People say that poetry has gone out of vogue. I’m not sure if that is true. But it is true – at least by my way of thinking – that the poetry of the 21st century has kind of left me behind like most of the rest of the cultural norms of this century. I’m a 20th century man who has overstayed his welcome, I think.
A few years ago, I was nominated for an award as one of Georgia’s favorite authors. It was a slow year, I guess. We had a nice reception and the guest of honor was a poet from Georgia who now lives and writes in New York City.
He sat on a stool and read what was supposed to be poetry. It was horrible. It was so blasphemous and putrid and full of foul language that I couldn’t sit in the room and listen. This person made the guy who did the halftime show at the national championship game sound like Conway Twitty.
Which brings me to what I have to say today in the first place.
There are still some great poets out there and a lot of them are writing country music songs. If you don’t think Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson are poets, you just haven’t been paying attention. How is it they describe country music? “Three chords and the truth?” Oftentimes “the truth” in the stories that make up country music songs is related in some of the most poetic lines ever penned. Consider a few with me.
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
Kris wrote that one. It’s from “Me and Bobby McGee.” And it’s not even the best line in the song. That would be “I’d trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday …”. I’ve had days like that. I bet you have too.
“I’ll be looking for 8 when they pull that gate and I hope that judge ain’t blind.”
Terry Stafford wrote those words. George Strait made them famous.
“Well I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that it didn’t hurt. The beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more for dessert. Then I fumbled in my closet through the clothes and found my cleanest dirty shirt …”.
That was Kris again. Poor genius.
“She put him out like the burning end of a midnight cigarette.”
Tell me that doesn’t paint a picture in your mind. We’ve all been there, or at least most of us. The song, written by Whispering Bill Anderson, who once lived in Scottdale, Ga., is called “Whiskey Lullaby” and also contains, “He put that bottle to his head and pulled the trigger.”
Walt Whitman ain’t got a thing on Whispering Bill.
It’s one thing to pick a special line or two out of a song and call it iconic, but I think that the best country music song ever written doesn’t have a single wasted line.
“He said, ‘I’ll love her ‘til I die.’ They told him, ‘You’ll forget in time.’ As the years rolled slowly by, she still preyed upon his mind.” And so forth and so forth and so forth.
“He stopped loving her today. They placed a wreath upon his door. Soon they’ll carry him away. He stopped loving her today.”
Booby Braddock and Curly Putman are the poets who penned those words, but I don’t know if any of us would have ever been aware of them without the haunting voice of George Jones to bring them to life.
Let’s don’t forget recently retired Kenny Rogers while we are remembering poetic country lyrics. “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”
Actually, that whole song is one great line after another.
“Son, I’ve made a life, out of readin’ people’s faces, and knowin’ what the cards were by the way they held their eyes. So if you don’t mind my sayin’, I can see you’re out of aces, for a taste of your whiskey, I’ll give you some advice.”
“Somewhere in the darkness, the gambler he broke even …”
Credit where credit is due. Don Schlitz is the songwriter.
Shoot, y’all can have Claudia Rankine and Charles Simic. I’ll take Willie Nelson anyday.
“Roll me up and smoke me when I die.”