The answer is blowin’ in the wind

bobdylanAnd here’s the question: Is there any limit to the subversive, demotic rubbish receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature?

Bob Dylan, the recipient of the 2016 prize, plucks the answer out of the blowin’ wind and lays it before us. It’s an emphatic no.

His award proves that Times writers, specifically Ben Macintyre, possess prophetic powers. For two years ago Ben wrote an article pressing Dylan’s case with deep conviction, approaching religious faith in its intensity.

Actually, conviction is too mild a word to describe Ben’s belief in Bob’s greatness. Fanaticism is more like it: “…Dylan is indisputably one of the greatest lyrical poets of the age, a supreme master of language who has reinvented his art with exemplary energy and imagination for more than half a century.”

The only way to establish whether or not Bob’s greatness deserves the Nobel Prize is to read some of his poetic masterpieces. Such as:

How many roads must a man walk down// Before you call him a man?// How many seas must a white dove sail// Before she sleeps in the sand?// Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly// Before they’re forever banned?// The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind// The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

This flatulent doggerel is deemed to merit the accolade that has bypassed such undeserving scribes as Henry James, Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Mark Twain, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Henrik Ibsen, Graham Greene, Vladimir Nabokov, George Orwell, Jorge Luis Borges, W.H. Auden and Robert Frost.

To be fair to Ben, he anticipated dissent in some quarters and preempted it:

“Those who insist that words can only be literature if written for the page seem quaintly old-fashioned. At a time when traditional formal poetry is in decline, informal oral poetry is booming. This is poetry written for the ear before the eye, returning the voice to verse, and now being consumed and recited in vast quantities by a younger generation. It is called rap.”

This is a time-honoured trick. The writer concocts an idiotic objection that no one in his right mind would ever make. Then he refutes it with some élan.

Someone insisting that true poetry can’t be sung wouldn’t be ‘quaintly old-fashioned’, Ben. He’d be ignorant.

Sublime poetry has been sung since the Psalms, the Song of Songs, Homer and the troubadours. Persian poets, such as Saadi, sang their poems. The Russian poet Mandelstam (who never received the Nobel either, instead dying in a Soviet concentration camp) recited his poems in singsong. So did Pasternak. So did Brodsky.

Poetry doesn’t have to be “written for the page”. But it does have to be poetry, which Bob’s excretions aren’t.

Bob is nothing but a trendy leftie who not only hasn’t written a single poetic line in his life but wouldn’t recognise one if it hit him in the eye, still aching from last night’s intake of coke. His acclaim is wholly owed to his indeed being a trendy leftie who during the ’60s appealed to the pimply youths ready to answer Timothy Leary’s call to “tune in, turn on and drop out”.

Bob’s art, such as it is, is an extension of the drug culture, which is the only kind of culture it’s an extension of. Only a tasteless ignoramus would regard his songs as poetry or literature in general (with apologies to the Nobel Committee and Ben).

But then Ben also thought that rap is real poetry, albeit “informal, oral”. He didn’t offer any aesthetic judgement to back up this assertion. His argument was entirely ad populum: “[rap is] now being consumed and recited in vast quantities by a younger generation.”

A younger generation does indeed display a voracious taste for aesthetic coprophilia. That’s why a middle-aged, bespectacled gentleman like Ben is duty-bound to educate their taste as best he can, bucking the savage paedocratic trend. Instead he serves up more of the same malodorous fare, not so much blowin’ in the wind as producing it.

A modern reader, battle-hardened in the trenches of egalitarianism, may object that I’m too harsh on Ben. He has one opinion on what constitutes great poetry, I have another. And all opinions are equally valid, aren’t they?

They may be. But not all judgements are, and the crucial difference between an opinion and a judgement is these days lost.

In my judgement, Bob’s verses, with their distorted meter, attempts to rhyme words that don’t rhyme and absence of any poetic sensibility whatsoever, are crude doggerel which isn’t so much poetry as its exact opposite.

In Ben’s judgement they, along with rap, are high poetry worthy of the highest accolade. You’ll have to judge which of us is right.

Meanwhile, now that Bob’s achievements have been recognised, it’s time to think of next year’s candidates. I’d like to nominate another great practitioner of “informal, oral” poetry, the rap group N**gaz With Attitude.

Their work too is “now being consumed and recited in vast quantities by a younger generation”, who join me in admiring these immortal lines:

“So I’ma let’em know how a nigga’s livin’// Checking the muthafuckas cause nobody ain’t givin’ a damn thing// To a nigga, a real nigga// So I’m livin’ by the muthafuckin’ trigger.”

Good luck, N**gaz With Attitude. And congratulations, Bob.

6 thoughts on “The answer is blowin’ in the wind”

  1. What passes for poetry these days leaves me mystified. A listing of random thoughts seem to qualify. Meter? Rhyme? That’s dead and gone. I remember sitting appalled as the poem was recited at Obama’s first inaugural. It’s a dreadful, unrhymed, collection of saccharine thoughts called “Praise Song for the Day”, by Elizabeth Alexander. Its a good exemplar of what currently passes for great poetry. At the risk of speaking ill of the dead, David Budbill, a local poet recently passed away. He has eight published books of his poetry, and was frequently recited on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac program on National Public Radio. So he has a bit of national repute. Here is the opening stanza of one of his poems:

    When I work outdoors all day, every day, as I do now, in the fall,
    getting ready for winter, tearing up the garden, digging potatoes,
    gathering the squash, cutting firewood, making kindling, repairing
    bridges over the brook, clearing trails in the woods, doing the last of
    the fall mowing, pruning apple trees, taking down the screens,
    putting up the storm windows, banking the house—all these things,
    as preparation for the coming cold…

    Again, the artistry here is lost on me. This is more of a to do list than a poem. I’m sure I’m a Philistine for not getting this. But isn’t that the point of modern art and poetry? People like your Ben Macintyre “get it”, while people like us don’t. The deep need of Ben and his ilk to avoid being thought of as uncool drives a lot of this.

