Electric Review

Culture & Criticism Since 2003

The Physiology of Mirrors

FOREVER WORDS: THE UNKNOWN POEMS. Johnny Cash. Blue Rider Press.

…the dogs are in the woods
And the huntin’ looks good

Johnny Cash (Page 46)

My father had many faces. There was much that made up the man.

John Carter Cash in his forward to Forever Words

Cover courtesy of Blue Rider Press.

“This man can rhyme the tick of time/The edge of pain,/The what of sane,” Johnny Cash once wrote in a poem in 1969 that eventually became the liner notes to Bob Dylan’s Country and Western classic, “Nashville Skyline.” Due to Cash’s brilliance as a singer-songwriter, these liner notes are often overlooked in relation to his vast body of work, almost dismissed as a ‘gesture’ between friends.

But looking back, those liner notes indeed require close inspection, for they show the other side of Cash’s psyche, presenting a glimpse into the mind of the poet who gave birth to all of those wonderful songs.

And that’s just why the discovery of Cash’s Forever Words: The Unknown Poems is such a major event in both the music and literary worlds. Forever Words is comprised of Cash’s unpublished poems, the pieces spanning the singer’s entire lifetime – from the age of twelve all the way to 2003 (the year of his death). Paul Muldoon, who stands as one of Ireland’s leading poets, edited the collection; while Johnny Cash’s son, John Carter Cash (whom he had with June Carter Cash), presents a poignant forward illuminating the deep family ties that are the true testament to Cash’s legacy.

Return to survey Cash’s incredible canon and you realize that songs like “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Five Feet High and Rising,” “Get Rhythm” and “Train of Love” are stark poems set to music and then brought to enduring life by Cash’s magical, big bass-baritone voice.

More than TV personality or entertainer, Cash’s life was about the emancipation of the spirit – the singer alone on stage, intent on freeing us from these fetid shackles of mental slavery. And the poet wrote:

I have been around
I have been on the incoming
And the outward bound
I came up from the fields
And I’ve been down on my knees
I have been visited by angels
While demons badgered me
(at page 75)

Reach back centuries and compare the work of Shakespeare and Blake, of Eliot and Rimbaud, of Ginsberg and Kerouac, and you see a common tongue intersecting each separate and distinct voice: Poem blooming to capture the invisible reflections of ghosts; echoes building into bells, burying all eyes in the naked physiology of mirrors.

And Cash wrote in 2003 in the year he died:

You tell me that I must perish
Like the flowers that I cherish
Nothing remaining of my name
Nothing remembered of my fame
But the trees that I planted
Still are young
The songs I sang
Will still be sung
(at page 59)

It’s now time to take the reins. And it’s now time to step forward, singing his songs. As Forever Words demonstrates, dead is not gone. The voice was meant to live on and on and on.

by John Aiello


One comment on “The Physiology of Mirrors

  1. Pingback: 15 Minutes With John Carter Cash | Electric Review

Talk to Rat:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on December 5, 2016 by in 2016, December 2016, In the Spotlight, Rat On Fiction & Nonfiction and tagged , , , .
In accordance with FTC Guidelines on blogging and product reviews, The Electric Review discloses that the books, records, DVDS and other products reviewed are submitted to us by publishers, record labels, publicity firms, artists, manufacturers and creators free of charge. The Electric Review further states that these entities and individuals submit materials to us of their own volition and understand that the submission of material is for discretionary consideration by the Editor and is not to be construed as to be in ‘exchange’ for a review.
The Electric Review does not serve as a ‘for-hire’ advertising vehicle and the submission of material for review creates no agreement either express or implicit requiring us to provide comment on a book, record, film, product or event. In sum, The Electric Review accepts no payment for the publication of a review. Instead, commentary is published as a free public service with reviews based solely on merit and the lasting classroom or cultural value of a given work: this compendium of essays meant to serve as an electronic library and on-going teaching resource surveying the 21st-century landscape.
Website copyright: John Aiello & The Electric Review. All rights reserved.
Violations of this notice are subject to sanction under United States Code: Title 17.
Reproduction of material from any Electric Review pages without the written permission of John Aiello or the named author is strictly prohibited.
%d bloggers like this: