Blowing in the Idiot Wind
If Bob Dylan’s maunderings qualify as literature, I’m a talking coatrack. I think that in commending Dylan’s Nobel Prize bestowal (David Hajdu’s “Bob the Bard,” Nov. 7], The Nation is being played by the music industry—the primary purpose of which, as the Byrds remind us, is to move units of “plastic ware.”
I’m a temperamental and generally doctrinal liberal. But I’m also a working poet. (And, yes, I self-publish.) I have to deplore the praise of third-rate poetry, if only for the integrity of my artistic ego. And Dylan, with a few singable exceptions, is a pretentious high-school-notebook poet at best. He gets style points (like many modernists) for willful unintelligibility and the proper political leanings. But I am appalled at the eagerness with which The Nation has jumped on the Dylan-for-literary-genius bandwagon. There are umpteen better rock and/or pop lyricists from the 1960s and ’70s out there, including Jimmy Buffett, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Harry Chapin, Gerry Goffin, and on and on and on—not to mention non-counterculture lyricists like Leslie Bricusse, Johnny Mercer, etc. “Moon River” isn’t more poetic than any of Dylan’s stuff?
Take Dylan’s half-century career: Are there more than a half-dozen songs you ever want to hear again, unless you’re an acolyte? Does this mean that, reciprocally, organizations that honor and fete accomplishments in music, like the Grammys, are going to be handing out trophies to dreary sonneteers like myself? I’m not holding my breath. I think the Nobel people, by mixing up genres of writing, are trivializing the idea of Literature. Sounds hokey—literature with a capital “L”—but I think picky Euterpe would balk at admitting Dylan to the company of Robert Frost and Pablo Neruda (or his namesake, Dylan Thomas). The committee passed over Anthony Burgess, Vladimir Nabokov, Ray Bradbury, and (so far) Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Robert Bly, and Mary Oliver. Now they’re exalting this surly poetaster (as if he weren’t already dripping with riches and encomia from other sources). I’d have to agree with Walker Percy, among others, that the Nobel Prize for Literature, as for Peace (see: Gore, Albert), has degenerated into—and some say it was never anything more than—a PC flavor-of-the-month club.