Sunday, September 20, 2020



Creating a timeline concerning the rise and wane of Dylan's considerable talent is easy, but the criticism of his work is a subtler enterprise. That is the actual analysis, inspection, parsing, interpretation, theorizing of the music and words themselves, and the taking into consideration the external factors --politics, fashion, religious conversions, divorces, age--that inform the creation of the music. Criticism is the x-ray we use to get inside the work and attempt to come up with adequate terms and descriptions as to how Dylan's material works and , perhaps, why it stands out among the throng of other singer-songwriters who hadn't near Dylan's resourcefulness. 

Criticism, distinct from the consumer-guide emphasis with reviewing, is an ongoing discussion that seeks less to pass judgement than it does to comprehend large subjects thoroughly by interrogating one aspect of the work at a time. It is, of course, something like a make-work project as well, a means that some of us use to escape the terrifying silence that falls behind all of us at one point or another, that emptiness of space that sends a shudder down your spine when it seems even your thoughts are too loud and echoing off the rafters. Many writers keep writing, turning from mere expression into pure process, and it is with a good many worthy writers where we can look and see where their particular timelines became crowded with product that vacillates crazily between good , bad and awful, rarely matching what critical consensus considered their best material from their best period. 

Edward Dorn is said that almost any good poet has written all their best work by the time they reach age 35, with the general output after that time becoming less daunting,daring, spry. Dylan is like this, I suppose, as is Woody Allen, John Ashbery , John Upidke, and Elvis Costello. I'd always thought that it was a hedge against death, that as the hair and teeth fall out , the arthritis escalates its assault on the joints and the memory takes on the consistency of swiss cheese, the writing, one poem after another, one novel after another, one movie, one song, one opera after another, the work somehow forestalls the inevitable darkness that awaits everyone. And criticism comes in again during these late period efforts of less notable content and turns itself into apologetics, where one theorizes about the proverbial canvas and kinds being changed, the brush strokes being bolder and less intricate as established ideas are played through yet again. It seems we're stuck with this crazy cycle ; even critics, great ones and mere carpetbaggers, want to deny death in some sense and also avoid the idea altogether that they've nothing left to say about another man's words.



You know, Bob Dylan criticism really isn't hard. The essential core truth is that Dylan's high flight of genius stopped at John Wesley Harding. The rest is fitful, sometimes inspired craft; for long stretches it is halfhearted going through the motions. The main QUESTION is -- why? Why did the innovative genius, the wild POETRY dry up? You might say it was the motorcycle accident and getting married, but then you have the amazing brilliance of the Basement Tapes songs and the subdued audacity of JWH. THEN you have the mellow craftmanship of Nashville Skyline, the growing boredom of New Morning and Planet Waves and the revived storytelling ability displayed on Blood on the Tracks, with faint echoes of the early genius. The rest is somewhere between concerted effort and sour laziness. This is my thinking after considering the work of the most influential songwriter in rock for a good 40 years.

Thursday, September 10, 2020


 Perhaps because I'm showing every calendar day of my 68 years , or  maybe because I've been typing poems, reviews, short stories and features stories for over  40 years some folks have assumed that I know what I'm talking about . A few anonymous folks on the various internet venues that concern themselves with creative matters have been brave enough to pose a question or so to this graying and cranking presence. Most recently a soul queried whether " writing 500 words a day, three times a day, too much?"  The question wasn't quite clear as posed--did they mean writing 500 words three times a day?  Charge, said my ego, bluff your way through the ambiguity. This is what I answered :
"Not if it works for you in terms of getting the writing done . If you have a lifestyle that would not be adversely effected by writing according to a work schedule—social life, family responsibilities, personal care—then no, it’s not too much. Consider that the word “write” is a verb in the sense that I’m using it, and verbs describe action; writers write, it’s an activity they perform on a regular basis. It’s why we call them writers. Consider also that great writers, popular writers write pretty much every day because there is usually a project they are working on, a writing project they are more than likely getting paid for.
"This mean the writers are working against deadline, and that means they have to “go to work” to meet the deadlines and be paid for their labor. Which brings up the next point, that writer is an occupation, and that writing is labor, work. Even authors of literary masterpieces will tell you no less than that. If you desire to be a writer, whether poet, novelist, playwright, screenwriter, or even a dedicated blogger, you have to have the discipline to take a seat and write as required whether you feel like it or not. Getting started is the hardest part of writing."

Wednesday, September 9, 2020


 Why does anyone make boring art, since you’re asking. The poets who write boring verse are most of the people who fancy themselves word slingers of that sort—quantity diminishes quality. It seems that most of the poems one comes across from new poets in whatever forum—magazine, open reading, workshop, high school newspaper, university press— are pretty much eccentric minds with pedestrian sense of language application who want to capture big ideas, big emotions and big spiritual concepts in pathetically clunky sentences , often choking their best ideas to death with overworked metaphors , unmusical similes and a fatal lack of self awareness as to whether what they spend so much time writing is something an actual reader beyond their circle of friends might want to read. We also suffer from the tone deaf experimenters who want to be abstract, avant gard and boldly innovative who haven’t the slightest idea of how to be interesting in an opaque way. 

John Ashbery, Bob Perelman, Leslie Scalapino, Gertrude Stein—they were hard to understand as poets go, but they were lively , innovative and striking in their styles and and habits of phrase making, and they are the exceptions to the idea that most avant gard poetry, as such, is abstract for its own sake and therefore useless and a grind. 

Ashbery I enjoy because I don't understand what he's getting at but I adore the way he tries to get "there"; no one else has done a better job at doing the kid of writing that vividly presents the streaming thought process of an alert intelligence interacting with the material world , with the thick bramble of half-formed recollections in the unspoken realm of the mind coloring and characterizing the ideal form of the exterior world, and the place, thing, person in turn triggering a wave of nearly related associations from farthest corner of memory , a wave of fascinating distractions. 

Perelman because he is a satirist of broad reading and culture consumption who prizes the power of the non-sequitur who composes with the voice of an ostensibly sane, rational persona speaking calmly to a crowd who soon enough is talking of subjects and policies of High, Middle and Low culture that overlap each other and seemingly redirect and real point or insight to a fathomless ocean of babble. Perelman appreciates that the voice of authority utters non-sequitur s at all times and that it takes very a gentle tug at the string to make the words go to war with each other rather than  cooperate . 

Scalapino I find brilliant, endlessly engrossing because he subject is memory and image, she is a very personal poet ,but a poet not inclined to contain her perceptions in cans of predigested resolution. Rather, her verse is chopped up, cut up, sharp and angular, repetitive to the extent what one considers an image, a sentence, from a multitude of angles, perspectives, a set of images and memories appearing and vanishing, details added and others removed or diminished in size and emphasis. There is a strong visual sense to Scalapino's writing, an element akin to the the work of the Cubists who wanted to create paintings in which the world is not merely recreated to formal rules of composition but rather seen all at once, immediately, denying the convenience of narrative templates to define experience and make it instead inert aesthetic material. I rather like the restless discord that rumbles over Scalapino's pages. 

Then there are the poets who are bored and brandishing an unearned cynicism ,boring readers of poetry who render judgement that typically amount to “meh”. These folks are a species of glum Gusses and Gussies who might as well be flipping the TV channels .