Someone said he had borrowed the suit he was wearing from his brother. The distinguished but declining poet from New Orleans was the special guest at a poetry series in Mobile called Second Saturdays at the Lumber Yard Café. He mesmerized the packed house that day with a book of poems in his hand, a glass of Scotch beside him and a microphone before him. That was Everette Maddox, mid-1980s.
I had first met Everette before then in his natural habitat, the darkened Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans late one night after JazzFest. He was holding court at the bar with his buddies and admirers, quoting poetry to them over the din of the crowd and music from the next room. Everyone stood as close as they could in order to hear him. “This is a rare man,” I remember thinking.
I will always be thankful to my friends Max Reed and Peter McGowin for introducing me to him. I was about to fly the corporate coop into the wide open spaces of music and freelance writing. Everette and others of his independent creative bent were heroes to me then, as they are today. It impressed me that he held songwriters in high regard. Respect from Everette didn’t depend on fame or “who you were,” it only mattered to him that you were writing. I was writing songs and we became friends.
We had a cheerful, fun friendship, not a deep, soul-sharing one. I never felt close enough to him to call him, “Rette,” as others did. But when we communicated in person or by postcard, I always felt that each of us shared an admiration for the other as people and as writers. As a performer myself I was immediately impressed with his ability to deliver a poem, an introduction or a passing comment in his uniquely entertaining way. If they were smart, other purveyors of the spoken word took mental notes when they heard him read. Everette wove syllables, sentences and the silence in between them into moments that made listeners forget everything else in the world or even within their own existences when he spoke.
Our conversations included reminiscences of his boyhood in Prattville, Alabama, mine in Mississippi and how much we both enjoyed Nashville. He once started a sentence I was able to finish when we talked about the beautiful view from Interstate 65 North just inside the Tennessee state line when the fields around Pulaski come into view. I always remember that exchange when I’m driving back from the Gulf Coast to Nashville.
Thanks to Peter’s suggestion, Everette began inviting me to perform at the long standing Sunday afternoon poetry readings he had founded at the Maple Leaf years before. He would usually have another songwriter or two on those days to add variety to the weekly spoken word event. It was a thrill for me to be a part of those readings and I’m honored that Nancy Harris, who leads the readings now, continues to have me back to sing my original songs on occasion.
Toward the end of his life, he worked feverishly to compile enough poems for another book. Hank Staples, the owner of the Maple Leaf who helped him and held his new poems, mentioned that Everette might like to do a reading in Nashville when it was finished. The notion of Everette staying with me in my apartment would be a possibility if a reading were secured. Everette had heard about the eclectic club on Second Avenue called Windows on the Cumberland, aptly named because of its tall windows overlooking the river. I had played there and said I’d be glad to help, if I could.
But Everette didn’t live to see the book published or to make it to Nashville. He died young but full of wisdom in 1989. When American Waste, Poems by Everette Maddox was published in 1993, another friend and Everette disciple, Helen Toye, sent a copy to my soon to be wife Gail and me as a wedding present. Her inscription reads, “OK, you two good ones, this one’s for you! All the best in your endeavor, Love, Helen.”
My favorite poem in the book is called Mail Box Blues. It’s about two mail boxes side by side talking to each other about a postcard made from a torn beer box, destination: New York. The postcards Everette sent to me only went to my one bedroom apartment in Nashville. But when I read them now, in a split second they take me back to a darkened New Orleans bar presided over by a somewhat inebriated poet casting a word-spell as broad as a Gulf Coast mullet net over those of us lucky enough to be caught in it.
Text and photos copyright 2015 by Les Kerr.