Report by Christopher Rollason, participant


Bob Dylan imagined before his poet’s eyes ‘every bit of dust in the Oklahoma plains’ in ‘Hard Times In New York Town’, one of his earliest songs, and outsiders might have an image of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second city, as just another mid-sized mid-western town, scarcely distinguishable from a score of others – and best known to the wider world from the weepy Bacharach-David number ’24 Hours from Tulsa’ with which Gene Pitney stormed the charts in 1963.

Such a view, however, is wrong for a city that is today host to a multiplicity of arts venues, from the Gilcrease Museum with its remarkable holdings of Native American art to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and the Woody Guthrie Center. The latter has hosted the great folksinger’s archive since 2013: the young Dylan’s idol was, indeed, born in Oklahoma in 1912. It is therefore more than logical that the University of Tulsa should today also be the home of the Institute for Bob Dylan Studies, the Bob Dylan archive (operative since 2016 and open to scholars) and the Bob Dylan Center (planned to become the public face of the archive in 2022). Indeed, the traveller arriving at Tulsa’s airport is greeted by prominent posters of both Dylan and Guthrie, and Dylan has publicly endorsed Tulsa as the location for his enormous, multimedia archive.

Tulsa’s place on the Dylan studies map has now been further cemented by the World of Bob Dylan International Conference, held from 30 May to 2 June 2019 and spearheaded by the Institute for Bob Dylan Studies. The conference, its venues divided between the Hyatt Regency hotel, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and the Gilcrease Museum and its Helmerich Center for American Research, attracted a public of 500, 150 of whom gave papers. The organiser-in-chief was Sean Latham, Walter Professor of English at the University of Tulsa and director of the Institute for Bob Dylan Studies.

The ‘world of research’, as evoked by Dylan in his song ‘Nettie Moore’ from 2006, was amply gratified by the event. It included plenary lectures by the legendary Greil Marcus, doyen of American cultural studies and arch-priest of Dylan lore, and by music critic Ann Powers; a showing of film material from the archive; sessions explaining the archive project; and an evening with no less a Dylan collaborator than Roger McGuinn, who as a member of the Byrds made that group’s cover of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ a US/UK number one in 1965, and now shared reminiscences and performed Dylan compositions including that song (all four verses too!) and the lesser-known gem ‘Up To Me’.

Those giving papers included some of the foremost contemporary names in Dylan studies, and the range of subjects and approaches testified to the profundity and multifacetedness of Bob Dylan’s extraordinary writing. With so many contributors, it would be invidious to single out some and not name others, and I therefore refer the reader to the conference programme at: https://dylan.utulsa.edu/world-bob-dylan-symposium/program-2/. What I will say is that the papers were generally of high standard and the level of debate was of quality – this not to mention the multiple and vital fringe conversations that took place between Dylan enthusiasts, in the hotel bar and corridors.

The conference was complemented by the Gilcrease Museum with two excellent exhibitions: ‘Bob Dylan: Face Value and Beyond’, a selection of Dylan’s visual art, including a remarkable set of portraits; and ‘Shakespeare’s in the Alley: A Tribute to Bob Dylan’, an experience around hanging texts of the master’s lyrics, conceived by Wisconsin-based artist Skye.

The atmosphere throughout was warm and convivial, and the conference provided a unique opportunity for Dylan-related networking and sharing of knowledge. This remarkable event will indeed, like Dylan’s John Wesley Harding, have ‘opened many a door’!


Note: The paper I gave at this conference, “Dylan the writer at work: on the multiple versions of ‘Dignity’ and the two versions of ‘Ain’t Talkin””, is on-line at:




From 1998 to 2016, the Bob Dylan Critical Corner site was active,and published a large number of my articles on Bob Dylan. Today in 2019 and on the eve of the upcoming world Dylan conference in Tulsa, I have now restored some thirty of those articles to on-line visbility, on my personal site Yatra. I believe they are as valid today as they were when written – even more so in the light of Dylan’s Nobel – and I hope those reading this will consult or sample, and enjoy them!


