Basic Poetics – (Bob Dylan)

AG:  …That’s what (Bob) Dylan does with his..songs, he’s constantly shifting the accents around, as you notice, from year to year, as he reinterprets how to pronounce “Just Like A Woman” or “Like A Rolling Stone” or “Idiot Wind”. As he changes from year to year, he seems to go progressively towards the vernacular, less and less from oratorical long long long fake sound but more and more to try to pronounce it in its tones as if you were actually talking. I think “She breaks just like a little girl”, at first, and then “She breaks/just like a little girl”, that’s at one point. Later on, it gets more..  Does anybody notice that? – The progression of his pronunciation (though there are a lot of variations in that), it does tend more and more toward vernacular pronunciation as far as interpretaton as to how the lines should be done rhythmically. And that’s what gives it the strange new syncopation. Because, actually, in the back of the mind, there is the “She breaks/just like/a lit/tle girl” – which is actually the classical way – “She breaks..” – da-da/da-da/da-da/da-da – She breaks just like a little girl – “She breaks/ just like a little girl” (that syncopates it immediately) – “She breaks, just like a little girl” gives it a whole other thing. And he’s used all of those at one time or other. So, in every good poets’ ear there’s all those possibilities.

Student: Does he study this stuff, or is he just a natural?

AG: Well, actually, a long time ago, back in (19)68.. I think he’s a natural, but about 1967-68, he asked me to bring him books of classic stuff and so I brought along…Wyatt, some of this (early English poetry), (Sir Thomas) Wyatt, early ballads, Emily Dickinson, (William) Blake, (Arthur) Rimbaud, things like that, when he was sick, when he was in hold-up.. – A big library – we brought up to Woodstock, all the… about fifty bucks worth of  cheap interesting paperback books of  (Edgar Allen) Poe, Vachel Lindsay, you know, a lot of classics. And I noticed.. and then in (19)71, ((1970)), he had on his bookshelf a whole series of very elegant books called the Child Ballads. You know what those are? Those are the great classical collections of ballad..of..I’ve forgotten who the name..Mr Child put it together – a collection called the Child Ballads. I think I saw it was four or five volumes that he had – three, four or five volumes (he had the expensive set, I noticed – I was jealous because I never had them!)
So, yes, sure he reads. And, of course, a lot of that stuff came down anyway through the folksingers, through Pete Seeger and others. In the (19)30’s and (19)40’s, there was some – John Jacob Niles  – there was a revival of English folk song and ballad as part of the folk music revival, as part of the left wing Commie pinko folk-revival! So he got it that way if he didn’t get it out of books, but then he went to books too.

Audio for the above may be heard here begining at approximately sixteen-and-a-half minutes in and continuing to approximately nineteen-and-three-quarter minutes in

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