In 2016, the New York Times ran an article about Bob Dylan’s unprecedented win of a Nobel Prize in Literature for his body of work as poet/songwriter. While many understood the award and found it long overdue, some critics laid waste to the choice with some interesting words.
From the NYT 2016 article- “Bob Dylan winning the Nobel in Literature is like Mrs. Fields winning a Michelin star.” said novelist, Rabih Alameddine.
First, who the hell is Rabih Alameddine? In my many decades on planet Earth, I have never heard that person’s name. I had to look him up and now that I know who he is, I’m still not intrigued enough to search out his work.
Dylan? Oh, yeah. I know who he is. As does most of the world. I’ve been aware of him since the mid-1960’s when my mind was freshly opened to music and words and his lyrics filled my imagination.
Years after hearing, “And she aches just like a woman, but she breaks like a little girl.” forgetting that its inspiration was that slice of lyric, I wrote an essay that included this, “I am a very smart woman but my heart is a stupid teenage girl.” Still accurate and confessional. Dylan leaks through my consciousness at interesting times.
Poetry or song lyrics are to me the same thing but one has been lit on fire with music. Are they literature?
lit·er·a·ture/ˈlidərəCHər,ˈlidərəˌCHo͝or/Learn to pronouncenoun
- written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting merit. ‘a great work of literature.’
By this definition, yes. They are, without a doubt literature. And moreso, the easy consumption of these carefully cultivated words make for a palatable introduction to word crafting beyond the world textbook and technical writing we must absorb to complete our educations. Can you argue against it? I’d like to hear that debate.
For many, poems and song lyrics are the first introduction to the art of writing for pleasure; creating something that allows emotion to have its way with us.
Poems and lyrics are words we absorb by choice. Some repeatedly so we can savor their existence like fine chocolate melting on our tongues.
These, smaller than a novel, meals of words have the same lasting impact as a well written book. Their place in our world is spotlighted whenever large moments happen. Amanda Gorman, reading her stellar poem The Hill We Climb, at President Biden’s inauguration drove that home again for me and others this past January. You’d have to have a small, cold, narrow-minded heart to have heard this young women and not be deeply moved by her words.
We writers of short things, word ninjas, are sharpening our imagination. Readying our pens for a run at channeling bottled lightning onto the page next month. And in the end, we won’t do it for the reader. It’s really just for us. A private moment when we win the game of rearranging 26 letters, over and over again until we’ve built a small word castle where we can walk around for a bit admiring the view.
If you’re a lover of poems, try these. Japanese Death Poems. A collection of haiku and poems written by Zen Monks and Samurai just before their death. Their own brief farewell to the world. The stark beauty will keep you reading and re-reading to be with them one more time.
From Zen Master Ichikyo at his death on February 12, 1360-
Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it
my coming- my going
two simple happenings
that got entangled
Where do the inspirations arrive from, who gets to catch them and what will they do with them? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind… as it always has.
And I’ll be out there waiting for the words to come, knowing that no matter how many words line up, it is literature. It is the stuff of human dreaming. Worth the work… See you in the word field.