Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan causes good-natured discord among Dawson teachers

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. in 1963. (National Archives)Joan Baez and Bob Dylan Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. in 1963. (National Archives)

by Rachel Swabey, with Morgan Buell, Nicholas Parrott, Sara Lozano-Franco, Sabrina Séguin, Shaela Vilar-Oliveira, Shea Murray

“The times they are a-changin’ ” definitely applies to this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature winner. Bob Dylan, 75, is the first musician to win the award and though few deny he is a poet, some Dawson college teachers are on the fence about his Nobel qualifications.

English teacher, Shalon Noble, said she appreciated the “conversation” following the announcement.

“I really like that I woke up one morning and suddenly, all over social media and the radio, people were talking about literature and what it is, as well as what makes a poet versus a songwriter.”

The Swedish Academy granted Bob Dylan the prize “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

English teacher, Patrick Barnard, says he thinks the committee has acknowledged two things in awarding Dylan the prize. “One is the spirit of the sixties, and two, the American song tradition, which is of considerable literary importance.

“Dylan represents a kind of epoch and the truth is that the music of the 1960s was exceptional,” Barnard said. “He gets the prize for himself but also for all the other people who were making music in his generation.

“The lyrics of songs are definitely literature, in fact, they go back to the very origins of literature itself, which were oral.”

Humanities teacher, Sean Elliott, agrees lyrics are literature. “It is important that he is recognized for the brilliance of his lyrics, but perhaps to avoid this debate, there could be another award that is specifically given to a singer or songwriter.”

Philosophy teacher, Derrick Farnham, said that although he loves Dylan, there are better poets in the world. “I do not believe that he reaches the level of poetry that it takes to win a Nobel Prize for Literature.”

Robin Feenstra, who teaches dystopian fiction, said he understands why some people are outraged. “He is a songwriter and musician, which is not quite the same as an author or writer.”

Feenstra suggested that Dylan’s earlier writing might also contribute to why people see the award as belated. “He should have received it a long time ago.”

Andrew Katz, who teaches creative writing and literature, questioned whether Dylan’s lyrics are “the best literature that has ever been written without the music accompanying it.

“Bob Dylan’s lyrics are good but if you compare his poetry to some world class poetry, side by side, you can see that one is highly crafted,” Katz said. “Some of the work that the poet has to do to put the music in the words, Dylan does not have to do. You can see that the music is not in Dylan’s lyrics.”

Usually the winners of the prize are less accessible to the public, Katz says. “Making people more interested in the prize by choosing someone like Bob Dylan is smart.”

Lyrics can be a gateway into literature, Katz said. “Once people start reading his lyrics as poetry, maybe they can find their way to other poems.”

English teacher, Rebecca Million, says that there are other writers who could have benefited from the acknowledgment. “Dylan is celebrated as a song writer. He doesn’t also need to be a poet getting a literary prize.”

English teacher, Ann Lambert, said she thinks Dylan received the prize “to blast open the narrowness of the vision of what a poet is.”

English teacher, Barbara Moser, was “thrilled” that Dylan won.

“I think he deserves it because his lyrics are poetry. I actually teach them as poetry and they follow the oral tradition of the ballad.

“Now that he has won I am considering doing a course on Literature in the Sixties and definitely including Dylan” Moser said.

English teacher, Marie Thérèse Blanc, sees song writing as “an undeniable form of literature—the old troubadours or minstrels of the Middle Ages were lyrical poets who performed their poems to music, and they were recognized as such.

“If you think that literature is something that is loved and read by all, and something that also happens to be well written and that has intelligence, courage, and heart, then this prize makes an awful lot of sense—or it makes as much sense as awarding it to a novelist or to a poet who doesn’t happen to sing.”

Dylan acknowledged his prize belatedly and left many wondering why it took him so long.

“Bob Dylan seems like someone who just wants to do his thing and not justify himself,” Katz said. “Let the world do what it wants to do and he is just going to make his music.”

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