New poetry collection 'Visiting Bob' brings Dylan back home

Bob Dylan in 1963. Special to The Forum

FARGO — Bob Dylan hasn’t released a new album of original material since 2012, and with only seven dates, all in Europe, scheduled for 2019, his 30-year-long Never Ending Tour seems to be slowing down.

Still, the 77-year-old singer-songwriter’s words continues to inspire other artists.

“When I sit down and write, I often have other writers in my head, and the two most often are Bob Dylan and William Shakespeare,” says Alan Davis.

Davis teamed up with his former Minnesota State University Moorhead teaching colleague Thom Tammaro to edit the new book, “Visiting Bob: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Bob Dylan.” The two will discuss and read from the book Sunday, Dec. 9, at Zandbroz Variety, 420 Broadway N.

The book gathers 100 writers looking at different aspects of the singer’s life, from his upbringing in Hibbing, Minn., to his position as a cultural icon.

The cover of 'Visiting Bob' published by MSUM's New Rivers Press. Special to The Forum

Both editors are longtime Dylan fans. Tammaro remembers 1965’s “Bringing it All Back Home” and “Highway 61 Revisited” and 1966’s “Blonde on Blonde” as being life-changing, not just for him, but others of his generation.

“The language in those albums, no other writer at the time was writing like that,” he says. “It wasn’t ‘American Bandstand’ any more. No one danced to Bob Dylan. You had to listen to the lyrics.”

Tammaro had done similar projects to “Visiting Bob” in the past focused on poets Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams.

“They changed the landscape of poetry the same way Dylan did,” he says.

Tammaro started preliminary work on the book, but when his previous publisher said they were no longer interested in poetry anthologies, he and Davis talked about MSUM’s New Rivers Press printing the book.

The 427-page tome has already sold out of its first pressing and could be the biggest seller for the press.

Once New Rivers took on the project, Tammaro and Davis put out a call for poems about Dylan. They received about 500 submissions and winnowed it down to 100.

Tammaro had some poems already in mind and got the rights to print pieces by Johnny Cash, Patti Smith, Robert Bly, Charles Bukowski, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg.

Davis said one poet, John Reinhard, was thrilled not only to be published, but to be published alongside one of his idols.

“I can die happy now. I appear in an anthology with Johnny Cash,” Davis recalls Reinhard saying.

Sunday’s reading will feature former Fargo-Moorhead resident Deb Marquart reading her poem, “Dylan’s Lost Years,” which touches on the singer’s brief 1959 stopover in Fargo. It’s a true story, though the names of the musicians he played with here, Ward and Dick Dunkirk, were changed to Wayne and Dirk Danforth.

Dylan last played in Fargo in 2012.

Carol Kapaun Ratchenski will also read her poem, “Sing Out Bob, Loud.”

Former MSUM student and North Dakota State University professor Heather Steinmann’s “Suspicious Male/‘Ballad of a Thin Man’” is also included in the book.

Dylan’s own mixed feelings about his Minnesota roots helped fuel his art, says Davis, talking about the notion of Minnesota nice and Dylan’s dour demeanor.

“When you put those things together, something interesting comes out,” Davis says.

He points to Dylan’s reluctance to accept the Nobel Prize for literature, which only stoked the controversy around him winning the award.

“In Minnesota, it wasn’t controversial,” Davis says. “It legitimized songwriting as an enterprise. And the 1960s. He was one of us.”

“His genius is the ability to soak up all of this music and poetry,” Tammaro says of the songwriter dropping references and incorporating other works in his own.

“Visiting Bob” is a reflection of how good art leads to more good art and with a source like Dylan, the well of inspiration won’t dry up soon.

“There are 1,800 books on Dylan. They haven’t nailed the guy yet,” Tammaro says.

If you go

What: Thom Tammaro and Alan Davis discuss “Visiting Bob: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Bob Dylan”

When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9

Where: Zandbroz Variety, 420 Broadway N., Fargo

Info: Free and open to the public