With their Nightingale Editions series, Zoo Press explores the possibility that contemporary songwriters might also write decent poetry. (Not that that idea has ever worked well before.) Jeff Tweedy’s Adult Head is their first offering, soon to be followed by a collection from Silos frontman Walter Salas-Humara.
In all fairness, Tweedy makes no claim to be a poet. In fact, the idea is not to publish songwriters who are already established poets. Rather, Zoo is attempting to introduce these artists to a new medium. This may be a bit like asking a pianist to make a collage, though songs and poems are somewhat more closely related.
Thematically, this collection seems to be about something. It opens with “Satan Explains” and closes with “Hell”. In between are Prayers #1 through #5. One might anticipate some spiritual journey — or a spiritual unraveling — as Tweedy reflects on his childhood, his relationships and his surroundings. But the poems themselves seem forced and unfinished.
And there can be no doubt that these are poems. There’s not much punctuation, and lots of letters are lowercase, and words are scattered across the page. Just like poems. (To Tweedy’s credit, his poems mostly don’t rhyme.)
There is plenty of memorable language here: “the best laughs/never leave your lungs/and the best life/is art/never made” or “the best way/to feel your blood/is to lie.” But then you have to wade through something like: “no one/will tell you/you are not/a rainbow/but the white kitten/is a snow cone,” and “when I say my heart/I mean/an emergency/worse than a clarinet.” I don’t fault Tweedy for writing any of that stuff. But I’m also not sure he needed to publish all of it.
Worst of all, I actually think Jeff Tweedy is a good writer. A good poet, even. What else can you say about the guy who wrote these lyrics: “Distance has no way of making love understandable,” and “The ashtray says you’ve been up all night,” and “We were too far apart right from the start/But I couldn’t be any closer to you now”? He can make loneliness feel like your best friend.
Still, in the end, I keep coming back to these lines: “Used to sound like the sun on the horizon/Now I think we’ve been had.”