NY poets mix up the medicine

bob dylan subterreanean

On Friday, October 30, Roddy Lumsden gathered 30 poets inside the Ding Dong Lounge on the Upper West side of Manhattan in observance of Bob Dylan’s song “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” The poets had been emailed part of the lyrics to Dylan’s song and asked to riff off it.  Some poets chose to rework lyrics or write poems inspired by or in the style of the lyrics. Monica Youn’s poem was one of several that rhymed. Amy Lemmon’s worked with a narrative that seemed explicitly related to having the “blues.” 

Other poets focused on wordplay and rhythm, including Flarfist Sharon Mesmer, who to no one’s surprise managed to make the crowd laugh and work “tits” into her poem.  Mark Bibbins’s poems utilized the word “honkey.”  The constant repetition of this word managed to make it at turns funny, offensive or often poignant, capturing both Dylan the musician and Dylan the personality.

A majority of the poems were aggressive.  Sasha Fletcher read a piece (it sounded like prose, maybe it was a prose poem?) which reminded me of Raun Klassnick’s work; the Ding Dong Lounge proved to not exactly be a holy land for Bob Dylan.  In fact, I was a bit surprised at how many poets eagerly admitted that Bob Dylan meant very little to them, or that they actually disliked him. One poet mentioned that she had always preferred The Smiths and hated Bob Dylan. I’ve always liked both Dylan and The Smiths, and didn’t know before this reading that one must have an allegiance to one or the other.

I appreciate that this reading allowed for both praise and dissidence in regards to Bob Dylan – but no one who pronounced their dislikes for Dylan posited reasons why, so most of the anti-Dylans came off as taste-makers concerned with posturing as “cool” and “anti.”   Maybe that’s how they perceive Dylan – and that was their point?  Seemed like bland “for or against” opinion-making aimed at avoiding careful study of Dylan. Seemed that way.  Overall, to organize 30 poets and have an attendance that swelled to at least 75 on a Friday night is a success.

–Steven Karl