bad playing, he would say, "i see what you're trying to do," and he would sit in with them. btw: i will buy a mcdonald's happy meal (boy's or girl's, your choice) for anyone who can explain why charlie p. was called "yardbird." not bird, yardbird!

I think it is perfectly appropriate to include Bob Dylan in an anthology of American Poetry, however, what should be included in one of Mr. Dylan's poems, not a song lyric. I think Dylan's poem "Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie" is a great American poem. You can find the text here:

A recording from 1963-64 of Dylan reading the poem is in on the "Original Bootleg Series Vol 1-3" release on Columbia Records.

Thanks for the suggestion, Stan.

Saying he took his name after Dylan Thomas is incredibly slack journalism, i.e. utterly unsubstantiated drivel that's been repeated so often it's taken by fools to be something you don't even have to bother researching. (More plausible is the story that he was walking around NY with a little notebook full of song titles, and one day after the rain he opened it and part of the name of the song 'Candyland' had been obliterated by the rain, leaving only 'xxxdylanx').
I do think there's a rabble-rousing minority in the poetry world that's keen to include dylan, but the obvious problem is that words to a song aren't meant to stand alone as poetry. At least they've chosen a lyric that isn't augmented too radically by the music that goes with it, but i still think it's out of place. Poetry is meant to be enjoyed on the page, music is multi-media in nature. That said, what distinguishes dylan among vocal performers is that he approaches his work with a poetic eye.

I think the inclusion of any number of Bob Dylan's works is more than appropriate. There are so many works to choose from, both in terms of poetic and musical merit. In particular, his lyrics coupled with the piano have created some extraordinary works of art. "Oh Mercy" has a few songs on it worth taking a look at.

Stan Denski's suggestion re. "Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie" is a good one, but the distinction between song lyrics and poems is weak at best, in the history of English literature (Elizabethan sonnets, for example). Just take his best verse, song-lyric or otherwise, and he'll beat many's the long-included poet in the canon. Pick one, any one, from ""The Times They Are A'Changing" to ""Mr Tambourine Man" to " Go 'Way From My Window" (A perfect aubade!), you can't go wrong.

Have to disagree. The better the song, the worse the poem. Studying song lyrics as poetry is akin to studying the paintings of Van Gough from 4 X 6 black & white photographs. See: bad idea.


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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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