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Be at peace. This is not about polling or early election trends. I haven’t seen much current news. When I do catch some it seems less NEWS as I remember such from times past and more “news” in the sense of wardrobe trivia and thumb accessible facts suited for a tiny screen. I did catch the news that Bob Dylan, Robert Zimmerman in his Hibbing days, has been recognized with what is probably the most prestigious and worthy awards. About time. Even if you weren’t a fan you’d have to recognize the guy’s long and amazing song output. We’re Americans so we don’t call Bob a poet, but he wrote songs and songs are poems so make your own conclusion. Dylan is the American version of the French wild child poet genius Arthur Rimbaud. Unlike Rimbaud our home grown wild boy did not entirely burn himself out in pen and loins. He may have tried. In fact I’m confident he did, but the flames that consumed Arthur didn’t destroy Robert Z or Bob D. He went on, perhaps not as prolific as in youth but no less the artist. If I were to list the great names in American poetry I’d have to include not-the-sampler Whitman, the amazing Miss Emily Dickinson, and the Zimmerman kid from Hibbing now known for another work of man in addition to the Hull Rust Mahoning.
I never met him. Never came close. He left the U of M the year before I arrived, but (I suppose this went with being a wild child of his era) Dylan was talked of and remembered on campus and in D Town where he played at The Scholar, a late night coffee house that was for a while the soul of Dinky Town as The Here was for the opposite, Oak Street, side of campus. It was said at the time that Dylan never graduated. Causes unknown or too well known prevented the completion of his degree program. Well he was busy. That students a year later would say and remember anything at all of a departed alum is quite remarkable on its own.
Closest I came to Dylan took years to accomplish and a geography shift well away from the Twin Cities Campus. The Lake Superior Log School was up Highway 2 north of Two Harbors. It was there the owner, Ron, introduced me to the “Dylan chair” somehow migrated from The Scholar to Ron’s log building school. Invited to sit, I sat. Nothing happened as a result. No rush from the Muse overtook me. All I did was sit and then arise with the presumed fact of having put my rear on a place Dylan had in the past rested his butt as he played. I wondered if he’d worked in the harmonica back then. Don’t know, but that was before she we came to call Phony Joany was in the pic. Most cases the female of a duo will outlast the male. I mean, look at Cher. Sonny is how long gone and Cher is still twenty eight and waiting. (I’d expect a sudden collapse when it happens.) But Robert Z, Bob D out wore Joan B and then some, didn’t he? Give him credit; the Energizer Dylan. Not that either my praise or criticism will matter much to him or you, but I have to say “The times they are a-changin’” was and is a brilliant theme on a false premise. Seems to me the times don’t change much at all. I don’t see a lot more love or less greed, do you? The view today is still of ticky-tacky boxes on a hillside, but now they are the boxes of correctness and there doesn’t appear to be a poet of passion ready to defy them or ask the questions as Dylan once did in Masters of War. “Is your money that good? Will it buy you forgiveness? Do you think that it could?”
If you ask me, the hard facts and difficult choices remain as before. Moral people do not make amorality their goal. Good governments should not appease evil because it is convenient or profitable. Dylan’s words tried to “rattle your walls” as Whitman a century before had by shouting his barbaric yawp, “Unscrew the locks from the doors, unscrew the doors from their jambs.” A true poet can’t help it. He or she has to be brave enough to reach behind the faces of words to unmask their meaning. Thoreau, David Henry (I believe it was his mother who used his names the other way around) said the original poets were native people who were the Namers of things and places. David Henry was not especially well versed in native people, but in The Maine Woods made clear he liked and appreciated what he saw. To me being a Namer sounds a lot better than being Indigenous, which sounds like something needing a vaccine. A Namer puts a face where there was murky emptiness.
It takes a passionate and brave spirit to rile up, disturb, and defy the surface of words. Those I think of as worthy poets aim at and sometimes achieve disruption of the surface. It’s dangerous. Appeasers, timid and cowardly voices want oil on troubled waters and unction spread far as molecules will allow. The illusion of peace and tranquility has the same value as false peace and the placidity of repression. Politics not only talks compromise. Politics is quite often nothing but compromise, often necessary but depending on what is sacrificed can be either worthwhile or self-destructive. A poet with her or his wage of salt will slice with pen and voice. Is the fair lady holding a beacon of light or a torch to blind us? The poet sees. The poet sneers. The poet fights. The poet knows a swing with lipstick is still a pig. Prettier labels don’t change foul concepts. I’m glad Dylan has been recognized. I’d feel better if there were more like him.