—Norbert Krapf, Indiana Poet Laureate 2008-2010
From Lisa Zaran to Bob Dylan
If you are looking for someone who looks through Bob Dylan’s garbage for clues of heroin or other addictions, a gossip-monger who claims to speak with authority on his liaisons with women who are or were backup singers in his past, current, or future bands, a prophet who can sniff out the man’s next musical direction before he has discovered it, or someone outraged by his grand larceny theft of words, phrases, or lines from obscure or celebrated authors or songwriters, this is not your book.
If, on the other hand, you are open to a woman poet who loves the creative spirit of a male songwriter whose lyrics she finds to be poetry of the highest order, devotes herself to celebrating and exploring his mercurial and mystical love of his many muses, finds in his mysterious worship of the gods and goddesses of creative fire, spiritual growth, and artistic rebirth a model to be admired and emulated, but lives a quiet and often isolated daily life in the role of mother and nurturer whose highest yearning is to become a poet in what is often a spiritual desert, then this may be the book for you.
In a sense, these are a fan’s letters from someone who is no mere fan. It may irritate, shock or frustrate some readers that Dear Bob Dylan is not just letters to a celebrated poet-songwriter once named Robert Zimmerman from little Hibbing, Minnesota, whom she has never met, but is in effect a series of ongoing letters to the deepest part of her creative self she wants to summon, touch, awaken, and bring to full-throated voice. And that she speaks to the poet within herself by daring to address herself to the visionary Bob Dylan who so many claim to know better than they know themselves.
Part of the appeal of these letters is that a woman named Lisa Zaran, mother of two children she loves, holds a job that she does not revere until a change in career brings about devotion to a cause higher than herself, while lamenting the dissolution and loss of a marriage she cannot save, is such a passionate devotee of poetry and the kindred art of songwriting. This woman reads and celebrates the work of many authors, especially her beloved Portuguese poet Pessoa, author of The Book of Disquiet. She confesses that she “spend[s] every waking hour drunk on poetry.” She longs to become what she celebrates in others, the poet who creates works of art that inspire strangers and awakens them to the flame of their own creative fire.
In writing her secret love letters made public to one of the world’s most known about yet notoriously “mysterious” songwriters, Lisa Zaran dares to make herself vulnerable. She speaks as someone who knows her writing will not be read by the man who inspires her, gives her hope, and gives expression to her deepest self, yet she cannot stop herself from proclaiming her unrequited love of this man who speaks back to her only by continuing to write and perform his songs.
These “letters” become a grab-bag of forms, genres, and styles of writing. Sometimes they are letters in prose, sometimes, all or in part, they are poetry, sometimes they are that lovable but sometimes lambasted bastard child the prose poem. Sometimes they are hymns of praise, psalms, often they quote from poems, sometimes the Bible, even lines of songs. Sometimes they read as though they were or are addressed to God, a panoply of gods. Together they comprise an experimental memoir of her spiritual and emotional life. Sometimes they tell stories about a lost father whose absence still causes pain years or decades after his death. Sometimes, if not always, they are about a woman trying to find herself. “This is not love,” she asserts. “It’s voodoo.” Her goal: “I want to revolutionize my soul.” Her credo: “The heart knows everything.”
What we find and feel in these shifting letters, sometimes written to the woman who is writing them as much as the bard to whom they are addressed, is what we know is present in ourselves as readers. We yearn and search for spiritual fulfillment and dream of being able to give voice and artistic expression to this search that makes us continue to read books and listen to songs to fill the holes that we feel at the center of our being.
Lisa Zaran’s voice in these letters is capable of many modulations, sometimes in the same letter. How many Bob Dylans are there is the subject of an endless debate that plays in theaters and cities around the globe, decade after decade. Sometimes she speaks of her many Bob Dylans in veneration, sometimes in affectionate irony, as when she refers to him as “Mr. No More Sixties.” Sometimes she is confessional, as when she admits to a “soft lust” for him and brands him “Poet of my panties,” making fun of herself as a groupie poet. One time she even allows her teenage daughter to give her the ultimate put down, “You are so mom!”
Sometimes she is dead serious, full of piety, worshiping at the altar of high adoration. She is not above castigating herself for her faults, giving herself a good talking to. She admits to being lonely, but also to being at least half in love with solitude, a kind of Norwegian-American female poet Thoreau of the Arizona desert, looking out at the stars above as she sips wine and smokes a cigarette with the soundtrack of Blood on the Tracks perhaps playing in her mind. Once, early on, in 2005, the year she celebrates Being Reborn in Bob Dylan five years after falling in love with the dark, swampy strains and moods of Time Out of Mind, she even blurts to her amused husband, “I want a birthday present from Bob Dylan!” Let’s just say that one reason the Dear Bob Dylan letters, which can be quite intense, draw us in is that Lisa Zaran has an endearing capacity to laugh at herself.
As an admirer of Lisa Zaran’s poetry, especially her moving and courageous If It We, a collection about her son’s heroin addiction, one of the most impressive poetry volumes I have read in years, and her support of poets and poetry through her online Contemporary American Voices, I celebrate her coming out of her Southwestern shyness closet to publish these letters, some already available, here and there, online. We must give thanks that she expresses, so well and so bravely, her devotion to the sacred poet and songwriter in us all.
“Introduction © 2015 Norbert Krapf”