Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

January 11, 2004


Good poetry has the appeal of cornbread and turnip greens


          Any meal is better if the menu includes cornbread and turnip greens. Add pork chops and sweet potatoes and you have a meal fit for a king. A glass of cold buttermilk makes it just right.

            I do enjoy good food. However, I also have an appetite, of the mind, for poetry that satisfies the palate of the soul. A good poem is one that conveys a strong message that is hard to miss. The length is not as important as that the poem touches the heart or the funny bone.

            I do not like poetry that has a hidden meaning known only to a secret society of intellectuals. Good poetry is verse that ordinary people can understand and enjoy.

            A good example that is dear to me is one about the stars:


The stars shine over the earth,

The stars shine over the sea.

The stars look up to the mighty God,

The stars look down on me.


The stars shall live for a million years,

A million years and a day;

But Christ and I will live and love

When the stars have passed away.


            I wish I knew the author of that little poem. Perhaps one day someone will tell me. Until then, I will have to assign it to “Anonymous.”

            Do I have a bias for the poetry of certain authors? I think so. Is some poetry better because I know the author personally? I am sure that is true. I like the poetry of my wife, for example. Here is one of her simple, yet profound, poems:


You came from your world,

I came from mine.

You said, ‘How do you do?’

I said, ‘I’m fine.’

After a pause,

we depart,

Never knowing

each other’s heart.


            With very few words, Dean reminds us of the sad result of shallow and impersonal relationships.

            My longtime friend and fellow pastor, Douglas C. Newton, writes delightful verse that evokes a smile or a chuckle. Doug can cause your taste buds to come alive as he describes his love of oysters. He calls this poem “Oyster Eating Time”:


From time to time my appetite

With memories sublime

Reminds me so emphatically

That it’s oyster eating time.

Now you may not be familiar

With this fantastic dish

But for you to someday try it,

Truly is my simple wish.

There are different ways to eat them-

Steamed or fried or stewed

But the best way’s on the half shell

Some folks call it, ‘in the nude.’

You put it on a cracker

And sauce it with some stuff

For me horseradish, ketchup,

And Tabasco are enough

Then you slide it in your mouth

And savor it for a while,

And when you finally swallow it

You’ll do it with a smile

All you need is one good shucker

And a little elbow room,

And that happy filled up feeling

You’ll be knowing pretty soon.

Then when you’ve had a dozen

Or two or three or four,

You’ll find that you are tempted

To keep calling for some more.

And then you’ll have to join me

With those memories sublime

That will tell you very often

That it’s oyster eating time.


            Doug journeyed to Louisiana, met the man who produces Tabasco, and got his permission to display a bottle of Tabasco beside his poem on a large poster. Near the Tabasco is a picture of a large, tasty oyster on the half shell. The posters sell for twenty dollars. Doug is pastor of First United Methodist Church in Atmore, Al.

            I bought one of the posters for my friend Jerry Hamilton, who runs Catfish Country, a popular seafood restaurant in Wetumpka. I have eaten many of Jerry’s oysters, though none on the half shell. I leave that delightful habit to my friend Doug.

            Our world would be a poorer place without cornbread and turnip greens, and yes, good poetry that satisfies the soul. + + + +