A gifted poetry critic takes on the lyrics of rock bard Bob Dylan.
Ricks (Humanities/Boston Univ.) has penned tomes on Milton, Keats, Eliot, and Tennyson, but he has long been fascinated by Bob Dylan: His 1984 essay “Clichés and American English” was a much-lauded textual reading of the singer-songwriter’s work. In this ambitious and intellectually freewheeling work, Ricks takes a full-length look at the poetic and moral underpinnings of Dylan’s songs. Selecting tunes both well-known (“Positively Fourth Street,” “Lay Lady Lay”) and obscure (“Clothes Line Saga,” “Handy Dandy”), Ricks analyzes them lyrically and structurally in terms of their relationships to the Seven Deadly Sins, the four virtues, and the three heavenly graces. This approach is sometimes strained, and some of the songs don’t sustain the author’s thematic scrutiny. Ricks nonetheless proves to be a lively and learned guide through the sometimes-daunting thickets of Dylan’s compositions. He is especially astute at picking apart the musician’s rhyme schemes and turns of rhythm, and he is an especially lively and (surprisingly, for an English poetry scholar) playful guide through the mechanics of the work. A chapter doesn’t pass without some deft and amusing allusion to other pertinent numbers in the Dylan canon. But the author is less skilled at discussing the meaning and moral weight of the songwriter’s oeuvre. Unlike most Dylan pundits, he completely eschews a biographical reading of the texts; while that might open the door for a fresh consideration, Ricks’s interpretations often seem too open-ended and airless. The reader—especially one with a nonacademic bent—may ultimately wonder for whom this was written. Its length, intellectual density, and plentiful citations of poets both ancient and contemporary will probably put off all but the most devoted Dylan enthusiasts, while poetry buffs will likely ask themselves if a musician, even one of Dylan’s caliber, is worthy of something as weighty as this.
A diverting and occasionally revelatory stroll through a master’s work, but one that will have a difficult time finding an audience.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)