C.N.P Poetry 

  • Cathexis Northwest Press

Dylan and Cash Sing “Girl from the North Country”

By: Kip Knott

The Johnny Cash Show, June 7, 1969


If I had been riding a train through Nashville

that day, I would have begged the engineer to hush

the profane chatter of clattering steel wheels

so everyone could hear Bob’s country-nasal

twang as it rang out through the windows

of the Ryman Auditorium like rain

hammering a tin roof in sunshine. One verse in,

Johnny’s booming voice blew through the lyrics

like a dust-devil roaring over hardscrabble,

a wind strong enough to knock down

the walls that separated Americans

from Americans. And when their voices sang

together, they echoed a growing thunder;

not the deafening, bone-rattling thunder-

clap of Apollo 11 that shook the world

little more than one month later,

but the burning summer thunder that rumbled

down the back of my father’s throat

at the end of another long day

of carpet bombings, lottery drawings,

casualty lists, and bloody protests on TV

when one shot of whiskey turned into two or three.



Kip Knott is a teacher and art dealer living in Delaware, Ohio. His poetry has recently appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, The Ekphrastic Review, Typishly, and Virginia Quarterly Review. His most recent book--Tragedy, Ecstasy, Doom, and so on-- is forthcoming later this year from Kelsay Books. More of his work can be accessed at www.kipknott.com.


"I wrote this poem after watching an episode of Ken Burns’ excellent documentary Country Music. This particular episode focused on the state of Country music during the height of the Vietnam War and within a sea of protest Rock songs. The episode included a clip from The Johnny Cash Show that featured Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash singing “Girl from the North Country.” I was six-and-a-half-years old when the show aired, living in a household where I was more likely to hear my mother singing along with “Green, Green” by The New Christy Minstrels as she folded laundry, or my father listening to the Muzak radio station while he worked at his heavy steel desk. While I don’t have a specific recollection of ever watching The Johnny Cash Show, I do have very clear memories of how the divisions in America during the late 1960s began to show themselves in my family’s home, divisions that seemed to widen every evening after my father watched the news while we all ate dinner in silence and on edge. Seeing the clip of Dylan and Cash singing their song within the context of that time in American history brought back very palpable memories of all those painful family dinners, memories that still burn like my own first shot of whiskey."

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