Bob Dylan – Literature or Not? The debate rages, but my view was set way back in 2008 during an argument. I said that he was the greatest poet of the 20th Century. She thought I was mad and said Khalil Gibran. For me the key phrase there is 'of the 20th century'.
If you look at some of the great 20th century poets (at least I think they're great) such as Muir, Sassoon, Betjeman then much of Dylan's work definitely bears comparison.
War - e.g. Edwin Muir - The Horses was post-apocalyptic. Compare that with 'Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall’, ‘Talkin’ World War III Blues’. Vietnam and the military-political complex – ‘Masters of War’ says it all.
Then there are the themes of Civil Rights – ‘Oxford Town’. There have been so many injustices done to racial minorities in the US and, for example, ‘Hurricane’ paints this theme well.
People get hung up on his musical style(s) and his voice certainly doesn’t help, but it is the words that matter – the poetry. Certainly the musical form requires some repetition in choruses, but BD is well known for varying the chorus.
Many of his early songs were formed around stories he uncovered by reading newspapers in small town libraries. Therefore he is, I believe, one of the greatest chroniclers of the 20th century’s dominant themes - at least in the US. OK he missed WWI which, sadly, is where Sassoon’s chronicle ended, but Dylan is definitely a poet of our times.
But then, who am I to comment - I barely passed Eng Lit at O level? I leave comments to the citation of the Nobel Committee.