  2. Nay! I nominate this sublime verse:

    “I break it down for you now, baby it’s simple
    If you be a nympho, I’ll be a nympho
    In the hotel, or in the back of the rental
    On the beach or in the park, it’s whatever you into.”

    -50 Cent

  3. It is no coincidence that BD adopted the surname Dylan because he admired Dylan Thomas whose style had many supporters who came out with the same sort of guff now used by the Nobel committee for BD. For example, it was said of DT ‘he is a dazzling obscure writer who can be enjoyed without understanding’. Such was the populist clamour that it is highly likely that only an early death disqualified him from a Nobel prize. Obscurantist stuff was very popular in the 1940s and 1950s and, like DT, were easily parodied. The ‘Ern O’Malley’ (Angry Penguins) hoax in Australia should have been a warning but probably came too soon and too far away to be heeded in the rest of the English-speaking world.
    Nobel prizes in the Arts and the ‘Peace Prize’ are subject to intense lobbying and cannot signify anything more than the desire of the commitees to please the clamourants. Dylan Thomas is getting his prize by proxy.

  4. The lad next door has just learned the first twenty elements of the periodic table by heart. He must be looking forward to receiving the 2017 Nobel prize in chemistry.

  5. I’ve taught and loved poetry for twenty years. Clearly, Dylan (who denied the Dylan Thomas nom de plume years ago) is not Yeats, or Keats, or Larkin. Nonetheless, I am pleased to see him honoured in this way. The poetic effect he has had on his listeners may well match that totalled by all other poets in his lifetime. I enjoy your posts, but you are out of your element with Dylan. Your assertion that he is a “lefty” defies the evidence. Interestingly, two US citizens, Robert Spencer and Pam Geller, who were banned from the UK for their “right wing” views, are both rabid Dylan fans.

  6. Maybe not sublime poetry but I think some poetic sense. Its certainly better than many modern poetry ive read. Anyway, I sort of agree that nobrl prize is not merited but i don’t think Bob Dylan isn’t as bad as Mr Boot thinks. My favourite Dylan song is:

    “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”

    Darkness at the break of noon
    Shadows even the silver spoon
    The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
    Eclipses both the sun and moon
    To understand you know too soon
    There is no sense in trying.

    Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
    Suicide remarks are torn
    From the fools gold mouthpiece
    The hollow horn plays wasted words
    Proved to warn
    That he not busy being born
    Is busy dying.

    Temptation’s page flies out the door
    You follow, find yourself at war
    Watch waterfalls of pity roar
    You feel to moan but unlike before
    You discover
    That you’d just be
    One more person crying.

    So don’t fear if you hear
    A foreign sound to you ear
    It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing.

    As some warn victory, some downfall
    Private reasons great or small
    Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
    To make all that should be killed to crawl
    While others say don’t hate nothing at all
    Except hatred.

    Disillusioned words like bullets bark
    As human gods aim for their marks
    Made everything from toy guns that sparks
    To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
    It’s easy to see without looking too far
    That not much
    Is really sacred.

    While preachers preach of evil fates
    Teachers teach that knowledge waits
    Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
    Goodness hides behind its gates
    But even the President of the United States
    Sometimes must have
    To stand naked.

    An’ though the rules of the road have been lodged
    It’s only people’s games that you got to dodge
    And it’s alright, Ma, I can make it.

    Advertising signs that con you
    Into thinking you’re the one
    That can do what’s never been done
    That can win what’s never been won
    Meantime life outside goes on
    All around you.

    You loose yourself, you reappear
    You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
    Alone you stand without nobody near
    When a trembling distant voice, unclear
    Startles your sleeping ears to hear
    That somebody thinks
    They really found you.

    A question in your nerves is lit
    Yet you know there is no answer fit to satisfy
    Insure you not to quit
    To keep it in your mind and not forget
    That it is not he or she or them or it
    That you belong to.

    Although the masters make the rules
    For the wise men and the fools
    I got nothing, Ma, to live up to.

    For them that must obey authority
    That they do not respect in any degree
    Who despite their jobs, their destinies
    Speak jealously of them that are free
    Cultivate their flowers to be
    Nothing more than something
    They invest in.

    While some on principles baptized
    To strict party platforms ties
    Social clubs in drag disguise
    Outsiders they can freely criticize
    Tell nothing except who to idolize
    And then say God Bless him.

    While one who sings with his tongue on fire
    Gargles in the rat race choir
    Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
    Cares not to come up any higher
    But rather get you down in the hole
    That he’s in.

    But I mean no harm nor put fault
    On anyone that lives in a vault
    But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him.

    Old lady judges, watch people in pairs
    Limited in sex, they dare
    To push fake morals, insult and stare
    While money doesn’t talk, it swears
    Obscenity, who really cares
    Propaganda, all is phony.

    While them that defend what they cannot see
    With a killer’s pride, security
    It blows the minds most bitterly
    For them that think death’s honesty
    Won’t fall upon them naturally
    Life sometimes
    Must get lonely.

    My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
    False gods, I scuff
    At pettiness which plays so rough
    Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
    Kick my legs to crash it off
    Say okay, I have had enough
    What else can you show me ?

    And if my thought-dreams could been seen
    They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
    But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.

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