Friday, December 2, 2016

The Power of the Poetic: Poet Laureates Local & Global

FRIDAY NIGHT  LIGHT

It came in the mail today and I'm listening now to my newest Dylan CD, The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert! (Exclamation point in the title.) It has become apparent that with the Nobel Prize announcement everything Mr. Dylan has ever done is being revisited and being amped up in importance. 2016 is the 50th anniversary of a major year in the young poet performer's life. From a marketing point of view, one could not possibly ask for a more powerful endorsement of one's career than the Nobel Prize which was announced in October, to be celebrated next weekend.

The Wall Street Journal today published a front page story about this event with the title Bob Dylan Is Blowin' Everybody Off, But Minnesotans Don't Mind.  I like the way they used the word Blowin' which hearkens back to Mr. Dylan's second album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and its opening cut "Blowin' in the Wind."

This alone shows the power of Dylan's music and influence. Can you imagine a Wall Street Journal article in the 1960's that would headline a story with the slang Blowin' or Changin' or anything so anti-establishmentarian?

Dylan has spent a lifetime knocking the masters of war, haranguing the rednecks who pummeled Emmett Tell, denouncing the pathetic murderers of Medgar Evers and Hattie Carroll... and has now been endorsed and recognized as an important voice for our world in our time.

In Our Time was the title of Ernest Hemingway's first published book of short stories, another American winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Whatever people think of the man himself (he has his detractors) his influence and impact on the direction of literature is indisputable. For me personally, In Our Time was a life-changing experience. In the same way, as has been previously noted by John Bushey and many others, Dylan had a similar influence and impact on rock and roll, the signature sound of the Sixties.

All this to say, yes, Mr. Dylan is worthy of this recognition and honor. He has been more than a songwriter, more than a performer. His presence has made a difference that will extend far beyond his moment in time.

* * * *

In our local community poetry has emerged to become a surprisingly vibrant feature of the Duluth arts scene. That a Nobel Laureate was born here may be a contributing variable in the equation, or maybe there's just something in the water.

This Sunday there will be a ceremony and inaugural reading by the incoming Duluth Poet Laureate Ellie Schoenfeld at the Peace United Church of Christ. I for one have been a longtime fan of Ms. Schoenfeld's pointed and inventive turns of phrase.

Here's a piece from her most recent collection titled The Dark Honey.

Taking It Off

Some years are just
one hair shirt layered onto another,
each one doing its best
to fuse with skin.

Now is the time
I will finally peel them off,
a slow psychological striptease.
I examine each one only briefly
then throw it
onto an enormous fire,
that original bonfire
fueled by grace and forgiveness,
by the bones
of a thousand other troubles.
Its tongues of flame
sing torch songs and the blues, praises
for every dull, flawed, and disastrous thing.
Its flames lick and illuminate wounds,
leave smoke and spark and new mirrors.


Finally the last one comes off.
I stand here
naked and perfect.
Just like you.
Just like everyone.

* * * *

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Open your eyes.

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