Tag Archives: poet

‘Greatest living poet’ Bob Dylan wins Nobel Prize for Literature

Bob Dylan, regarded as the voice of a generation for his influential songs from the 1960s onwards, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in a surprise decision that made him the only singer-songwriter to win the award.

The 75-year-old Dylan — who won the prize for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition” — now finds himself in the company of Winston Churchill, Thomas Mann and Rudyard Kipling as Nobel laureates.

Bob Dylan Born: 1941, Duluth, MN, USA Prize motivation: "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition"
Bob Dylan
Born: 1941, Duluth, MN, USA
Prize motivation: “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”

Dylan’s songs, such as “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Like a Rolling Stone” captured a spirit of rebellion, dissent and independence.

More than 50 years on, Dylan is still writing songs and is often on tour, performing his dense poetic lyrics.

“Blowin’ in the Wind,” written in 1962, was considered one of the most eloquent folk songs of all time. “The Times They Are A-Changin'”, in which Dylan told Americans “your sons and your daughters are beyond your command,” was an anthem of the civil rights movement and Vietnam War protests.

Awarding the 8 million Swedish crown ($930,000) prize, the Swedish Academy said: “Dylan has the status of an icon. His influence on contemporary music is profound.”

Swedish Academy member Per Wastberg said: “He is probably the greatest living poet.”

Asked if he thought Dylan’s Nobel lecture — traditionally given by the laureate in Stockholm later in the year — would be a concert, replied: “Let’s hope so.”

Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Nobel Academy, told a news conference there was “great unity” in the panel’s decision to give Dylan the prize.

Dylan’s spokesman, Elliott Mintz, declined immediate comment when reached by phone, citing the early hour in Los Angeles, where it was 3 a.m. at the time of the announcement.

Dylan was due to give a concert in Las Vegas on Thursday evening.

Literature was the last of this year’s Nobel prizes to be awarded.

The prize is named after dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel and has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with his will.

 

Some Dylan details …

• Bob Dylan began his career as an acoustic singer-songwriter specializing in protest songs such as “Blowin’ In The Wind.” His first album was the eponymous Bob Dylan released in 1962.

• Dylan created a controversy at the Newport, Rhode Island, folk festival in 1965 when he set aside his acoustic guitar and played an electric guitar. He played three songs and some in the crowd booed but it remains unclear if the booing was because of the electric guitar, the short set or bad audio quality.

• Dylan dropped out of the public eye after a July 1966 motorcycle accident. Few details about the crash were revealed but it allowed him to escape the mounting pressures of fame and he did not tour again for almost eight years. During that period, he recorded some remarkable music with The Band.

• Dylan has generally eschewed praise, including from critics and fans labeling him an artist, a poet or the voice of his generation. He has variously described himself as a trapeze artist, an “ashtray bender,” a “rabbit catcher” and a “dog smoother”.

• He once told Rolling Stone magazine: “I live in my dreams. I don’t really live in the actual world.”

* Dylan is of Jewish heritage — his real name is Robert Zimmerman. He became a Christian in 1979 after a divorce. He released three albums of religious-based music, then mostly left off making overt references to Christianity in his songs until he surprised fans with a 2009 Christmas album.

• Famous lyrics include:

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

“‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm’.”

“The ladder of the law has no top and no bottom.”

“I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken/I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children … And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.”

Bob Dylan performs "Maggie's Farm" at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California Feb. 13, 2011. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo
Bob Dylan performs “Maggie’s Farm” at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California Feb. 13, 2011. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

Inaugural poet Richard Blanco returns to Miami in memoir

In Richard Blanco’s Miami, memories linger outside coffee windows and in Cuban grocery store aisles.

Barack Obama’s 2013 inaugural poet grew up here, gathering experiences and stories as the son of Cuban exiles that would lay the foundation for his written work and inspire his new memoir, “The Prince of Los Cocuyos.”

Since becoming both the first gay and Hispanic inaugural poet almost two years ago, Blanco has traveled the U.S., giving readings, writing poems and essays, and releasing two non-fiction books. He has become a literary spokesman of sorts, advocating for a more inclusive America and revealing his own struggles to come to terms with his identity as a gay man. He remains based in Maine, but like his parents before him who dreamed of Cuba, he dreams of another place.

He dreams of Miami.

