There has been some predictable sniping. You could hear it in the tone and timing of the newsreader who announced that Dylan had been honoured with “the Nobel Prize… for literature”. And the poet who tweeted snidely: “Next year, Oasis will win it for Champagne Supernova.”
He seemed to think Dylan's prize had been given only for the alleged "doggerel" of Blowin' In The Wind, which is rather to ignore 53 years of subsequent productivity.
But not every poet is carping. Certainly not the one who wrote: “I have a lot more poems by Bob rattling around in my head than I do by any other Nobel laureate.”
Or Ira Lightman, who remarked: “I’m not sure that I would have become the poet I am without Dylan.”
As a writer whose fourth book of poems is due out next year, I can echo both those comments.
Never mind that he’s a “mere” singer-songwriter, Dylan has both absorbed and influenced the best poetry of his age.
Lightman likens his best songs to paintings. I’d say they are collage, creatively fitting together fragments from the Bible, traditional folk and blues, Star Trek, the news of the day – from anywhere, really.
Yes, he can sink into awkward banality. He did so for most of the 1980s - though with a handful of outstanding exceptions - and has done so alarmingly at times in latter years. But at his best he can be surreal, impressionistic, challenging, affecting, mind-altering. And in a long career of restless searching for varied forms of creativity, his best has been approached, or arrived at, from different directions at different times.
Some of the finest poetry I know is on his albums Blood On The Tracks (1975), Time Out Of Mind (1997) and the brilliant mid-1960s trio Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde.
Never mind that his words have been written to be sung, not for the printed page. Previous Nobel winners George Bernard Shaw, Dario Fo and Harold Pinter composed theirs for the stage. As did Shakespeare before them all.
I can think of no one except Shakespeare whose words have been so pored over as Dylan's, so deeply analysed in so many books. No body of work more quoted or quotable except Shakespeare's or the Bible. That must qualify him for the Nobel.
If I have a doubt, it’s the one expressed by the Canadian writer Robert Archambeau, who dislikes the whole prize culture. He said: “I'm mostly against prizes, because they exacerbate that vast road to unhappiness that is the desire for recognition and the envy of those who have it. If I were in charge of the Nobel, I’d cancel the whole thing.”
I tend to agree. But if anyone deserves it, Dylan does.