Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Captain's Tower, Seventy Poets Celebrate Bob Dylan at Seventy. Review by Barrie Llewelyn

I jumped at the chance to review The Captain’s Tower: Seventy Poets Celebrate Bob Dylan at Seventy (edited by Phil Bowen, Damian Furniss and David Woolley). Who wouldn’t? This anthology includes poems by Dylan’s American contemporaries including Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg; contributions from a British crowd including Armitage, McGough and Rumens as well as offerings from some of our beloved Welsh poets, Robert Minhinnick and Paul Henry amongst them.

And the subject – poetry anthologies are best when they have a theme and celebrating the life and work of Bob Dylan, who is as much a poet as he is songwriter – is just so completely right. Lines from Tamar Yoseloff’s ‘Sad Eyed Lady' say it best:

…He navigates me through

births and deaths, endless days of rain,

all the same to him, his song pressed

into vinyl long ago, a woman he loved,

an age; what has passed he has passed

to me…

Dylan’s music is in our collective aura. It punctuates our lives, even if you don’t know much about the man or the controversy he incited when he moved from being an acoustic folksinger to an electric rocker in 1965, you’ll know the anthems he created for a generation of Baby Boomers, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, ‘ The Times They Are a-Changin’, ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’ and they will mean something to you. By the way, Roger McGough takes the blame for that move into rock/pop in his poem, ‘Bob Dylan and the Blue Angel’ which starts by describing a real meeting between the two poets in Liverpool in 1965. The poem soon becomes something of a fantasy or, maybe, a confession:

So over cappuccino in the Picasso I laid it all out.

Dump the acoustic. Forget the folksy stuff and go electric.

Get yourself a band. I remember the look on his face.

Sort of relief. The tension in the trademark

hunched shoulders seemed to melt away.

The poems in this book are varied as you’d expect from such a diverse collection of poets. Some of them are about Dylan’s life and times; some describe his music and its impact on the poet’s own life and work; some of them do a good job of replicating Dylan’s style. A couple of them have tenuous links to the subject and, in those selections, Dylan or one of his songs becomes a mere mention – a frame for something else. One of my favourites, ‘Hard Rain’ by Tony Hoagland echoes Dylan’s prophetic song and resounds with its own protest about the way we live:

After I heard It’s a Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

played softly by an accordion quartet

through the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping


I understood: there’s nothing

we can’t pluck the stinger from,

nothing we can’t turn into a soft-drink flavor or a t-shirt.

A foreword by rocker Ronnie Wood gives a uniquely personal view of a collaborator and friend. It adds to the richness of a collection which altogether celebrates Bob Dylan’s seventieth birthday as well as his massive contribution and immeasurable inspiration.

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Watch this space... upcoming editor blog on 'Psychogeography: Latest Novels and Nonfiction by Iain Sinclair, Jim Perrin, Tristan Hughes and Richard Collins' & 'Crotch-rot, gay lib and the payrolled poseur (The Naked Civil Servant and contemporary gay fiction)'

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