Monday, October 03, 2005

Typecasting, Bob Dylan & stuff

I've got a lot to say in this one I think, as I've not been around here for awhile.

Firstly, I watched the Martin Scorcese documentary on Bob Dylan last week, and it was really interesting not so much for the stuff about Dylan itself as for what it revealed about the audience and his early "radical" promoters. I've always thought there was something terribly po-faced about folkies, and my opinion wasn't altered by that documentary; it was in fact reinforced. Everybody wanted Bob Dylan to be the voice of their generation, to speak for them rather than having to speak for themselves ("Don't follow leaders, pay the parking meters" as the man said.)

I loved it when he called himself "a song and dance man." So self-deprecating, so Jewish somehow (I wonder if anyone's done a study on the Jewish influence in his work.) Of course, he's more than that; his words and music work so well together and he's written some terrific songs ("Tangled Up In Blue", "Like A Rolling Stone", "Dreams of Johanna" etc...) but he's not what anyone wants him to be. No real artist ever is. Van Gogh was never mad when he painted; Sylvia Plath was not a feminist; Mayakovsky was not a very obedient communist etc... Artists don't fit into anyone's pocket.

It's even evident in the so-called radical anthems like "Blowing in the Wind:" full of poetic phrases, not political analysis. The picture of Bob Dylan looking embarassed at all the "voice of his generation" stuff, avoiding questions or making funny remarks when people try to pigeonhole him, tells it all. Avoid the pigeonholes. Don't let them pin you down, a moving target is harder to hit, etc...

Next, I got a couple of interesting responses to my talking about thinking in terms of a book, rather than just poems. Todd: I sort of agree that putting random poems together is as good a way as any, that it can produce good books. But I want to try and work slightly differently this time, to work on the book as I'm writing the poems as it were. It will keep on changing shape as I work on individual poems, and I'm not about to start writing my version of Cantos or the Maximus poems. It's somewhere between the two extremes: I'm writing individual poems, then seeing where they might fit and alter the overall shape. Maybe for the next book after that, I'll go back to random. Anyway, it's a while off yet.

I agree with Scjallah too that there's an awful lot of avant-garde so-called poetry that leaves me cold. In the end, a good poem isn't just a bunch of words that don't hang together, it's something that sets up a resonance in the heart and the head. Fragments can work, but only if they add up to an interesting picture.

Anyway, I think I'll leave it there. More thoughts later.

1 comment:


We at Irish Poetry agree with this author on the words hanging malarky, and would like to announce that we are in the process of reading a very interesting text, attributed to the poet Amergin, who was the mythical druid of the Milesians, who represent the final wave of people who appear in the "Book of Invasions" which is the Irish equivalent of a creation myth, but via a series of invasions by mythical peoples who come and displace the resident powers.

The original inhabitants were the Formorians, who are recorded as a semi divine race and represent the oldest fragments of the folkloric tradition. They made way for the Partholonians who are said to have come from Greece and who died after a plague and after them a number of races appear and their are numerous stories of them. These are the Fir Bolg, The Tuatha De Dannan and the final invaders who beat the Tuatha De Dannan in battle and banished them underground, where they morphed into the "little" people of faerylore. These are the most interesting race, as they excite the imagination, much like the Hyperboreans got under the consciousness of Robert Graves.

So when the Milesians came and defeated the Tuatha De Dannan there wizzard was Amergin and his poem, "The Cauldron of Poesy" lays out in pretty simple terms where and how Poesy operates, basically saying that the highest grades of poetry can only be acheived by those who experience life at the furthest end of the spectrum; and the first requisite is that only those who have known great joy and sorrow can become Oolamhs, who were the top grade of poet, capable of prophetic practice. Many trained at the bardic school, but after the eigth year when divination classes begin, not all the poets attending will be capable of reaching the non existen "there" of the mind which prophetic poetry requires.

And whilst this notion may be a bit off kilter in todays poetry environments, we must remeber that these people were connected to the source of poetry in a much more real and mind bogglingly different way than we are today.