Although many themes involved in contemporary American poetry grew and lived through one another, each poet used their own modernistic views on society, some pressured by life experiences, in order to personalize their writing. Two contemporary American poets, Bob Dylan and Simon J. Ortiz (both born in the year 1941) are able to express their desire for society to wake up and understand how change is needed to correct the wrongs that were currently being expressed by a large majority of general society. Both coming from backgrounds of folk music and country-western songs, Dylan and Ortiz understood how rhythm and lyric can impact and connect to a large audience. In both Ortiz’s poems and in Dylan’s it is easy to grasp a concept of beat and pulse and their poems become flowing lyrics, easy to remember and clearly examining a topic of discussion, generally a story involving a repressed society. Because of these poets’ backgrounds however, the change that they wish to revolutionize, while both going against established trends, is different.
Bob Dylan, both a poet and singer/songwriter, is able to “infuse his lines with the fresh and startling imagery, rich allusions, intense symbolism, and thematic complexity of enduring verse,” as said by Perkins, a literary scholar. Through his use of questioning and listing, Dylan is able to draw in a wide range of audiences, all of whom are able to relate to at least one of the audiences that the speaker is calling to. Themes of change are weaved and streamed into each poem or lyric that Dylan writes, especially through means of repetition and calling on to the reader. Questioning the obvious wrongs of society in the treatment of minorities, Dylan expresses how tired he is of waiting for the awakening of civil rights to take off and defend the rest of mankind.
In the poem, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Dylan asks questions to his audience in a repetitive manner that beats down upon the fact that the ill mannered treatment of minorities is continuing to be ignored. He is convincing his audience that society has shut out the obvious immoral and unjust actions revolving around slavery as well as in other discriminating laws and practices. Dylan often confronts government policies and officials in his poetry, invoking images of protest, revolution, and conflict against, “the man.” In “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” Dylan tries to create a singular force out of his diverse audiences, calling upon each background of people to stand together and gain the equalities and rights that each citizen of the country deserves and is allowed to. He uses his lyrics to be persuasive towards ethical, moral, social, and political change, revolutionizing masses of people through song and culture.
Ortiz, born an Acoma Pueblo Indian, writes of restoring and caring for wildlife and the Earth. He is able to see how the environment is changing because of man’s impact and cultural influences on the landscape and the wildlife. In the poem, “Vision Shadows,” Ortiz talks about his memories of a vision quest, the journey a Pueblo Indian takes before manhood, and how obvious the changes being made in the wild are, all because of man’s impact. The fact that man is trying to control and alter nature is disturbing to the speaker as he explains to the reader that he is able to hear the differences in the birds, skies, trees, and spirits. The author is demanding the rest of the population to understand how their actions can cause harm to the world that they are living in. It is clear to the reader that this poem expresses the need for change and the strong willed attitude by the author to lead the defense against the unlawful treatment and fear that man has caused to wildlife.
Ortiz goes on to explain that once one animal is gone, the cycle of life and will begin to disappear and dramatically change. For example in the line, “Jackrabbit is lonely and alone / with eagle gone.” (41-42), it is clear that depression and tonal shift of nature has already begun. In the final lines of the poem Ortiz writes, “It is painful, ailiee, without visions / to soothe dry whimpers / or repair the flight of eagle, our own brother” (43-45). As a reader, the final lines of the poem not only provide a moment of realization, but express the disapproval and guilt that man should feel towards pollution, forest fires, and other purposeful actions (as well as disasters implicated by man) that have effected and destroyed populations of wildlife and nature scenes. The use of the word “brother” has a very strong beat to it when I am reading this poem because I consider that word to hold a special meaning of relationship, dependence, and care. The implication that I am destroying and negatively affecting the lifestyle of my brother, not only acts as a point of realization, but also forces the reader to react and interpret the rest of the poem in a new light, now more connected to the words on the page.
After interpreting multiple poems by both Ortiz and Dylan, I find that I am able to relate more towards the styles of Ortiz due to his naturalistic references and understanding of how pace can affect the meaning and style of a poem. Because all of Dylan’s poetry are also songs, they are continually spoken “a tempo” or at a similar speed. However, with Ortiz’s poetry, the tone, pace, and rhythm of the poem is through the words and not through a coexisting, established melody. The fact that Ortiz is not afraid to use punctuation in order to abruptly stop, slow down, or speed up a line demonstrate his skills as a poet far beyond his choice of words. The realizations created by Ortiz allow me to consider my own actions to the Earth and how my choices affect endless numbers of other beings that also inhabit my surroundings.
Both Dylan and Ortiz can be considered prophetic voices through their poetry. I consider a prophetic voice to be a voice not only of reasoning, but of examination, change, and passion for that change. In their strong willed efforts to adapt new ways of treating people, animals, and nature in our surrounding world, Dylan and Ortiz create speakers of reason, expressing animosity towards societal ignorance and the unjust ways that people have learned to treat their surroundings. To both readers who have studied and who have not studied the literature of these two authors, the meaning is still clear and strong willed as it beats upon the drum for change.