When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, the legitimacy of his award was debated widely among the writers of “real” literature. According to The Washington Post, at least, most of the important living American poets welcomed the announcement. Billy Collins was generous:
Can song lyrics qualify as poetry? The real acid test demands that the lyrics hold up without the music, just the words on a piece of paper. That’s how poems come to us, after all. Ninety-nine percent of song lyrics fail the test, even though the songs themselves may be terrific. Dylan is the rare exception; for decades, he has gotten one of the very few A’s.
Personally, I don’t hold songs (or even a lot of straight up attempts at poetry) to such high literary standards. Me, I agree with Bob Dylan, “If a song moves you, that’s all that’s important.” For me, the lyrics are always a critical piece, but the performance and the sheer weirdness of an effort can touch my soul. In yoga, we say “Namaste” as an acknowledgement and reminder that inside we are all the same, the light in me honors and acknowledges the light in you. I see YOU. But that light can be expressed in an endless variety of ways. And I admire and am inspired by the fearless, out there EXPRESSION of whatever it is that your light needs to say. The rawness and the audacious, unselfconscious performance of something deeply felt—however it comes out —is also part of what makes spoken word so powerful.
Here are a couple of performances that move me.