Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bob Dylan Wins Nobel Prize, and the Parrot Wins Prescience Prize

Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature! This was worth getting up early for!

Dylan, who already won a special award from the Pulitzer Prize committee, has been mentioned before in connection with the big magilla of literary prizes. So it would not be especially interesting if I had squawked it again. But on September 19th I sent a letter to the editors of Poets and Writers magazine in response to a reference to Dylan in one of their features. Since they have not responded, much less shown any sign that they would publish it, I'm reproducing the entire text here:

Dear Editor,

Poets and Writers is a source of essential advice and deep insights into the writing process - the reason I have subscribed almost continuously since the time I first thought about trying to publish my creative writing. But as with any forum that dispenses literary advice it is also sometimes a source of narrow-minded prejudices. Such dubious views are sometimes found, for example, in "The Aha! Moment", where agents, editors and others point to what they did or didn't like about a story, a query letter, or in the latest (Sept/Oct) issue, an MFA admissions essay. Commenting on a candidate's use of an alleged quotation from Bob Dylan - "The purpose of art is to stop time" - Kate Daniels of the Vanderbilt University MFA program writes: "...I'm thrown off a bit by the reference to Bob Dylan at the end of the paragraph - why didn't she find a poet's quote on this rather frequent topic in literature[?]..." This comment just about stopped my breathing, if not time. First I had to find the source of the alleged quote, which, as far as I can tell, is an interview conducted by Allen Ginsberg in the journal Telegraph (#33, Summer 1989) on the subject of Dylan's film, Reynaldo and Clara. Ginsberg begins by asking Dylan, "What attracts you, as a poet, to movies?". Well, there's "a poet's quote", if you will. The Dylan quote itself does not actually exist, though it is a close paraphrase of some things Dylan had to say about his film. Next, I wondered if Daniels is simply ignorant of the existence of Tarantula, Dylan's 1971 collection that interleaves experimental poetry, micro-fiction and memoir; though an even greater worry is that she may be implying a  critical judgment of that book that would end up removing the label "poetry" from an awful lot of work whose poetic credentials we take for granted. Furthermore, is Daniels judging prospective (and current?) MFA students on a definition of poetry so narrow that verses like Dylan's do not count as poetry? That would be a pity, for I strongly suspect that history will not sustain her view. The "extraordinary poetic power" of Dylan's "lyrical compositions" has been cited by the Pulitzer Prize committee; his writing has been the subject of an in-depth literary analysis by Christopher Ricks and various philosophical works and the like. In the end, though, whatever may be the status of Dylan as a "poet" in some formal sense, the notion that he is not a sufficiently respectable literary artist to be a fine source of a quote on the purpose of art is very hard to accept. I should think there are few people on earth more qualified to offer their two cents on that subject than Bob Dylan, who is not only considered one of the greatest musicians and lyricists of all time but has also published six books of drawings, many of which have been exhibited in galleries and museums. No offense to Tennyson, Baudelaire, Stevens or whoever Daniels might be thinking of, but few people in the history of the arts carry quite the same authority as Bob Dylan.

No, I did not sign it "Sincerely, Parrot". I guess they don't need to publish it now anyway, since the good old Swedes have said it so elegantly for me.

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