White Stripes rocker Jack White came under fire recently for disparaging his home town of Detroit, so he decided to prove his love for the city in a rather unorthodox way -- by writing a poem.
This wasn't your everyday means of damage control -- let's face it, trying to appease angry denizens of Detroit with a poem seems doomed to failure -- but it earned White a lot of local press coverage and gave him an opportunity to clear things up.
Speaking of his negative comments, White told the Detroit Free Press (which published the poem and played up the story) "those expressions of mine have never been a representation of my feelings about Detroit the city, a town that I have strong feelings about... nor were they expressions about its citizens." He later asserted that he'd meant the criticism for the "super negative" Detroit music scene and not for the city itself.
As for his poem, White titled it "Courageous Dream's Concern" and prefaced its publication with some serious kissing up:
"The following poem is the Detroit from my mind. The Detroit that is in my heart. The home that encapsulates and envelops those who are truly blessed with the experience of living within its boundaries."
"Truly blessed?" I read that and worried -- I doubt many residents of Detroit would go that far. Anyway, here are some excerpts from White's poem (you can read the whole thing here ):
I have driven slow,
three miles an hour or so,
through Highland Park, Heidelberg, and the
I've hopped on the Michigan,
and transferred to the Woodward,
and heard the good word blaring from an
I love the worn-through tracks of trolley
trains breaking through their
As I ride the Fort Street or the Baker,
just making my way home.
I sneak through an iron gate, and fish
rock bass out of the strait,
watching the mail boat with
its tugboat gait,
hauling words I'll never know.
The water letter carrier,
bringing prose to lonely sailors,
treading the big lakes with their trailers,
floats in blue green chopping waters,
above long-lost sunken failures,
awaiting exhumation iron whalers,
holding gold we'll never know.
I've slid on Belle Isle,
and rowed inside of it for miles.
Seeing white deer running alongside
While I glide, in a canoe.
I've walked down Caniff holding a glass
Atlas root beer bottle in my hands
And I've entered closets of coney islands
early in the morning too.
I've taken malt from Stroh's and Sanders,
felt the black powder of abandoned
And smelled the sawdust from wood cut
to rehabilitate the fallen edifice.
I so love your heart that burns
That in your people's body yearns
the lonely dream that does encapsulate,
Your spirit, that God insulates,
With courageous dream's concern.
Like most of the growing list of rock musicians who've tried their hands at poetry -- Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins have recently penned books -- you get a sense that the work would sound a heck of a lot better set to music.
But once you're past the title, which reads like the title of a national anthem, there's a lot to admire here. I like some of its music: the internal rhyme of "Woodward" and "good word," the assonance of "Caniff" and "Glass Atlas;" and I like how White rarely strays into abstraction, which sounds "poetic" but lacks clarity and punch. The poem has some great, specific details like "the worn-through tracks of trolley/trains breaking through their/concrete vaults." Most importantly, it does read like a heartfelt tribute to a hometown.
So there are places where the rhythm falters a bit and a there are few too many rhymes for my taste, but poetry so rarely enters a city's consciousness, and I can't help but love that White gave this a shot. How did the city react? Reading the Free Press comments on the poem, I was expecting a lot more of this:
Hope he doesn't quit his day job.
My son who is 19 says this is cool and he likes it. I'm on the other hand over 60 and i think it sucks.
than I actually read. But there was enough of this,
I always wondered why Jack White "hated" Detroit all of a sudden. It turns out he did not. Once again, the old "quotes taken out of context" rears its ugly head. Thanks Jack, for the great poem...
to call White's gamble a success. Poetry certainly got his message out.