On the Day After Dylan, Poetry and Publishing

Good Thunder Presents hosts a talk on a ‘Visiting Bob’ anthology

MANKATO — For all the poets and publishers around the University, this will be the real Bob Dylan concert after-party.

On Friday, Oct. 25, two visiting author/editors will talk about their experiences collecting and publishing an anthology of poems inspired by Dylan, who performs in a sold-out concert the night before in Mankato.

Among the 100 writers whose work is featured in the anthology are Johnny Cash, Allan Ginsberg, Robert Bly, Charles Bukowski, Patti Smith and Minnesota’s Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen.

The 1-year-old work is titled “Visiting Bob: Poems inspired by the Life and Work of Bob Dylan” and published by New Rivers Press. It’s the fourth time Thom Tammaro has compiled an anthology of work inspired by an individual poet. His first three focused on Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams and Walt Whitman. A retired creative writing professor at Minnesota State University, Moorhead, Tammaro and former colleague Al Davis compiled the Dylan collection.

The 2018 anthology by Thom Tammaro and Alan Davis

The idea with all four books was not to highlight the works of Dickinson, et al, but to see the effect they had in the literary world around them and after them. The Dylan book, like the others, is all poems (no essays, for instance) that directly refer to Dylan or one of his works. No vague references for those deep in the Dylaniverse.

“We don’t want people to read these poems and not understand the connection – we like the way people engage with a lyric or complete songs or an incident with Dylan’s life … rather than an oblique connection,” Tammaro said.

The works within the book are as eclectic as the array of contributors.

“We didn’t want to have an anthology that was just all poems that sort of bowed down in praise to Dylan,” Tammaro said. “Several poems take Dylan to task for his portrayal of women in some of his songs.”

Ideally, Tammaro said, a reader of the book will take in a poem or two and reflect on their own relationship with the artist, whose first album was released in 1962.

That long and restless career is something Good Thunder Reading Series director Candace Black finds fascinating. She said she wonders if Dylan is that artistically mercurial—he notoriously defies genres or remains true to original versions of songs when performing them—or simply incapable of stopping. Or both.

Regardless, she holds him in high regard.

“I think he’s like deceptively simple in that you think ‘Oh, he’s just a songwriter and this is just a song.’ Black said. “But they stay with you because he uses, I think, not just songwriting techniques but poetry techniques to create these lyrics—repetition and metaphor, figurative language, all those things that help people remember poems help people remember songs.”

As for giving a pop songwriter equal time with Dickinson and Whitman, Tammaro said, the issue was somewhat answered with Dylan’s 2017 Nobel Prize for literature.

“There are certain artists in whatever genre you’re working in­—painting, photography, dance, whatever—that are just monolithic,” he said. “If you want to be a painter, at some point you have to deal with Picasso. If you’re a poet you have to come to terms with the presence of Emily Dickinson … their presence is monolithic and I think that’s true with Dylan in poetry and songwriting.”

The reading is free open to the public and takes place 1:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25 in Armstrong Hall 101.

Of Bob Dylan
By Johnny Cash
(Liner Notes to Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” album, 1969 and included in “Visiting Bob”)

There are those who do not imitate,
Who cannot imitate
But then there are those who emulate
At times, to expand further the light
Of an original glow.
Knowing that to imitate the living
Is mockery
And to imitate the dead
Is robbery
There are those
Who are beings complete unto themselves
Whole, undaunted,-a source
As leaves of grass, as stars
As mountains, alike, alike, alike,
Yet unalike
Each is complete and contained
And as each unalike star shines
Each ray of light is forever gone
To leave way for a new ray
And a new ray, as from a fountain
Complete unto itself, full, flowing
So are some souls like stars
And their words, works and songs
Like strong, quick flashes of light

From a brilliant, erupting cone.
So where are your mountains
To match some men?

This man can rhyme the tick of time
The edge of pain, the what of sane
And comprehend the good in men, the bad in men
Can feel the hate of fight, the love of right
And the creep of blight at the speed of light
The pain of dawn, the gone of gone
The end of friend, the end of end
By math of trend
What grip to hold what he is told
How long to hold, how strong to hold
How much to hold of what is told.
And Know
The yield of rend; the break of bend
The scar of mend
I’m proud to say that I know it,
Here-in is a hell of a poet.
And lots of other things
And lots of other things.
— Johnny Cash