In a new review in the summer issue of Project Muse, Hassan Melehy discusses Timothy Hampton’s Bob Dylan: How the Songs Work (formerly titled Bob Dylan’s Poetics). Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the full review. An excerpt appears below:
“Hampton displays impressive knowledge of several fields, including major experimental trends in Western poetry (the French Renaissance, nineteenth-century French symbolism, the Beat Generation), and the history of blues, folk, and rock. He examines the formal aspects of Dylan’s compositions, how they draw on and rework poetic and musical precursors, how they engage the different sectors of their audience, how the singer reflects on and exploits recording and live performance. Bob Dylan’s Poetics is the best kind of scholarly book: Hampton doesn’t hold back on details or transciplinarity, and his sharply focused interest in the subject results in prose as lively as it is analytic.
Hampton orients his study around the songs. Though he eschews the temptation to foreground biography that mars so many discussions of Dylan, it’s indispensable at many turns: much of Dylan’s material is connected to his involvement in pivotal phenomena like the folk revival, the Civil Rights Movement, and their various aftermaths. Hampton begins with Dylan’s early folk albums, proceeds through his many permutations and affiliations, finishing with the albums leading up to his winning the Nobel Prize. In succinct chapter introductions, Hampton identifies the albums he will discuss. He finds a continuity in Dylan’s poetics from the start: though rear-view mirror commentary is easy, Hampton does far more, taking Dylan’s work on its own terms at each phase but also aware that everything we now know about Dylan can illuminate his achievements from early on.”