The articles are collected under 3 urls at:

Lyric analysis – http://www.yatrarollason.info/files/BDCClyricanalysis.pdf

Book reviews – http://www.yatrarollason.info/files/BDCCreviews.pdf

Concert reviews – http://www.yatrarollason.info/files/BDCCconcerts.pdf




Just published is Volume 9, Issue I (2019) of the excellent JOURNAL OF THE ODISHA ASSOCIATION FOR ENGLISH STUDIES, edited ably as ever from Baleswar (Odisha, India) by Dr Santwana Haldar.

Included in this number are, among a wealth of material, articles on Amitav Ghosh, ‘The Hungry Tide’ (Somdatta Mandal), Rabindranath Tagore (Jaydeep Sarangi on ‘The Home and the World’; Asish Kumar Manna on ‘Gitanjali’), Dalit women’s writing (Nadjia Boussebha and Fewzia Bedjaoui), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Bharati Mukherjee (Wafa Berkat), Odiya women’s short stories (Subrata Debangana), Jhumpa Lahiri (Subhasmita Nanda),, and the teaching of English in Odisha (Subash Chandra Patra; Satyashree Mohanty). Prasanta Kumar Panda reviews Arundhati Roy’s novel ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ and Santwana Haldar reviews ‘Milkman’, the 2018 Booker-winning novel by Anna Burns. There is also creative writing, including an Odisha-to-English translated story, ‘The Sacred Banyan’ by Bamacharan Mitra.

This should be a fine number of the journal.

My own contributions to this issue are:

Review of Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Golden House”, pp. 158-161 (also on-line at:


(see this blog, entry for 1 February 2018)


‘Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and Carlos Fuentes’ “Aura”: the fantastic and the feminine in inter-American dialogue’ pp. 39-50 (paper presented at the 5th Conference of the International Association of InterAmerican Studies, Coimbra (Portugal), in March 2018; also on-line at: http://www.yatrarollason.info/files/PoeandFuentesPAPER2018.pdf;

(see this blog, entry for 27 March 2018).

Conference THE WORLD OF BOB DYLAN – Tulsa (Oklahoma), 30 May to 2 June 2019

I am pleased to advance the news that I will be taking part in the international conference THE WORLD OF BOB DYLAN, to be held from 30 May to 2 June 2019 at the University of Tulsa (Oklahoma), today a major centre for Dylan studies and seat of the Bob Dylan archive: 


Among the keynote speakers will be as major a Dylan critic as Greil Marcus: this will indeed be a key event in Dylan studies!

My own paper will be entitled: 

‘Dylan the writer at work: on the multiple versions of ‘Dignity’ and the two versions of ‘Ain’t Talkin”,

and in it I will be examining Dylan’s writing process with reference to two of his most challenging later-period songs.

Review of Ricardo Viel, ‘Um país levantado em alegria’ (20 anos do Prémio Nobel de Literatura a José Saramago)

Ricardo Viel, ‘Um país levantado em alegria’ (20 anos do Prémio Nobel de Literatura a José Saramago)

Porto: Porto Editora, 2018 – ISBN 978-972-0-03132-7, 177 pp.


The international conference held in Portugal at the University of Coimbra in October 2018 to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of José Saramago’s Nobel Prize for Literature was also the launchpad for two new books, both published by Porto Editora with the support of the Fundação José Saramago, the official foundation dedicated to the late author’s work  (cf. entries on this blog for 19 October and 20 December 2018). One of those books was a Saramago original, ‘Último caderno de Lanzarote’, the sixth and final volume in the series of the writer’s diaries known as the Cadernos de Lanzarote, covering the period of the Nobel; the other is the volume here under review, ‘Um país levantado em alegria: 20 anos do Prémio Nobel de Literatura a José Saramago’ (in English, roughly, ‘A nation rises up in joy: 20 years of José Saramago’s Nobel Prize for Literature’). The book is compiled, edited and introduced by Ricardo Viel, Brazilian journalist and director of communications at the Fundação José Saramago, and prefaced by the Portuguese author Eduardo Lourenço and the Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramírez. A Spanish-language version of the volume also exists, translated by Saramago’s widow Pilar del Río (‘Un país levantado en alegría’, Madrid: Alfaguara, 2018).

