There’s some debate about whether Bob Dylan should be considered a poet. I am surprised about that. Bob Dylan has been made the Nobel Laureate for poetry – and it’s no surprise to me at all.
One of the first albums I bought was Highway 61 Revisited and it remains my favourite Bob Dylan album. It completely changed the way I thought about poetry – when I was 16.
Since then I have listened to most Dylan records, including the bootlegs and I know more Dylan poetry than any other poet. I don’t know it by rote, I know it by heart. Sometimes my memory creates versions of his lines that aren’t what he sung, for I know them as I heard them when I was young.
I cannot think of any other poets – well only Shakespeare- that has so informed my sensibility. I’m glad to see the Nobel judges singled Dylan out for influencing the course of American lyric poetry. I don’t think Springsteen could have written Darkness on the Edge of Town or Johnny Cash – the American Recordings or Kris Kristofferson – Sunday Morning Pavement- if Dylan hadn’t shown them how.
When I was at Cambridge in the early 80s , Christopher Ricks would bring in his ghetto blaster to Shakespeare and Milton lectures. When the lecture was done, he would do another on a Dylan Song. I remember 30 minutes on the line in Love Minus Zero/No Limit
“my love she’s like some raven, at my window with a broken wing”.
I never listened to the song or read Edgar Allen Poe the same way again. The poem is a good place to start. Here is Dylan singing it.
There is nothing remotely odd about a popular singing being acknowledge a great poet. Homer sang and his poetry is simply a transcription of his songs. Lyric poetry informs middle English, Elizabethan and everything since from folk through the blues to pop. Morrissey and Curtis, Yeats and Hardy – British poetry intertwines the popular folk traditions just as in America.
We do not have to wait for a genius to die to acknowledge him or her. Dylan was and is a genius- the greatest poet of the second half of the 20th century in my book.
The surprise to me is that anyone should think him anything else.