“One of the things that fascinates me is how physical landscapes are intertwined with emotional landscapes,” he said. “Everything that happens in our lives happens in a place and Miami is certainly that place since I was 3 years old.”

“The Prince of Los Cocuyos” takes readers to Miami of the 1970s and `80s, where Blanco’s family was one of tens of thousands building new lives after fleeing Fidel Castro’s revolution. Loud and nostalgic, Blanco cringed at his parents’ salsa music and Thanksgiving carne puerco – roast pork. He wanted to be American – New Wave music, pumpkin pie, Thanksgiving turkey.

In a series of loosely intertwined stories, Blanco describes a childhood marked by loss, humor and hints of an exotic land called America. In “Losing the Farm,” he recounts his grandfather’s attempt to recreate the chicken coop he had in Cuba in the family’s suburban Westchester (or “Guescheste” as it is pronounced by many Cubans) backyard, much to the chagrin of Miami’s code enforcement police.

In “It Takes Un Pueblo,” he describes his weekends and summers working as a clerk in his great uncle’s small, family-run grocery store, El Cocuyito, or the little firefly. His sometimes abusive grandmother had insisted he take a job there, hoping working with Don Gustavo would “make him a man.”

In checkout counter conversations, the store’s patrons slowly reveal pieces of who they are to him: The daughter of a former general who once lived in Cuban mansions and now resides in a cramped apartment, where she makes dresses she’ll never be able to afford. The Havana street vendor who rebuilds the city he walked thousands of times with his wares in painted cardboard cuttings, the details of which he struggles to remember.

The book ends with Blanco at 17, a young man no longer ashamed of his family’s Thanksgiving roast pig.

“It’s a process of falling in love with your culture for the most part,” Blanco said.

Life has taken Blanco away from Miami in the years since. He went to Cuba with his mother, a visit that helped fill “a lot of the blanks” about his identity, but only the Cuban half, he said. He moved to Connecticut to teach creative writing, thinking, “Maybe I should try moving to America.” There, he thought he’d find the quintessential America that he’d grown up watching on TV. He didn’t.

He moved to Guatemala with his partner and then to Washington.

“All the while I missed Miami terribly, terribly, terribly,” he said.

When he returned, he found a changed Miami: David’s Cafe, a legendary Cuban restaurant off Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road, was renamed Abuela’s. Wolfie’s Jewish deli closed. El Cocuyito was sold. And those were just the cosmetic changes. His parents and grandparents’ generations were dying out. New waves of Cubans who grew up under the revolution were moving in. Venezuelans, Brazilians and other Latino immigrants were, too.

The Miami he describes in “The Prince of Los Cocuyos” is still there, but parts of it are gone.

“I realize now how my parents feel, my mother in particular, when she goes back to Cuba, this sense of ownership,” he said. “We all sort of are subject to change and we all lose things in our lives. We all have in some ways an immigrant exile experience.”

Trailblazer Maya Angelou remembered

Maya Angelou was gratified, but not surprised by her extraordinary fortune.

“I’m not modest,” she told The Associated Press in 2013. “I have no modesty. Modesty is a learned behavior. But I do pray for humility, because humility comes from the inside out.”

Her story awed millions. The young single mother who worked at strip clubs to earn a living later danced and sang on stages around the world. A black woman born poor wrote and recited the most popular presidential inaugural poem in history. A childhood victim of rape, shamed into silence, eventually told her story through one of the most widely read memoirs of the past few decades.

Angelou, a Renaissance woman and cultural pioneer, died on May 28 at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, her son, Guy B. Johnson, said in a statement. The 86-year-old had been a professor of American studies at Wake Forest University since 1982.

“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace,” Johnson said.

Angelou had been set to appear this week at the Major League Baseball Beacon Awards Luncheon, but canceled in recent days citing an unspecified illness.

Tall and regal, with a deep, majestic voice, she was unforgettable whether encountered through sight, sound or the printed word. She was an actress, singer and dancer in the 1950s and 1960s and broke through as an author in 1970 with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which became standard (and occasionally censored) reading and made Angelou one of the first black women to enjoy mainstream success. Caged Bird was the start of a multipart autobiography that continued through the decades and captured a life of hopeless obscurity and triumphant, kaleidoscopic fame.

The world was watching in 1993 when she read her cautiously hopeful “On the Pulse of the Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration. Her confident performance openly delighted Clinton and made publishing history by making a poem a best-seller, if not a critical favorite.

Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, recalled that day: “I was only 19 years old and still very much in the closet, but Maya Angelou’s greatest gift was the ability to reach each and every person with her wisdom, the beauty of her language, and her simple insistence upon a better and more just world.”

Angelou was a longtime friend to the LGBT community and to HRC, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, in particular. As far back as 2000, she spoke at an HRC dinner in Atlanta. Her books, poems, speeches and essays have long been — and doubtless will continue to be—a source of inspiration for LGBT people.

Addressing an audience in Florida in 1996, Angelou said, “I am gay. I am lesbian. I am black. I am white. I am Native American. I am Christian. I am Jew. I am Muslim.”

Griffin said, “Angelou has said that there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you. LGBT people know this truth well — and it is part of why so many in our community have looked to her as a hero for so long. For those of us whom Angelou inspired to tell our own stories and live our own truths, we will always miss her indispensible voice.”

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said: “Rest In Peace Maya Angelou; your life will forever continue to inspire us and all LGBTQ activists in our work for social justice for all.”

The earliest reactions to Angelou’s death came via social media, where her fans — famous and not — shared remembrances and quoted the writer’s words that meant most to them.

“May you rest eternally in peace” was the simple message shared by the NAACP.

Angelou called herself a poet, in love with the “sound of language,” “the music in language,” as she explained to The Associated Press in 2013. But she lived so many lives. She was a wonder to Toni Morrison, who marveled at Angelou’s freedom from inhibition, her willingness to celebrate her own achievements. She was a mentor to Oprah Winfrey, whom she befriended when Winfrey was still a local television reporter, and often appeared on her friend’s talk show program. She mastered several languages and published not just poetry, but advice books, cookbooks and children’s stories. She wrote music, plays and screenplays, received an Emmy nomination for her acting in “Roots,” and never lost her passion for dance, the art she considered closest to poetry.

Her very name as an adult was a reinvention. Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis and raised in Stamps, Arkansas, and San Francisco, moving back and forth between her parents and her grandmother. She was smart and fresh to the point of danger, packed off by her family to California after sassing a white store clerk in Arkansas. Other times, she didn’t speak at all: At age 7, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend and didn’t talk for years. She learned by reading, and listening.

At age 9, she was writing poetry. By 17, she was a single mother. In her early 20s, she danced at a strip joint, ran a brothel, was married, and then divorced. But by her mid-20s, she was performing at the Purple Onion in San Francisco, where she shared billing with another future star, Phyllis Diller. She also spent a few days with Billie Holiday.”

After renaming herself Maya Angelou for the stage (“Maya” was a childhood nickname, “Angelou” a variation of her husband’s name), she toured in Porgy and Bess and Jean Genet’s The Blacks and danced with Alvin Ailey. She worked as a coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and lived for years in Egypt and Ghana, where she met Nelson Mandela, a longtime friend; and Malcolm X, to whom she remained close until his assassination, in 1965. Three years later, she was helping King organize the Poor People’s March in Memphis, Tenn., where the civil rights leader was slain on Angelou’s 40th birthday.

Angelou was little known outside the theatrical community until I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which might not have happened if James Baldwin hadn’t persuaded Angelou, still grieving over King’s death, to attend a party at Jules Feiffer’s house. Feiffer was so taken by Angelou that he mentioned her to Random House editor Bob Loomis, who persuaded her to write a book by daring her into it, saying that it was “nearly impossible to write autobiography as literature.”

“Well, maybe I will try it,” Angelou responded. “I don’t know how it will turn out. But I can try.”

On the Web … 

http://mayaangelou.com 

Inaugural poet Richard Blanco makes history

Richard Blanco, a gay Cuban-American, delivered the inaugural poem today (Jan. 21). He became the first gay and Latino poet to recite at the inauguration. He’s also the youngest inaugural poet.

The poem, “One Today,” follows:

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,

peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth

across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies. One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,

each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:

pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,

fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper— bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,

on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives— to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,

the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day: equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined, the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,

or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain

the empty desks of twenty children marked absent today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light breathing color into stained glass windows,

life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth

onto the steps of our museums and park benches 2 as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat

and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands

as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane

so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs, buses launching down avenues, the symphony

of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways, the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,

or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello| shalom,

buon giorno |howdy |namaste |or buenos días

in the language my mother taught me—in every language spoken into one wind carrying our lives

without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands: weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report

for the boss on time, stitching another wound 3 or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait, or the last floor on the Freedom Tower

jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes tired from work: some days guessing at the weather of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love

that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother who knew how to give, or forgiving a father

who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight

of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home, always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop

and every window, of one country—all of us—

facing the stars

hope—a new constellation waiting for us to map it,

waiting for us to name it—together

Esteemed lesbian poet Adrienne Rich dies at 82

Adrienne Rich, a fiercely gifted, award-winning poet whose socially conscious verse influenced a generation of feminist, gay rights and anti-war activists, has died. She was 82.

Rich died March 27 at her Santa Cruz home from complications from rheumatoid arthritis, said her son, Pablo Conrad. She had lived in Santa Cruz since the 1980s.

Through her writing, Rich explored topics such as women’s rights, racism, sexuality, economic justice and love between women.

Rich published more than a dozen volumes of poetry and five collections of nonfiction. She won a National Book Award for her collection of poems “Diving into the Wreck” in 1974, when she read a statement written by herself and fellow nominees Alice Walker and Audre Lorde, “refusing the terms of patriarchal competition and declaring that we will share this prize among us, to be used as best we can for women.”

In 2004, she won the National Book Critics Circle Award for her collection “The School Among the Ruins.” According to her publisher, W.W. Norton, her books have sold between 750,000 and 800,000 copies, a high amount for a poet.

She gained national prominence with her third poetry collection, “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” in 1963. Citing the title poem, University of Maryland professor Rudd Fleming wrote in The Washington Post that Rich “proves poetically how hard it is to be a woman — a member of the second sex.”

She was, like so many, profoundly changed by the 1960s. Rich married Harvard University economist Alfred Conrad in 1953 and they had three sons. But she left him in 1970 and eventually lived with her partner, writer and editor Michelle Cliff. She used her experiences as a mother to write “Of Woman Born,” her groundbreaking feminist critique of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, published in 1976.

“Rich is one of the few poets who can deal with political issues in her poems without letting them degenerate into social realism,” Erica Jong once wrote.

Unlike most American writers, Rich believed art and politics not only could co-exist, but must co-exist. She considered herself a socialist because “socialism represents moral value — the dignity and human rights of all citizens,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005. “That is, the resources of a society should be shared and the wealth redistributed as widely as possible.”

“She was very courageous and very outspoken and very clear,” said her longtime friend W.S. Merwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. “She was a real original, and whatever she said came straight out of herself.”

As Merwin noted, Rich was a hard poet to define because she went through so many phases. Or, as Rich wrote in “Delta,” ‘’If you think you can grasp me, think again.”

Her political poems included “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children,” an indictment of the Vietnam War and the damage done and a cry for language itself: “The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor’s language.”

One of her best-known poems, “Living in Sin,” tells of a woman’s disappointment between what she imagined love would be — “no dust upon the furniture of love” — and the dull reality, the man “with a yawn/sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard/declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror/rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes.”

Rich taught at many colleges and universities, including Brandeis, Rutgers, Cornell, San Jose State and Stanford.

She won a MacArthur “genius” fellowship, two Guggenheim Fellowships and many top literary awards including the Bollingen Prize, Brandeis Creative Arts Medal, Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize and the Wallace Stevens Award.

But when then-President Clinton awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1997, Rich refused to accept it, citing the administration’s “cynical politics.”

“The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate,” she wrote to the administration. “A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”

In 2003, Rich and other poets refused to attend a White House symposium on poetry to protest to U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Born in Baltimore in 1929, Rich was the elder of two daughters of a Jewish father and a Protestant mother — a mixed heritage that she recalled in her autobiographical poem “Sources.” Her father, a doctor and medical professor at Johns Hopkins University, encouraged her to write poetry at an early age.

Rich graduated from Radcliffe College in 1951 and was chosen for the Yale Younger Poets Prize for her first book of poetry, “A Change of World.”

Living in Cambridge, Mass., she befriended Merwin, Donald Hall and other poets. In 1966, her family moved to New York City when her husband accepted a teaching position at City College. Soon after she left Conrad, he committed suicide.

Rich taught remedial English to poor students entering college before teaching writing at Swarthmore College, Columbia University School of the Art and City University of New York.

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