Page last updated at 10:13 GMT, Wednesday, 8 October 2008 11:13 UK

Dylan - poetic soul in shadow of guitar

Ralph McClean
By Ralph McLean
BBC Radio Ulster

Think of Bob Dylan in his prime and it's hard to shake the image of a poet trapped inside a rock and roll star's bony little body.

Contemporaries like Keef and Mick sought to play down their intellectual side and focus instead on the primal, Neanderthal lure of good old rock and roll with all the chugging of beers and chasing of women that entails.

But it always seemed that Bob was more likely to be found off in a darkened corner somewhere, long haired woman at his feet, wine bottle in front of him just rattling away at a typewriter pondering life's eternal questions.

There's just something about him, in that red-hot mid-60s period, that screams out poet.

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan never struck people as a school jock

Maybe it's the mad mop of frizzy teased hair topping off that spindly little frame that suggested he might just be better at scribbling out sonnets, than mucking in with the jocks and high school baseball sluggers.

Perhaps, it was the fact that he always seemed to be peering coolly from behind the darkest of shades and babbling chemically induced pearls of "wisdom" that did it.

Maybe it's just the fact he stuck more words together that rhyme better than most. Who knows? Whatever it is, the fact remains that poetry and Dylan just go well together. Always have done, always will.

It's one of the main reasons Northern Ireland has always had a very special relationship with the man and his music.

Audiences here love their poets you see and they simply love Dylan.

I've caught the man more times than is probably healthy, frankly, and the audience reaction here to him has never been less than hysterical, even when the artist himself has, on the odd occasion or two, barely faxed in his performance.

We just love what he does and that's a relationship that goes back to the halcyon days of the mid-60s. Dylan has been coming here since his infamous first electric tour and has returned more often than most.

We appreciate a well-turned phrase in this neck of the woods, and few nations acknowledge the value of a winning couplet quite as much as we do.

Bearing in mind we've also got more poets per square inch of land than just about anywhere else in the world and it's safe to say Dylan would probably fit in here very nicely indeed.

You can see his poetic champion glint in the eyes of Van Morrison and hear the earthy poetry of everyone from Ulster-Scots icon Burns onwards in his work.

It's there just as much as his oft-mentioned love of Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, and the great poets are arguably as big an influence on the man and his work as Woody Guthrie or Chuck Berry.

Literate, thoughtful and littered with intelligent word-play, his work has always led him to be acclaimed as a master of the written word and, while he may not always be comfortable with that label, that's the Dylan I'll be celebrating on my evening show this Thursday.

From the Burroughs-meets-Berry scattergun imagery of something like Subterranean Homesick Blues, to classic, socially aware work like Blowin' In the Wind, this is a chance to celebrate the genius of the man over two great hours of music and verse. Personally I can hardly wait to get stuck in.

Ralph McLean's Bob Dylan special can be heard on BBC Radio Ulster on National Poetry Day, Thursday, 9 October, at 2000 BST.

The programme is part of BBC Radio Ulster's Rhythm and Rhyme week, which runs from Saturday, 4 October - Friday, 10 October.



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