The Oxford American Music Issue 2010

I haven’t listened to the music yet. But where is Hank?! (I was looking for that picture of Hank where he’s sitting next to the gal with her panties just barely showing, because I just think it’s so cool, but I couldn’t find it. So, the OA issue is missing Hank and this post is missing him, too.)

But I came over here to rave about the poetry in the issue. Holy shit. “The Denunciation of Ricky Skaggs from On High” by Steve Scafidi is the kind of poem that actually feels like something you should read standing outside of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Basically, it’s a poem written from the point of view of Jesus about Skaggs going soft. The ending goes “No more sweetness Ricky. /You are not a bee. There is a broken down/ burning house inside the soul and someone /in the window waves. It is me. Dammit /Ricky, do something. Sing something true/ the way you used to. Heaven is not a given.”

Seriously, just read that out loud, slowly, and listen to how he puts together words. It’s amazing. Look at all those “s”es. Or consider how he uses rhyme for emphasis. You’ve got “sweetness,” “house,” “inside,” “soul,” and “someone” all with those whispering “s”s and the “window” “waves” long sounds that are allowed to linger, but punctuated by “bee” and “me.” Then those same sounds again, but with more urgency–“sing,” “something,” “way” because of the repetition of the “oo” sound in “true,” “you,” “used,” and “to.”

I couldn’t, in a million years, put together something that just right. I would not even know how to start.

And then there are two really great poems by Amorak Huey, who, according to his website, lives in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is immediately east of where I was born, one million years ago. There’s something nice about a poet who plays fantasy football. Anyway, they are both very good, but I really like “Brown Glass Bottle,” which is about a guy who wins back Robert Johnson’s soul from the Devil in a card game and attempts to return it. Look at this part: “Heavier than you’d think, / the bottle, and warm like a newborn’s hands./ Not fragile: / resting in a pocket with the comfortable weight of a creekrock,/ belonging in the way that only something stolen can.”

Woo, I like that. It ends on a nice moment like that, too, but throughout it’s just this really rich, dense poem with all these words that conjure whole scenes in short syllables. It doesn’t lend itself as easily to talking about in one small bit in order to get a sense of the whole like the Scafidi poem does and I’m not going to retype the whole thing here both for copyright and lazy reasons. But it’s worth searching out the OA to take a look at it.

Maybe I’m just in a mood, but both of these poems feel really vital in a way that makes me love them. They feel important not for high-faluting artsy reasons, but because they feel like magic, like they tell you something true in a spell that works even though you barely understand what the words mean. They feel like poems you should read out-loud so that you can hear them.