Saramago’s Nobel was a major cultural event, the first (and so far only) time that the world’s most prestigious literary award fell to a Portuguese-language writer. It was perceived across the Lusophone world as both a glorious triumph and a just reward for a language spoken by over 200 million people, whose literary tradition spans centuries and continents and includes writers of the stature of Portugal’s Luis de Camões and Fernando Pessoa, Brazil’s Machado de Assis and Clarice Lispector or Mozambique’s Mia Couto.

Ricardo Viel takes his cue for the title from a commemorative speech delivered in Saramago’s presence in Porto shortly after the Nobel, by the late doyen of Portuguese letters Eduardo Prado Coelho. The Portuguese critic declared that in the days that followed the epoch-making announcement, literature had ‘subido à rua’ (‘risen up to the street’), and further explained: ‘É possível, como se viu nesta semana, que um país se levante em alegria porque alguém ganhou um prémio de literatura. É possível que um escritor invente uma energia nova para a palavra “levantar”. É possivel que durante alguns dias a literatura tenha, como disse, subido à rua. Mas Saramago deu-nos a explicação: há momentos em que tudo parece possível, este é um desses’ (‘It is possible, as we saw this week, for a nation to rise up in rejoicing because someone won a literature prize. It is possible for a writer to invent a new energy for the words “rise up”. It is possible for literature, for a number of days, to have, as I said, risen up to the street. But Saramago has given us the explanation: there are moments when everything seems to be possible, and this is one of those moments’) (53). To this speech – and beyond it, ultimately to Saramago’s own novel title ‘Levantado do chão’ (‘Raised from the Ground’) – we may trace the title of Ricardo Viel’s study.

The author opens his narration with the great transformational moment on 8 October 1988, its prime mover being José Saramago, Portuguese novelist born in 1922, living on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, married to the Spanish journalist Pilar del Río and author of a string of distinguished novels including ‘Memorial do Convento’ (‘Baltasar and Blimunda’), ‘O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis’ (‘The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis’) and ‘Ensaio sobre a Cegueira’ (‘Blindness’). The new Nobel learnt of his award at Frankfurt airport, when just about to fly back home after attending the German city’s famous book fair. We retrace with Saramago his steps as he returned to the fair for the inevitable presentations and celebrations, with Pilar braced to attend the endless inquiries in Lanzarote. There is also a blow-by-blow account of the subsequent commemorations and celebrations, in Lisbon and then in Stockholm, and the Nobel ceremony itself: Saramago’s Nobel speech (previously published as a pamphlet by the Fundação José Saramago and also reproduced in ‘Último caderno de Lanzarote’) appears here in full. The book ends with a moving sequence of entries from the diary kept by Pilar del Río in Stockholm, testifying on a more personal level to the grandeur of the events.

Ample space is also devoted to chronicling the multiple tributes received by the Portuguese laureate, from the most exalted of fellow writers to the common reader. Recurrent is the theme of the Portuguese cultural sphere and the sensation that this is not merely Saramago’s prize but that of a whole nation, and beyond that, an entire literature, and beyond that again, a language of global reach: in his Nobel speech, Saramago reaches out to those who stand behind him, ‘aos escritores portugueses e da língua portuguesa, aos do passado e aos de agora’ (‘to the Portuguese writers and the writers in the Portuguese language, those of the past and those of today’), and recalls that ‘eu sou apenas mais um’ (‘I am just one more’) (163). Numerous letters and messages (emails or faxes), from Portugal, Brazil, Italy, Spain or Hispanoamerica, are cited in full, translated into Portuguese where necessary; photos of a selection of the messages, as well as of numerous newspaper front pages, appear as illustrations.

