Billy Collins, who served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003, was the first speaker on the first day of the Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, Oct. 20. And he was asked, in a post-speech question-and-answer session, if Bob Dylan deserves to win the Nobel Prize in literature, as was announced Oct. 13.
“Yeah, I do, actually,” Collins replied, standing on the stage at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Prudential Hall. “I was very surprised to see it on my iPhone, in the incoming news alert: ‘Nobel Prize’ and ‘Dylan’ were in very separate parts of my mind. But suddenly when they came together, I thought, ‘That’s Amazing.’ ”
Collins then talked a little about the Nobel committee — saying that sometimes its choices have been predictable, but that it also could be unpredictable — and about song lyrics in general.
“My sense is that almost all song lyrics won’t hold up on the page,” he said. “They weren’t meant to hold up on the page. They were meant to be played with a band, and a lot of high school students do talk about (them), because they listen to music more than they read poetry. A lot more than they read poetry. And that’s their poetry.”
Collins talked a little about rap and made fun of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” before returning to Dylan.
“His lyrics do hold up on the page,” he concluded. “I just thought it was a brilliant stroke. Things are opening up. Joyce Carol Oates could get a Grammy next year. We don’t know.”
Not everyone agrees with Collins. New York Times editor and writer Anna North, for instance, writing in the Times soon after the announcement was made, said “Mr. Dylan’s writing is inseparable from his music. He is great because he is a great musician, and when the Nobel committee gives the literature prize to a musician, it misses the opportunity to honor a writer.”
The Dodge Poetry Festival— the nation’s largest event of its kind, which takes place every other year and is now celebrating its 30th anniversary — continues through Oct. 23 at NJPAC and other Newark venues, with more than 60 poets in about about 150 readings and discussions. For information, visit dodgepoetry.org.
Dylan will receive the prize on Dec. 10.