A Poet Is… what Bob Dylan has to say.


Dylan is one of the most quoted artists of our time, and rightfully so. Just check out these nuggets of wisdom if you need any convincing:

A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.

No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky.

I accept chaos, I’m not sure whether it accepts me.

But there is one Dylan quote that has always niggled at me and that is, I think a poet is anyone who wouldn’t call themself a poet.

This niggles at me for many reasons… one, Dylan readily calls himself a poet, in fact has been quoted as saying he will die like one (although he also says he doesn’t like the word… prefers the term trapeze artist); the fact that the word poet is undeniably misunderstood in our society; and the fact that I struggled to come to terms with calling myself a poet for many years and am only now beginning to feel any sense of comfort with the term.

Personally, I struggled with the term because I value it… deeply. For the last decade the art of poetry has been the driving force in my life. I have high expectations of my work and only now feel that I am starting to produce the work of a poet.

So why is it that, the word poet is often uttered under one’s breath? Why has the title poet, become a thorny crown?

I would like to suggest that one of the main reasons is the lack of poetry in our national curriculum. I don’t want to harp on this, as I know I have said it before, but quality poetry is sadly missing in our schools today. I saw an example of the work that a visiting poet had done with students recently and it was in a word… uninspired. We are seriously missing the mark in schools and as a result, fewer and fewer people are being equipped with the skills to engage with poetry.

But this is just one of the reasons… I could also cite elitism as a significant reason as let’s face it, for too long prestige has been found by pleasing a small group of like minds, rather than reaching out to a wider audience.

Dylan has certainly redefined modern music through his lyrical brilliance. I just wonder what it will take (or who) to redefine poetry. 

Feel free to add your suggestions (or disagree with any of mine).  




Filed under poetry & publishing

13 responses to “A Poet Is… what Bob Dylan has to say.

  1. Sometimes he just contradicts for the sake of contradictions and so he won’t be pinned down. I feel sorry for the poor bastards that have had to interview him over the years (well in a way it would be fantastic but you’d be in for a ride). You can’t harp on about something that is so important – you are just reiterating a key issue – so don’t apologise. I think the elitist issue is very real – there is room for complex poetry but in the classroom you need to start with stuff that is universal and good – and not something out of the stone age, which just puts people off. Relating it too music would be a good start – rhythm and sound and timing – and modern stuff that kids like (and if its rude that probably helps – for boys especially),

  2. I agree, Gabrielle – most of my students find poetry easier to move into if they’re shown in via lyrics! (A great trick, really)

  3. There is a Bob quote for every occasion. I agree with everything you have said. I’m very glad you feel more comfortable calling yourself a poet now, after all these years of work. Maybe that’s just what it takes? There is a huge and wonderful selection of poetry for children which teaches them language skills and ideas; if it’s not being used in schools, that would be a terrible waste.

  4. andrew burke

    The teaching of poetry by undereducated teachers is a problem. Poets should be invited into schools more often, where they can speak from their own experience and knowledge. I’d prefer poets who accept the width and breadth of poetry, not just their own formula or school of thought, but that’s a wish – maybe a management and selection problem. I’m lucky enough to have a relationship with one high school where the teachers love poetry and are both knowledgeable and up to date. It’s a joy to go to those classes and feel the intelligence and understanding of the young students.

  5. jules


    you’ve got to stop thinking that a Dylan will come and save poetry – there isn’t going to be another in your generation. Not another Elvis, not another Dylan, not another Cohen, not another Madonna, not another Hugh Hefner … you can’t conjour a cultural revolution because some clown wrote some crap poems in a primary school.

    I reckon Dylan is tired of being called upon – surely he just wants to tour when he feels like it, manicure his moustache and work on his southern gentleman dialogue.

    And because you can’t conjour the cultural revolution that you want, it means you have go build it yourself. I’d vote for you.

  6. Will Brennan

    Well, Dylan is a songwriter, not a poet. Mary
    Oliver is a poet, Robert Frost is a poet, Wallce Stevens is a poet but Dylan is a songwriter who writes poetically. That’s different than being a poet. How can you be a poet if you’ve never published a book of poetry, which Dylan hasn’t? Poetry is the most difficult form of writing there is. Good poetry is like indestructible metal or a perfectly cut diamond, there’s nothing you can do to change it, improve on it, add to it, detract from it. It is a thing totally complete and it can stand on its own forever without any critique or explanation, it simply is a poem. This is good poetry, I’m talking about, and there’s the rub. people don’t know good poetry these days because they’ve been hoodwinked into thinking that Maya Angelou is a good poet. She’s a good encourager, but not a good poet. A good poem splits open ones consciousness and changes it forever. makes you see things in a different way, makes you see things as they actually are. Do some of Dylan’s lines do this? Yes. Of course, you have to ask yourself if he stole them or not before you make a judgment about any of his particular lines, but he rises to the level of poetry, that’s for sure. Can he be called a poet? I don’t know… if you compare anything he wrote against what, for instance, Walt Whitman wrote, compare them strictly as poetry, I think the answer is no. But then, comparisons are odious, Cervantes said.

  7. Mark William Jackson

    ‘Poet’ is a dirty word (Skyhooks tune?). Any semi-literate monkey who can hold a pen between finger and opposable thumb can call himself a poet, the 98% ratio of doggerel that appears on blogs under the title ‘poetry’ has dirtied the word. I agree with Dylan, ‘poet’ should be bestowed by others, there should be a tactile poetic licence!
    ‘Poet’ is also misconstrued due to lack of education, most innocent citizens picture a poet holding a quill pen rambling ‘how do I love thee’, they need a punch in the face from Bukowski.

  8. A punch in the face from Bukowski! That really made me laugh, Mark, good one!

  9. Billie Gammon

    I think what Dylan means is that a great poet will always hold him or herself to a higher standard before taking on the title ‘poet.’ Same applies to writers. Or even runners. Or successful people.

    The best, most dedicated, most accomplished, of all of these are usually the last to feel they’ve earned the title. They are always striving to be better, to refine their talents, or do more, and that’s what makes them great.

  10. Pingback: Bob Dylan: Jokerman « Another Lost Shark

  11. Dylan is not a philosopher, politico or social activist. He writes songs about all all sorts of themes, and in the end each song stands for itself. The thing that most people don’t get is that it’s not about him; it’s about the song.

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