Ricardo Viel allows us to see in graphic detail, through verbatim quotations, how the literary and cultural establishment lined up to congratulate the new Nobel. Among those sending delighted messages were distinguished figures of a diversity of provenances, from the journalist José Luis Cebrián, founder of ‘El País’, to Jorge Luis Borges’ widow Maria Kodama, through to icons of Portuguese folk music such as Manuel Freire or Sérgio Godinho. For Brazil’s Jorge Amado the award was ‘esta vitória, sua pessoal e da literatura de língua portuguesa’ (‘your personal triumph and the triumph of literature in Portuguese’) (108); for Gabriel García Márquez, Saramago’s Nobel and the ecstatic reaction in the Spanish-speaking world confirmed his belief that ‘a literatura ibero-americana é só uma’ (‘Iberoamerican literature is a single whole’) (113); and from Mexico, Marisol Schulz, director of the Guadalajara Book Fair, declared it was ‘um prémio … para a literatura e para as causas mais justas da humanidade’ (‘a prize for literature and for the most just causes of humanity’) (114).

Other messages flowed in from the most varied sources: as Saramago himself put it in a collective reply, from ‘instituições do Estado, câmaras municipais, escolas, universidades, bibliotecas, meios de comunicação social e leitores em geral’ (‘institutions of the state, municipal councils, schools, universities, libraries, media organs and readers in general’) (81). There were also multitudes of more humble missives sent out in message-in-a-bottle fashion by admirers of Saramago’s work from whatever walk of life. Representative here is the secondary school teacher from São João da Madeira, a small town south of Porto, who confessed in her letter: ‘Hoje, agora que acabei de receber a notícia, ouso escrever-lhe sem sequer saber para onde endereçar a carta, sem saber se será lida’ (‘Today, now that I know the news, I dare write to you without even knowing where to address the letter, without knowing if it will be read’), yet also ventured to share with the Nobel himself how she had learnt the news in school, when a colleague knocked on her door (128). Her letter did arrve, as did others sent out into the blue, addressed only to, say, ‘Sr. D. José Saramago – Escritor [writer] – Lanzarote’ (85), which nonetheless miraculously reached their destination.

The atmosphere of celebration and national rejoicing that these pages evoke is contagious. More than one of Saramago’s readers even compare the Nobel moment to the 25th of April, the date of the revolution of 1974 that has become a national symbol: such were the sensations of the writer Luísa Ducla Soares: ‘De certa forma, lembrou-me aquela alegria total e espontânea do 25 de Abril’ (‘In a certain way it reminded me of the total and spontaneous joy of the 25th of April’) (97), and of the singer Carlos Mendes: ‘Aconteceu um novo 25 de Abril!’ (‘A new 25th of April has happened!’) (99).

Ricardo Viel affirms in his introduction that José Saramago’s Nobel has the status of ‘um galardão que foi recebido e celebrado como um bem comum’ (‘an award which was received and celebrated as a common good’), going on to declare: ‘Foi o Nobel da língua portuguesa, o Nobel de milhões de leitores de Saramago espalhados pelos cinco continentes. E também o Nobel de aqueles que, não tendo lido um só livro do autor, se reconheciam nas suas origens e forma de ver o mundo’ (‘It was the Nobel of the Portuguese language, the Nobel of millions of Saramago’s readers scattered across the five continents; and also the Nobel of those who, even without having read a single one of his books, recognised themselves in his origins and his way of seeing the world’) (16).

Saramago himself said in Stockholm, in response to a journalist’s questions after the ceremony, that among those whom he would wish to feel beside him at that moment were ‘os levantados do chão, aqueles que ficaram lá atrás na história’ (‘those raised from the ground, those who remained behind in history’) (69), implicitly connecting his own humble origins, and his characters of such origins like Baltasar and Blimunda from ‘Memorial do Convento’, with the wider popular struggle. This excellent volume, both informative and passionate, may be considered as a valuable contribution to the continuing study of a writer whose international recognition bears witness to his tireless commitment to the cause of literature and the wider causes of humanity.


Note added 13 September 2019:

This review has been published in Portuguese in:

Revista de Estudos Saramaguianos (online journal, Brazil), Vol. 10, No 2, August 2019, pp. 151-154; online at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1PxjdpcUS3avQIGx0Wm7MySP195JP_eXj/view

(see entry on this blog for 12 September 2019)

‘BORGES’ POE”: Emron Esplin’s ground-breaking intercultural study reviewed

Now published in: ES Review: Spanish Journal of English Studies (Valladolid, Spain), No 39, 2018, pp. 307-311 (on-line at: https://doi.org/10.24197/ersjes.39.2018.307-311)

is my review of:

Emron Esplin, Borges’s  Poe:  The  Influence  and  Reinvention  of  Edgar Allan Poe in Spanish America, The New Southern Studies, University of Georgia Press, 2016, pp. xi+239, ISBN: 9780820349053.

