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Bob Dylan at 70!

By Harriet Staff

dylanginsberg

If he makes it through the Rapture, Bob Dylan will be turning 70 on Tuesday, and the The New York Times is celebrating with a little diddy bout how Film Forum in New York will be showing the documentaries Don’t Look Back and The Other Side of The Mirror (which follows Dylan and Joan Baez through the Newport Folk Festival) for the occasion. For Ginsberg fans, there’s also this article.

From the University of York student website (thanks, Ron!), the piece rounds up poets Steven Taylor and Bob Rosenthal (the latter recently helped prepare the outstanding Public Access Poetry tapes for transfer and preservation) and Oxford scholar Christopher Ricks to make the friendly (albeit vague) connections between Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg.

“If this had happened earlier, when we first started playing together, I might have been pretty nervous. I can recall at the ’76 sessions at Columbia, I was talking with Arthur Russell, the cellist and composer who played the session. He said “I hear Dylan might show up,” and I said, “if Bob Dylan walks in here, I’m going to faint.” Later, after touring for a few years and meeting and working with a lot of people, it wasn’t so fraught.”

The Wall Street Journal is also writing about the poet and musician, in a piece the subhed of which is “He inspires idolatry among his fans, but the intellectuals miss Bob Dylan’s true significance.” Is that true? (Don’t tell Joshua Clover.) It goes on:

As to Mr. Dylan’s literary status, Mr. Epstein has no doubt, referring to him consistently as “the poet.” But this just invites the question: If the subject were Byron, would it be necessary to constantly assert his designation? Mr. Dylan is here “one of the best epic poets of the 1960s,” “an American poet,” “first and foremost a poet” and so on.

Poets themselves have weighed in on the question: Archibald MacLeish thought Mr. Dylan a “serious poet,” while Philip Larkin in his music-critic mode had some qualified praise for the 1965 album “Highway 61 Revisited.” Robert Lowell got it the most nearly right: “Bob Dylan is alloy; he is true folk and he is fake folk. . . . He has lines, but I doubt he has written whole poems. He leans on the crutch of his guitar.”

Mr. Epstein quotes the singer’s own denial (though it may be an evasion, he adds): “To tell anybody I’m a poet would be just fooling people.” Mr. Dylan acknowledges that T.S. Eliot, Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Lowell are in another class, but then he is a better songwriter than all of them (Eliot’s unintended run as lyricist on Broadway notwithstanding). David Yaffe seems to recognize this distinction, but no sooner has he situated Mr. Dylan squarely in “the canon of singer-songwriters” than he holds him up as the equal of Ginsberg and likens him to John Keats, Elizabeth Bishop and William Blake.

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, May 19th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.