Poetry 101: Bob Dylan’s Lyrics Incorporated Into British National Curriculum

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The tireless debate surrounding the literary canon and the writers that legitimately hold a place within it rages yet again: British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion announced recently to the BBC that Bob Dylan’s lyrics will be incorporated into the country’s national curriculum. Three of Dylan’s songs will be printed in a booklet of educational material distributed to high school students for National Poetry Day, to be held on October 4.

The tireless debate surrounding the literary canon and the writers that legitimately hold a place within it rages yet again: British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion announced recently to the BBC that Bob Dylan’s lyrics will be incorporated into the country’s national curriculum. Three of Dylan’s songs will be printed in a booklet of educational material distributed to high school students for National Poetry Day, to be held on October 4. The songs selected were “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” and “Three Angels.” Students will also be asked to compose original works in Dylan’s lyrical style as a part of the day’s celebrations and activities.

Seemingly part of an effort to widen the appeal of reading poetry, and to dispel the notion that it bears no significance to modern popular culture, Andrew Motion says he believes this decision “will be a real help particularly to those people that find poetry… difficult or off-putting or irrelevant.” Choosing Bob Dylan as the figure to advance his cause is not particularly surprising, as Motion is a fan, and Dylan’s revolutionary influence upon the craft of songwriting is not really an issue up for debate. It is the nature of the choice itself that has generated some conflict. Critics of Motion’s decision invoke the argument of poetry versus song; to note similarities between creative techniques and language usage does not make them the same thing. Other individuals believe that placing Dylan’s work in a classroom detracts from its value within its intended context, and also the profound personal experience of discovering his mastery of expression outside the classroom. Certainly, Dylan never had ambitions of becoming part of the academic institution. Nonetheless, Motion’s efforts seem to be a bold and sincere attempt to illustrate the fascinating ways in which poetry and music play upon each other, at a time when the former hardly finds relevance outside of music or academia.

Thus, Bob Dylan is welcomed into that unlikely subgroup of the canon, in the company of T.S. Eliot or James Joyce; a group composed of writers-and now songwriters-who set out to rebel against it.


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