This is a fascinating and groundbreaking study of the convergence of two of the Americas’ most important writers in the fantastic, detective and essayistic genres, and brings together in one place information on Borges’ readings of Poe that was previously available only in dispersed or summary form.


Jorge Luis Borges famously wrote, speaking of Franz Kafka, that writers are the creators of their precursors, and certainly it is all but impossible today for anyone who has read Borges to read Edgar Allan Poe without the looming shadow of the great Argentinian. Poe’s presence in Borges is at the same time but a part of a wider phenomenon of the US author’s influence in Spanish America, extending to other celebrated writers such as Rubén Darío, Julio Cortázar and Carlos Fuentes. Equally, the Borges-Poe link is of a strength and solidity sufficient to justify the appearance, in the shape of the volume under review, of a book-length study.

The relationship between the two writers has been the subject of critical attention over time, the academic state of play as at the end of last century being summarised in a contribution by Graciela E. Tissera to the multi-author work Poe Abroad, edited by Lois Davis Vines and published in 1999. The extension and detail of Emron Esplin’s study reflect the multidirectionality of existing and potential Poe-Borges scholarship, in the light of the ceaseless revisits to Poe made by Borges across his writing career. The author is more than qualified for such a task, as coeditor of the collective volume of 2014, Translated Poe, which, as its title suggests, takes the internationalisation of Poe as its watchword.

There are multiple obvious similarities between the respective literary productions of Poe and Borges. Shared characteristics that might come to mind include: a cerebral and rational fascination with the bizarre and the fantastic; an emphasis on the literary work as made object or construct; and a career-long preference for brevity, for the short poem, the short story, the short nonfictional text (essay, prologue, review). At the same time, Borges’s comments on and use of Poe exhibit a marked selectivity. His interest in the American writer focuses primarily on three aspects: Poe’s detective fiction; his novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket; and his texts of literary theory, notably “The Philosophy of Composition.” (…)

In a caged world – reflections on Suzanne Bier’s film BIRD BOX

Bird Box by Suzanne Bier – Netflix film, 2018, with Sandra Bullock

Suzanne Bier’s film Bird Box shows us the collapse of civilisation into human-made chaos and the possibility of a return to more natural ways of being. It begins with the spread of a collective psychosis which begins in Romania and spreads to Russia and then via Alaska to the US. Those touched by the psychosis become suicidal and self-destructive, as symbolised by multiple car crashes.

The US President decrees a state of emergency, closes the borders and advises not using social networks. At one point a character declares: ‘Let’s make the end of the world great again’. These are virtually the only ‘political’ references in the film. It is in no way a direct allegory of Trump’s America, but it does symbolise dangerous tendencies in the contemporary world as a whole. The internet is not present and is scarcely mentioned in the film, and indeed the social networks are not used. Eventually the internet goes down altogether. Mobile phones appear only to witness failed communications. There is no-one at the other end of the phone.

The collective psychosis is not a stand-in for the internet as such, nor should it be seen other than superficially as something external or non-human evil. We can see it as representing the current trend to irrationality which manifests itself across the globe in different forms of fanaticism and extremism – political, religious or around group identity.

The caged birds appear first when found in a supermarket; until the end they seem more a symbol than a part of the plot. Finally when they are released we can see them as emblems of the spirit of freedom that is blocked by the psychosis and can only express itself if humanity once again becomes closer to nature. The return to nature is symbolised by water (the river; crossing the rapids reminds us of the difficulty of the challenge), by the children (whose anonymity as ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ signifies that only on the other side can they fully become themselves), and by the calm space, surrounded by nature, of the school for the blind, in which paradoxically it is possible to see what those who appeared to see have been blind to.

In this film we see humanity tearing itself apart in demented self-harm, in a process to which technology is not the solution. Only through the eyes of a child or of a blind person can the return be glimpsed to more natural and less destructive forms of human communication.