"Bob Dylan ganha o Prêmio Nobel de Literatura 2016" writes Eduardo Kobra at kobrastreetart. He and his crew completed this mural of Bob Dylan in Minneapolis in September, 2015.
When it was announced that Bob Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, poet Heather Lang shared some thoughts on her Facebook feed. PtD asked Lang to embellish her response as a guest post, and she graciously has. As a side note, Odd Zschiedrich, the administrative director of the Swedish Academy, has said the Nobel Prize committee has yet to hear from Dylan.
By Heather Lang
This isn’t about elitism, and it’s not about aesthetic preference, either. I'm all about breaking boundaries and thinking across genres. A poet proper didn’t need to win the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. It didn't need to be someone who creates Literature (with that capital "L" about which people keep talking). It could have been a graphic novelist or a street artist who incorporates words, for example. Perhaps, however, it shouldn’t have been twelve-time Grammy Award winning, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted, Academy Award winning – and we could go on – popular musician Bob Dylan.
This year an award was shifted away from a less-recognized population of artists, many of whom are painfully under compensated for their important work, especially if we're going to revolve the conversation around the word "poetic." When it comes to art, we influence one another, and we are influenced by one another. Most artists agree that art is about eliciting an emotional response from someone else. It’s visceral. It’s cerebral. It’s complex, and there’s not much we can boil down about it.
But, this one thing is surely true: art is not a solitary act. Therefore, shouldn’t artists help other artists, be mindful of who gives and who takes/receives? The music world, at least at Bob Dylan's level, is highly commercialized. With that comes money and power. I'd be thrilled if the Grammy awards included poetry as a genre, but that isn't what happened here. This is quite the opposite.
I've been told, in sincerity, "Don't worry. Poetry will live on in song lyrics and greeting cards." Does the decision to give the award to Bob Dylan supports those types of sentiments? If so, that's dangerous on a number of levels. Today’s music, or Dylan’s music, is a beneficiary of poetry. What will happen when that reservoir runs out, when that foundation is no longer valued or taught? Poetry, and the study of poetry, offers an attention to detailed language truly unmatched in holiday cards, English Composition courses, album reviews, and other platforms.
In general, are we effectively teaching poetry in schools? No. As poet and educator Jamaal May pointed out when he visited UNLV last month, we need to begin by introducing today’s poetry and then move back in time. Otherwise, we’re expecting people to learn two languages at once: 1.) the language of poetry and 2.) the language of a distant past. I can't begin to tell you how much the study of contemporary poetry has helped my Business Writing, Speech, and other college-level non-major English students. We dissect denotation and connotation. We investigate the literal and the figurative. We analyze juxtapositions and parallels, ethos and pathos, and even the best way to begin to deliver bad news versus what’s good.
If you felt joy because Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature, I will celebrate your bliss with you. My tail feathers are ruffled by the committee's decision, but not by our conversations surrounding it. Differing opinions are undoubtedly vital to art and to, well, life. Moreover, I’m with you in reveling in Bob Dylan’s music and in his artistic career. I just hope that his award brings attention to poetry instead of moving us further away from it.
Heather Lang is a Vegas-based poet, editor, and adjunct professor.
Above: Krystal Ramirez “I Want to See More Brown Bodies” from 2017 will be reassembled at UNLV’s Barrick Museum of Art in Spring 2018.