Amorak Huey.jpg

Poetry from Amorak Huey

followed by Q&A

Johnny Winter in Stockholm

Tivoli Garden, June 1984


No shadows here. You could be in Miami:

one of those places where the blues

has the bright echo of a bauble in the sun –


light plunging: white stone into rivermurk.


There’s something like home about a water city

even where the buildings are angled all wrong,

the history belongs to someone else


and the churches are unsmiling. 


A long way from Leland or Beaumont 

but still the sweet mildew smell of summer,

the strange blossoming of hyacinth.


When you’re seeing clearly –


no more dragons to chase – one stage

fades into next, until a high lonesome wind

bruises down from mountains


with the keening of a water oak limb


about to break free. They adore you here

but you know better – it’s the music,

not the words, your fingers telling a story


in any language, any season – it’s about love,


all the loves a man ever had

or lost, you can’t let this sunshine end

because once the song stops, baby, 


you can kiss tomorrow goodbye.



Big Bill Broonzy in Amsterdam

June 1953


Some places just lay claim to you –


the way this city named for a river

where all the trees are no taller

than a man’s head has felt like home

from the hour you arrived. Summer


no warmer than March, Jim Crow’s

never set foot here – your new friends

think you’re joking when you ask 

if you’ll be arrested for taking 

the stage at the pub. You thought


you knew a thing or two about rivers


& women, but this girl,

she turns you inside out. She

hardly looks at your face

but never stops watching

your fingers. Her smile makes 


your blood heat up, thumping 

this Gibson never felt so good.

This place reminds you of a house

being built on top of the spot


where an older house burned:


all promise & possibility

& maybe even redemption.

It’s not until hours later

when she tells you her name – Pim –

& asks for a light.


Without waiting for an answer,

she leans in so close to your mouth

you smell lemons & fresh air,


she touches the tip of her cigarette

to yours, inhales

like she’s drawing electricity


from deep inside you,

in that brief glow 

sparking between you

you can see everything:


the beginning, the end –

dark smeary blotches

flickering against a pale green 


so bright it hurts the eye.



Governor O.K. Allen Considers the Pardon Request of Huddie William Ledbetter

July 1934


One of those Louisiana summer evenings,

peeper frogs rioting outside,

breeze just moving heat around

like the inside of an oven. Can’t tell

if it’s supposed to be funny, letter 

on back of record: “Goodnight 

Irene.” Fine song, but the gimmick puts you in mind

of that joke you know the newspapermen

are telling about you – dogwood leaf blows in 

an open office window, and thinking 

it might be a bill from Huey, you sign it. 

Lord, it’s hot. Life’s too short.

You’ve been looking for something essential

you can claim as your own,

maybe this is it – think of the music,

the way a song can get inside a man’s head

and lurk there, dangerous

and erotic like blood, or water

when the river’s high against the levies,

swirling away whole Tupelo trees

from leaf to root. Hear the right 

notes on a record player

and you’re twenty-six again,

back in Waxahachie 

on a picnic blanket with a girl in a yellow muslin dress,

world on fire and smelling like red wine,

her mouth hungry against yours,

this was before tax assessments and highway commissions,

before this pressure behind your eyes

that you’re pretty sure will kill you someday,

before anyone owed or owned you –

when anything, by God, was possible.



Amorak Huey teaches professional and creative writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His poems have appeared in Rattle, Poet Lore, Contrary, The Southern Review and other journals. More information is at



Q: What is your favorite water city, and why?

A: It’s no secret that we humans love to live by the water. There are practical reasons for this – transportation, commerce, etc. – but there’s also something about water that speaks to us, connects with us, calms us. Raymond Carver wrote that loving rivers increases us, and that line has always resonated with me. Grand Rapids, Michigan, has a river running through it, and we’re an easy drive from Lake Michigan. So maybe this is my favorite because it’s where I live now. I am here, and there is water, and yes to both of these things.


Q: Tell us more about Big Bill Broonzy and his life and music.

A: Big Bill Broonzy was a ridiculously talented blues guitarist and singer in the first half of the twentieth century. His biography is suitably unclear for a blues legend – maybe he was born in Arkansas, maybe in Mississippi – and he worked mostly in obscurity until after World War II when he went to Europe with part of a folk-blues-roots music revival tour, where he was extremely well received and cemented his status as an icon. Also, while he was in Holland, he fell in love with a Dutch woman named Pim van Iseldt, whom he married. Broonzy died in Chicago in 1958 of throat cancer. His “Guitar Shuffle” is one of the most remarkable pieces of music ever recorded. You can listen to it here.


Q: How did you come to write these poems about music and musicians and place?

A: I wrote a poem about the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson and his alleged deal with the devil, and then I wrote another one, and then I started reading about other blues musicians and I just kept writing. I grew up in Alabama, so the songs and stories and rhythms of the South matter to me, and my father has always listened to the blues. So these poems, which make up a whole manuscript now, are about music, and place, and American history, and fathers and sons, and all these huge and important and small and personal things wrapped up in the blues. The music. It all comes back to the music.