Notes: Reprint of the original, after 10 years out of print. The first edition did not have "poems" in the title of the book.
Title page text: This is a work of fantasy and imagination. (Also in the first edition of the book.)
Back cover text: Tarantula is a poetic work that shows Bob Dylan at a point in his artistic evolution when word play and the exploration of spontaneously occurring ideas came as naturally to him as breathing. An essential volume for those seeking further insight into Dylan's creative process, this book of poetry opens the door to an engaging and thought-provoking free-verse world in which to lose oneself. (With a Tarantula hanging down the middle of the page on a single strand of spider's web.)
ISBN: 0-312-10554-1; $12.95 US, $17.99 CAN, pbk
Reviews: See Notes on Tarantula by Nate Smith, Stephen Scobie, & Joe Cliburn. John Bauldie also wrote a
fourteen page article on the book in Telegraph 41, Winter 1991.
From the dust jacket of the first edition: This is Tarantula. It is Bob Dylan's first book, the only book he has ever written. It is a work of power and imagination, a fantastical journey through our life and times. You may wish to read it through more than once, for it is not easy to get it all the first time. It is filled with word play, with peaks of brilliance and fields of humor. It is the plain truth and the complicated truth; it is very sad and sometimes so funny that you may laugh out loud. Tarantula was written in 1966. Now that it is, at last, being published, it is easy to see why The New York Times long ago called Bob Dylan the "poet laureate of young America." Since that time we and he have seen many writers and other culture figures make their brief statements and then leave. Bob is still with us. The strength, the variety, the richness of his words and ideas prevail.
When Bob Dylan plugged in his guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he demostrated to a generation that intelligent music can take popular form, and that popular music need not be devoid of intellectual content; the Beatles, for example, went from the bubblegum of 1964's "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to "Norwegian Wood" in 1965 and "Eleanor Rigby" in 1966, a transformation for which the Beatles readily acknowledged Dylan's influence. Similarly, Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" banished forever the notion that a pop single could not be more than three minutes long, and poignant at that. Dylan elevated the form of young people's music, as defined by the broad label "rock and roll," transforming it into a medium for a youth culture that was exploring its own idiom and felt it had something to say. The sixties had begun in earnest.
Of course Dylan, who has always tread the thin line between icon and iconoclast, did not long stay a part of what he had wrought. Just as he had left the folkies in the dust at Newport in 1965, eschewing finger-pointing protest songs for the imagistic verbal montage of his first electric albums, he confounded expectations by releasing the understated acoustic album John Wesley Harding in 1968, when psychedelia was at its apex. In one way, though, he did remain connected with what he had precipitated: By wedding high and low culture he made plausible his own place in the canon. He was by no means the first to achieve this marriage, but when he arrived in the sixties, he was the first in some time to do so. Like the beats before him, he liberated culture for a time from academia's high tower.
Which brings us back to Tarantula. This is a book of urban poetry, filled with street characters and popular figures, where Aretha and James Cagney coexist with beggars and petty mobsters and truck drivers. And Bob Dylan. His poems are cut from the same purple cloth as "Desolation Row," "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" and "Tombstone Blues," songs from some of the most inventive albums ever recorded, employing many of the same leitmotifs and images, resonating with the same tone. The two forms can be better understood with access to both, and it is in the interest of deriving a richer appreciation for Bob Dylan's sung and unsung poems that we offer again, Tarantula-- with the original publisher's preface intact. Dylan's influence upon our language, our music, and our aesthetics compels us to do so.
Bob would visit our offices occasionally. It was hard for him to travel in broad daylight in those times, even to our odd 12th Street and Fifth Avenue building, a marvelous structure with a marble staircase and thick walls covered with portraits and photographs of people like W. B. Yeats. We had published his first book too, all his books in fact.
One day when Bob appeared the receptionist at the big oak desk decided she didn't care for the look of him and phoned upstairs to see if it was all right to allow him to enter. It seemed funny then, because there were very few places in which he found himself unwelcome. He would go in and people would look and whisper and stand back. They thought it was poor form to press him. They didn't quite know what to say to him anyway.
We talked about his book, his hopes for it and what he wanted it to look like. And what he wanted to call it. We knew only it was "a work in progress," a first book by a young songwriter, a quickly famous shy boy who sometimes wrote poetry and who was having an odd effect on a lot of us.
We weren't quite sure what to make of the book--except money. We didn't know what Bob was up to. We only knew that good publishers give authors a chance to catch up with themselves. Robert Lowell talks about "free-lancing out along the razor's edge," and we thought Bob was doing some of that.
We worked out a design for the book that we liked. Bob liked it too, and we set it up. We also made up some buttons and shopping bags with a picture of Bob and the word Tarantula. We wanted to call everyone's attention to the fact that the book was being published. We wanted to help Life and Look and The New York Times and Time and Newsweek and all the rest who were talking about Bob. We brought a set of galleys to him so he could take one last good look at it before we printed it and bound it and started to fill all the orders that had come in.
It was June. Bob took a break from some film-editing he was doing. We talked a little about the book and about Rameau and Rimbaud and Bob promised to finish "making a few changes" in two weeks. A few days after that Bob stopped working. A motorcycle accident had forced him into a layoff.
The book might have been published just the way it had been left. But we could not do that. Bob did not want that. Now he was not ready to "make the changes." It was nothing more than that.
Time went by and the year came to an end. Some people were furious. Where was this so-called book? He had promised. The Macmillan Company had promised. They even had made those buttons and shopping bags, and there were some left over that people were snitching from the warehouse and selling because they had Bob's picture on them and maybe a picture would be better than the book anyway.
There were also a few sets of galleys that had gone around to different people who were being given a preview of the book. These advance review galleys are made of every book. Sometimes they are loose and sometimes they are bound up with a spiral binding.
More time went by. There were still many people who talked about the book and wondered when it would come out. But it couldn't come out unless or until Bob wanted it to. He didn't.
The more time that went by, the more curious and furious some people became. Doesn't matter that it's his work, they said. Doesn't matter what he wants, they said. What right has he got anyway. And so they managed to get hold of a copy or two of those galleys and they started to make some copies of the copies. They sold even better than the buttons had.
Some newspapers saw that this was happening and decided to print parts of the book and long reviews and speculations and denunciations. Bob didn't like this idea and neither did we. We know that an artist has the right to make his own decisions about what happens to his work. And a publisher should protect this right, not abrogate it. Everyone should know this. You don't take what doesn't belong to you, and the only thing that truly belongs to us is our work.
Poets and writers tell us how we feel by telling us how they feel. They find ways to express the inexpressible. Sometimes they tell the truth and sometimes they lie to us to keep our hearts from breaking.
Bob has always been out ahead, working in ways which can be hard to understand. A lot of what he wrote then in Tarantula doesn't seem so hard to understand now. People change and their feelings change. But Tarantula hasn't been changed. Bob wants it published and so it is now time to publish it. This is Bob Dylan's first book. It is the way he wrote it when he was twenty-three--just this way--and now you know.
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Last updated: 12/14/96