Today, May 24 is the birthday of two poets, different in origins and influences, but both renowned. Joseph Brodsky was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1940. His father was kicked out of the army for being Jewish and the family fell into poverty. Brodsky started writing poetry at the age of 15. In his twenties, his poetry began attracting a large audience. The Soviet government eventually sent him to a labor camp for five years but because of protest, his sentence was commuted. He came to the U.S. and taught at several universities including the University of Michigan. The writer of not only poems but also plays and essays, Brodsky received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987 and became the Poet Laureate of the U.S. in 1991.
Bob Dylan, nee Robert Zimmerman, was born in 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota. His first musical influence was his parents who listened to the Grand Ole Opry but after hearing Little Richard on the radio, he wanted to play rock and roll. He was in a band through high school but when he went to the University of Minnesota and began hearing the traditional folk music of people like Odetta, he traded in his electric guitar for an acoustic one.
Dylan's influence on music and popular culture has been profound, spawning a golden age of social protest songs and a love for the clever, seemingly contorted Chagall-like word images he created. Dylan's move from acoustic protest to electronic, to country and blues also reflected the changing faces of American music. The Library has many of his recordings and his newest, Together Through Life, is on order. Who can forget, once hearing them, the first few lines of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and not smile at Dylan's universal empathy for the human condition?
Johnny's in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I'm on the pavement
Thinking about the government...
Look out kid
It's somethin' you did
God knows when
But you're doin' it again..