Accidental poet

Maple Leaf Rag: A New Orleans Poetry Anthology – 40th Anniversary Edition

As a songwriter, I hardly ever think of the words I write being presented without music to accompany them. But every now and then, someone else sees value in my words without having music attached. It is an honor to me when that happens.

Several decades ago, Everette Maddox, a legendary New Orleans poet and character, and I became friends. He invited me to perform my original songs at his weekly poetry reading at the Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans. That was the beginning of some beautiful friendships that I am proud to maintain today. After Everette died, Nancy Harris took the helm of the weekly reading. A fine poet herself, Nancy has extended the courtesy of an invitation to sing at the readings for many years.

A few years ago, John Travis, another New Orleans friend, asked me if he could include a few of my lyrics in Maple Leaf Rag: A New Orleans Poetry Anthology, a periodic book he publishes. I was honored and immediately said, “Yes!” Now, two of my song lyrics will be included in the 40th Anniversary Edition of Maple Leaf Rag. Again, I am surprised and proud that John thinks enough of these words to include them without the music attached.

Here are the two pieces: Below the Level of the Sea, inspired by New Orleans, itself, and Inspiration and Bar Scotch, whose inspiration was Everette Maddox. Song links are also included, in case you’d like to hear them, as well.

Thanks for reading and listening. As for me, I’ll keep on writing.

Below the Level of the Sea

The Maple Leaf Bar is down on Oak Street                                                                                         That always seemed ironic to me                                                                                               ‘Cause there ain’t no “Oak Leaf Bar” over on Maple                                                                   But I guess that’s just the way it’s meant to be                                                                                  This is a crazy, mixed-up town; the dead are buried above the ground                                  And a funeral is a party, yessiree                                                                                                    You may have lost a life-long pal but soon you’re struttin’ down Canal                                       You know, we do it all Below the Level of the Sea

Tennessee Williams used to live here                                                                                               He rode that streetcar named Desire to irony                                                                          ‘Cause there ain’t no “Louisiana Williams” living up in Memphis                                           But I guess that’s just the way it’s meant to be                                                                           This really is a writer’s town – you live your life and you write it down                                     Your story’s sticky like the humidity                                                                                         You’re just living what you think and it all comes out in the ink                                            And you know we do it all Below the Level of the Sea

From the River to the Garden District, dramas do unfold                                                     Those crawfish-eating lawyers use Napoleonic Code                                                               Well-bred New Orleans debutantes can stand you on you ear                                                  Just like those little Cajun girls raised on Dixie beer

Carrollton Station ain’t no roundhouse                                                                                         But this lonesome streetcar’s here to get some juice                                                                 Just like a streetcar, I have found out                                                                                          That rollin’ with the flow ain’t running loose                                                                               Oh, I may never settle down but she’s my Lady, she’s my town                                                     Her rhythm and her blues are part of me                                                                                    And when those saints go marching in, you’ll see this lonesome boy again                                And I know we’ll do it all Below the Level of the Sea                                                                       I want to be back down in New Orleans                                                                                   ‘Cause those saints go marching in Below the Level of the Sea

Words and Music ©1988 Les Kerr O.N.U. Music (ASCAP)                                                  Click to hear musical version

Inspiration and Bar Scotch

He could read for umpteen hours, summoning his powers                                                        To conjure up the syllables that kept us all enthralled                                                                    Words were his best friends; they were with him at the end                                                      When he said, “He was a mess,” was how he’d like to be recalled

On that barstool toward the right at the Maple Leaf each night                                                 He quoted Twain and Shakespeare verbatim, as we watched                                                        New Orleans royalty, the King of Irony                                                                                  Eighty-proof poetry                                                                                                                 Inspiration and Bar Scotch

A distinguished man of letters, I’ve never seen one better                                                         He could climb out of his mind and into yours on just a phrase                                            From New Yorker magazine to the streets of New Orleans                                                           He chose drinking and strong thinking as the way to spend his days

It wasn’t just the words, but the way he used to say ‘em                                                          That brought you in to know the joke on life that he was playin’

By the time I came to know him the seeds that he’d been sowing                                          Had rooted deep and deadly and spread with kudzu haste                                                      Still, out of the dark shot his bright creative spark                                                                   With his pen, he proved his life was no American waste

On that barstool toward the right at the Maple Leaf each night                                                He quoted Twain and Shakespeare verbatim, as we watched                                                         New Orleans royalty, the King of Irony                                                                                   Eighty-proof poetry                                                                                                              Inspiration and Bar Scotch                                                                                                          Words and Music ©2015 Les Kerr O.N.U. Music (ASCAP)                                                  Click to hear musical version

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Text and images copyright 2019


About Les Kerr

Les Kerr is a songwriter, recording artist, journalist and author originally from the Gulf Coast now based in Nashville, Tennessee. Learn More about Les at
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2 Responses to Accidental poet

  1. Alicia G Parra says:

    I like your poetry Les. Makes me want to take a trip to New Orleans again. I don’t get there as often now that I live Nashville instead of Mobile.

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