Monday, May 30, 2005

More on Poetry and Songwriting

The Academy of American Poets' weekly Spotlight essay, unbeknownst to me, is on poetry and songwriting as it relates to Bob Dylan. See http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5817.

I have to admit that I chuckled when I read the question, "Should Bob Dylan be considered a songwriter or a poet?" Now come on?! :) You're asking that question on a poetry website. If you definitely thought that Dylan was a songwriter, then the article shouldn't even exist on this site.

But all in all, I enjoyed the apparently anonymously written article. It's well-written, informative, and succinct. My favorite passage is this one: "The problem many critics have with calling song lyrics poetry is that songs are only fully realized in performance. It takes the lyrics, music, and voice working in tandem to unpack the power of a song, whereas a poem ideally stands up by itself, on the page, controlling its own timing and internal music." It clearly outlines a difference between poetry and songwriting, though concededly it ignores spoken word, poetry readings, and the power of poetry as an oral art form.

Still, I don't like the phrasing of the main question. I think that Dylan should be considered as both a poet and songwriter. Perhaps most disappointing is the fact that many critics have given so much serious thought to this passingly interesting though ultimately inane question.

It's part of my larger critique of poetry critics and professors' not giving enough attention to Asian American poetry. Poetry professors have a tendency to reproduce a narrow group of poets as "great" and worthy of critical attention. But their self-reinforced hierarchy is circular: Professor A says that Poet B is great, and Poet B is great because Professor A says so. Even though I concede that's how elitism works, it might not be too much trouble for poetry professors to take a broader view of poetry and read more widely in their field before proclaiming, or implying, a hierarchy of those poets worthy of being read.

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