Poetry is the most popular art form

Der brasilianische Autor Ricardo Domeneck schreibt über den Nobelpreis

Apologies in advance, but this subject is very close to my heart, so I might be returning to this a few times this week:

An anecdote first: I had been asked to write about the new Nobel Prize winner for Deutsche Welle as soon as it was announced, but I knew I would be in a car driving through the Alpes from the small village of Aiglun to Grenoble (where I perform tonight), so I tuned in the radio on „Culture“. The reception was terrible, the news were in French, every three seconds there was nothing but static, and everyone in the car was helping me, trying to make out the name. I seemed to catch a French-pronounced „Dilán“ and went „That can’t be Dylan Thomas, so it must be Bob Dylan!“. My friends in the car were incredulous, but I knew the man had been on the list since the 90s. We weren’t sure till my friend Joshua Leon sent me a text message that read simply „Bob Dylan“, as I had asked him to please do in case I missed the announcement. So there I was, driving through troubadour country, when Dylan was announced as the winner. First, I confess, I was just relieved, cuz that was someone I could write about even in a hurry. So my fellow travelers were kind and understanding, and we stopped the car in a small village called Mallemoisson and found a hotel/restaurant with internet so I could write the article and send it. In troubadour country. Would my reaction have been different if I were in minnesänger country, or literatura-de-cordel country? Probably not.

Irony that has not escaped my love for sarcasm: The author of „Masters of War“ has just received the highest literary accolade financed by DYNAMITE money. But that irony takes place every year when they award the Legacy-Make-Up-for-Alfred-Nobel (Peace) Prize. Of course, except when they awarded Barack Obama while he was waging war in a few countries.

And as Jörg Piringer has said: a recorded poet wins the Nobel, welcome to the 21st century!

So, yes, I am happy, not exactly for Bob Dylan, who does not need this prize (his work is loved, his legacy is secure), but for the recognition of the survival of the oral tradition among us. As I always say: poetry is the most popular art form in the planet, it has always been and will always be: but the poetry of the oral tradition, because the population of the planet never left it despite the silly fallacious historical narratives of old academics trying to say it died among us with the shipwreck of the troubadour tradition during the turmoils of the Great Plague. Nonsense. Sheer nonsense. The oral tradition is alive and well, while people discuss the „death of the novel“. What? You just arrived, dear novelists, a few of centuries ago and you’re already tired?! We poets have been working for millennia!

But Dylan does not need this prize, and here is where there is a catch for my joy: does the Swedish academy realize the world is bigger than its Northwest? Yet another white man composing in imperial English?

So, yes, I am happy, but not quite. Yes, yes, I know it is just a prize, it doesn’t mean much. But well, actually it does. These things have a lot of power: power that could be used to save things which are important and we are losing.

Let us forget about nations for a second. I do not care about nations, and therefore I don’t really care about national literatures. Yes, Sweden is a farm with 1 king plus 9 million subjects plus 7 Nobel prize winners in Literature. Brazil has 1 non-president plus 200000 subjects + 0 Nobel prize winners in Literature. There are more people in a couple of neighborhoods of São Paulo than in the entire country of Sweden, but as far as literature in the eyes of the Swedish Academy is concerned, Brazilians could all be trees. But, this is again talking in terms of nation.

What matters is language. What languages have won the prize? Here is the list (everyone loves lists):

English 27
French 16
German 13
Spanish 11
Swedish 7
Italian 6
Russian 6
Polish 4
Danish 3
Norwegian 3
Chinese 2
Greek 2
Japanese 2
Arabic 1
Bengali 1
Czech 1
Finnish 1
Hebrew 1
Hungarian 1
Icelandic 1
Provençal 1
Portuguese 1
Serbo-Croatian 1
Turkish 1
Yiddish 1

Let’s not even get started in terms of gender and race, cuz this will get embarrassing for the blonds up there in the farm. I mean, the Academy has turned their eyes to Africa 3 times. Twice, they managed to award white writers. I mean, with all due respect to Coetzee, who will argue this was an unquestionable choice?

We are losing languages and all the epics and lyrical poems therein at a maddening rate. Imagine all the Odysseys and Popol Vuhs we have lost FOREVER!

Imagine if the Stockholm academics scanned the world looking for poems and works we are overlooking, bringing these works to our goldfish-attention span, instead of getting all excited once a year about being on TV and having dinner with the King and a famous writer.

But the mentality of the Academy is still a 19th century mentality, it is colonialistic and at this point we can call it nothing short of downright racist.

I am probably killing my chances here, but oh well, with the melting of ice in the poles Stockholm will be under water anyway by the time I get to the right age.

3 Comments on “Poetry is the most popular art form

  1. Pingback: NOBLE POEM | 中国大好き

  2. yes, the music of jimi hendrix. dylan is honored as tip of the iceberg, should be chuck berry and many others at the same time. preferably african brazilian women. yes, manunkind maybe doesn’t always deserve something poor ricardo doesn’t always get, maybe. pity. oh yes.


    wish I could write a noble poem
    a prized noble poem
    a swedish prized noble poem
    a norwegian prized noble poem
    pricey and noble
    like norwegian beer
    everything becomes pricey and noble
    unless global warming
    comes fast enough

    MW October 2016


  3. sounds a little dylanesque, actually. masters of war, yes. dynamite. 伊沙 has a great little nobel dynamite poem. from 1992. we had a reading here in vienna yesterday in our new housing cloes to the new central train station. we have a library downstairs. run by people from our house, we are there often. open to other houses, gudrun and peter built a stage, and we have theatre. and we had a bob dylan night a few months ago. masters of war is a little like my poem X&Y. x was cruel/ butt is sore/ y was able/ and suave./ both loved culture/ both destroyed/ hundred million/ butts are cold. written march 2007 in beijing. yes, nixon and kissinger, mao and zhou, maybe there is a pair like that in brazil? only six or seven swedes in over 100 years of a great swedish prize for literature is actually not very much, is it? wonder if ricardo brazil/domeneck/africa ever read tomas tranströmer. oh well. pity this busy monster manunkind/ not. progress is a comfortable disease:/ your victim (death and live safely beyond) plays with the bigness of its littleness …[…] pity poor flesh and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this fine specimen …. listen: there’s a hell/ of a good universe next door. let’s go. there must be some way out of here, said the joker to the thief …

    yes, the music of jimi hendrix. yes, he deserves something poor ricardo doesn’t always get, maybe. pity.


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