Tag: Politics

Sincerity, Sentimentality, and Country Songs: An Interview with Mike Young

'On the Road' / c. 1936

Mike Young lives up to his last name, and is more prolific than most. He often wears cowboy shirts.

12th Street:
You told me something this summer that has stuck out in my mind: Some people write poetry when they should be writing country songs. Can you talk more about this?

Mike Young: The country song is a terrific format for a certain kind of emotional distillation. Like if you want to write about dead people, failed dreams, steel wool, alcohol, ghosts. If you want shifting narratives and wordplay. Self-deprecation, even. Country music has all that in spades. And I’m not even talking about good country here. Just mainstream country like you’d see on GAC. Go listen to “Honky-Tonk Badonkadonk” if you think L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry doesn’t exist on the tobacco farm. Tony Tost can speak much better about this (and less glibly, probably), but I am totally not kidding.

What I really meant when I talked to you, though, was probably that there is an undercurrent of honky-tonk emotional angst sort of tucked away, embarrassed, beneath the flashy crust of today’s popular, cutesy, post-avant, soft surrealist poetry. What if these poets just sat down and wrote a dumb country song about how much they miss high school? Or, like, how much they love beer in the afternoon? Eighty percent of the poets I know love beer in the afternoon. So do country stars. What I’m asking for, I think, is more unabashed sentimentality, in both poetry and the afternoon. DFW is right: irony has pervaded/perverted culture. Let Dr. Pepper make their sly, ironic commercials; if you really want to be subversive and shit, acknowledge sentimentality and “take it back.”