Bob Dylan took centrestage at a Lit Live discussion on whether songwriters should be considered poets.
In a controversial decision, the Nobel Committee recently announced that it was giving the iconic American singer-songwriter this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature.
In a session titled Verse Case Scenario, novelist Martin Amis, poet, playwright and professor Simon Armitage, lyricist Prasoon Joshi and writer and filmmaker Paromita Vohra discussed the blurred lines that have culminated in this decision.
While Armitage and Amis underlined the distinctions between song and poetry, Joshi, citing ghazals, poets like Mirza Ghalib and the oral tradition, argued that, in India, the lines between the two were often blurred.
“Songs usually have emotional rhymes, cheesy lines and mixed metaphors. But poetry... is language in zero gravity,” Armitage said.
Amis, meanwhile, pointed out that while tragedy was higher up on the ladder than romance when it came to prose, the same did not hold true for songs and poetry.
On Dylan becoming a Nobel laureate, he was very clear: “Song requires collaboration, while all literature is soliloquy. With all respect to Bob Dylan, I think he’s just won the lottery,” Amis said, drawing laughter from the audience.
While agreeing that poetry and music overlap, the panelists concluded that their context, techniques and evolution were markedly different. Amis, for instance, stressed on the art of the line break in poetry, a feature whose importance does not come through in songwriting.
Prasoon Joshi elicited a round of applause for ending the session with his poem ‘Kya hai kavita’ (Hindi for ‘What is a poem?’):
“...Agar saralta se soche toh / do ghadi teher kar
Zindagi ki nadi ko behte hue / dekhna hai kavita
(If we really think about it then / stopping for two moments
And watching the river of life flow / that is poetry)