Of poetry, and lessons learned from Dad

Alabama Living Magazine
Illustration by Dennis Auth

April is National Poetry Month.

I learned early to love poetry.

My father had a library of books he particularly liked. From the time I started reading, he gave me free run of it.

Though my mother was not sure that all of his books were appropriate for adolescent me, Daddy believed that “you can’t read yourself into trouble,” an opinion tested when Mama caught me reading God’s Little Acre. Another story for another time.

Among the books of which both he and Mama approved were volumes of verse, which I read so often that I committed my favorites to memory.

When I was in my teens, I worked with Daddy measuring cotton acreage for the government, and as we drove from field to field he talked and I listened. I learned later how few kids that age got to spend one-on-one time with their fathers and what a rare experience that was. Often, when the conversation dragged, and even when it didn’t, he would quote verses he loved.  

Often, they were humorous little ditties:

“Of all the fish in the ocean, 

The funniest is the bass.

It climbs to the top of seaweed trees,

And slides down on its . . . 

     (get ready)

Hands and knees.”

You weren’t expecting that, were you?

Neither was I. 

So, Daddy and I shared a laugh.

Not all his poems were full of chuckles. 

One of his favorites, and one he quoted at length, was “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service. 

Filled with dark doings – a burning body rising from the coals and such – “Sam McGee” is not a poem for everyone, as I soon learned.

It happened when my fifth grade teacher told our class that anyone who selected a poem and read it to us during “nap time” would get extra points when grades were calculated. I decided to give it a shot.

And so it came to pass that when the class lay down, I rose and read.

The class loved it.

The teacher? 

When I got to the part where McGee’s corpse sizzled in the fire, the expression on her face told me that the “extra” awaiting me was not the extra for which I hoped.

When my classmates went out to play, I was kept behind and told that my father would hear of my transgression.



The guy who introduced me to McGee.

True to her word, she told him. 

And that evening, when I got home, Daddy gently reminded me that some people did not appreciate literature the way he and I did.

There are worse things a boy can learn from his father.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at


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