I don’t know how our friends at RealClearPolitics missed this column, but the best of the day must surely be the one by David Holwerk, the editorial page editor of the Sacrabmento Bee: “Poet of the people: Why Merle Haggard should be California’s next poet laureate.”
Holwerk makes Haggard sound more or less like a latter-day Woody Guthrie, appending the lyrics to “Mama Tried,” “Tulare Dust,” “Hungry Eyes,” and (the terrific) “Rainbow Stew” to his column. Holwerk acknowledges but discounts “Okie from Muskogie,” a song that seems to me to sit uncomfortably between the anthemic and the satirical.
To support Holwerk’s nominination of Haggard as California’s poet laureate, I would cite a song that gets about as close to poetry as the great traditonal folk songs do, “Kern River,” or a painfully self-revelatory gem like “Footlights.”
For a few songs that belie the politcal tinge that Holwerk attributes to Haggard, I would cite his paean to freedom and his derogation of “your so-called Social Security” in “Big City,” as well as his politically incorrect tribute to the working man in “Workin’ Man Blues.” Rocket Man would cite “My Own Kind of Hat,” Haggard’s politically incorrect meditation on language and life.
Haggard of course did not start out as a musician, much less a poet. He more or less started out in prison. As governor of California Ronald Reagan granted Haggard a full pardon in 1972, and Haggard hasn’t forgotten.
In any event, as Holwerk suggests, Haggard is the author of a large, complex body of work. Holwerk’s nomination of Haggard as California’s poet laureate is inspired. (Thanks to reader Mike Daley for sending us Holwerk’s column.)
HINDROCKET seconds the nomination: Anyone who thinks Merle is a liberal hasn’t listened to him much. “My Own Kind of Hat” is the most obvious of many counter-examples. Haggard for poet laureate indeed, but why stop at California?
UPDATE: Reader Joel Loeschman reminds us of Merle’s “Fightin’ Side of Me,” with this chorus:
Yeah, walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me.
Runnin’ down the way of life,
Our fightin’ men have fought and died to keep.
If you don’t love it, leave it:
Let this song I’m singin’ be a warnin’.
If you’re runnin’ down my country, man,
You’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me.