Friday, January 20, 2017

Poetry Review: FOREVER WORDS: The Unknown Poems

Johnny Cash
FOREVER WORDS: The Unknown Poems
Blue Rider Press / Canongate Books, 2016
144 pages

Johnny cash was much more than he seemed, as the “Man in Black” he acquired a reputation. Such a label does nothing but reduce his personality down to a dark and sombre state, which is drastically unfair. Indeed, as indicated by John Carter Cash’s forward, none of us really knew his farther. Most of all Cash was human; he had many layers, some of which his words began to reveal and some of which will never be known.

Whilst working my way through this collection, I couldn’t help but hear Cash’s voice in my head. I’m a big fan of his music, and I’m familiar with a large number of his tracks. Perhaps because of this it came through when reading in a similar metre. Some of the longer poems were eerily familiar. I could hear him singing with his strong pronunciation of certain words. It was a wonderful experience.
Of particular note for me was a poe
m called “Forever.” The title of this edition was clearly named after it, and it is the strongest one in here:

“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”

It was written just a few months before his death in 2003. And for me it says a great deal. He speaks to his creator; he questions his fate. Death is coming for him, as it does for all of us, and he spits in the face of his end. He may perish, but his songs will be sung. His name may diminish, his notoriety forgotten, but his songs will still be sung. At the day of his death he is still young. His body is old, and his heart heavy, but his songs are young. They will always be remembered. In a sense, he cheats death as his words enter the realms of immortality: the realms of forever.

To relate back to my original point of layers, as strong as this poem is, it stands in direct contrast to the track “Hurt.” The lyrics of this speak a different tale, of a man who would gladly put aside his “empire of dirt” and do things a little differently if given a second chance. This was released in 2002, and the point is he clearly felt conflicted things about his name and legacy. Just a year later his words sounded more accepting and resigned. Cash was a complex man; these poems do show a glimpse him no matter how brief or how fleeting it may be.

Due to the nature of the writing here, I only recommend this to those who are already familiar with the artist himself. If you are not a fan, this won’t be for you.


Bookworm Sean is a book obsessed English student who can usually be found over on Goodreads, raving about his latest read. Recently poetry has become one of his favorite literary forms of expression; thus he has started to read more and more of it.

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