Why Political Prizes Don’t Matter

Let’s start here: When I heard that Bob Dylan received a Nobel Prize in Literature I thought it was an Onion piece. Sadly, it wasn’t. I’ve enjoyed Dylan. My first published poem was actually an homage to his Nashville Skyline album set on the highways of Missouri. He is a first rate singer-songwriter that shares a lineage that goes back through Guthrie and Seeger clear to the working class roots of pastoral America. Dylan relays the experiences and rhythms of American through the instruments and music of his work. He sings his lyrics, turning voice to instrument and throughout much of his post-1970s career has accompanied that voice-as-instrument with large and well produced fellow musicians. As a poet I must tell you I have no concern for what key or register my work is crafted in. Sound matters, true. But not in the sense that I must understand the progression of a G to F#.

Poetry is not music. Sure, poetry contains music. But unlike Dylan’s work, work in which music is the driving factor and language a lesser role in his process and his form, poetry has it roots and essence elsewhere. The words matter and it is those that are constructed and written and to a lesser extent performed that is focus of the poet’s works. Music compositions have their focus on melody and rhythm not the words. Hence why Miles Davis and John Coltrane can construct an entire piece of work with no spoken or vocalized words. Literature places words as essence at its forefront. Music places instrumentation at its, even when vocals are its focus, it is still first and foremost music. Music is not poetry. Music is notes and intonations. To misunderstand this this can happen. But it shouldn’t be when you are on a critical award granting committee supposed to be giving praise to the bests in their field.

I seriously doubt, and hope, that the Nobel committee will never see clear to award Oliver Stone the Nobel Prize in Literature. Because movies are not literature and music is not poetry we should disappointed by the announcement. It shows that those given to handing out awards have become disconnected from the craft they propose to celebrate and make proclamations as to the best in show. After a day like today, with an announcement made by what was supposed to be the pinnacle of art and the humanities, we should realize that for those that work so hard to carry on the tradition of our literary crafts that the powers-that-be continue show their disconnect from our heritage and our work. We must work without hope of award. Because the gatekeepers don’t understand the work of others around them and we have no one to turn to understand or craft but ourselves. Political prizes like the Nobel should not matter to us because they say so little of our craft and even less of the countless poets that toil without hope of seeing the praise heaped upon those that are undeserving of recognition in a field they do not work in.

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